Taming Your Maverick Network

Taming_Your_MaverickCheck-Out Time
Orlando, Florida — Sunday morning, 9:00am

I’ve just wrapped a highly-successful sales meeting the night before. (Actually, it was well into the morning hours before my team and I finally called it a night.)

I’m at the front desk, checking out of our large, convention hotel. In my sleep deprived-state, I fail to notice that the CEO and his assistant are checking out right next to me. That is, until I hear him remark …

“Remind me again why we do this every year?”

Why Have a Meeting?
A CEO is focused on building shareholder value … which often means looking for ways to take cost out of the business. Facing sluggish sales and uncertain expectations, managers are being asked to set aside anything that isn’t mission critical in favor of bolstering the bottom line. Which makes the traditional, annual meeting an easy target.

Like the CEO I referenced above, many business leaders are starting to ask some of the same questions about meeting expenditures that they already ask about the other business investments they make:

  • “How does my investment in this meeting help me grow the business?”
  • “Is there another way I could invest these same dollars that would be more effective at building shareholder value?”
  • “Or, can I create more value for the organization by simply not spending this money and letting these dollars sink to my earnings line?”

Now, there are plenty of good reasons to have an annual sales meeting. An in-person meeting experience creates opportunities for training, for networking, and to learn about the company’s vision and values direct from the leaders who create them.

So, what really makes a difference when the feet hit the street?

Measuring Success
While the ultimate measure of the success of field sales may be simply “selling more stuff”, sales results are affected by a lot of factors that are outside the influence of those who create and execute meetings … and even those who run companies.

Businesses engage in many strategic activities to drive increased sales: They introduce new products as well as enhancements to existing products or platforms. They offer customers bundling, special pricing and other incentives, And they provide incentives to motivate salespeople: Commission enhancements, spiffs, incentive trips, and special recognition. Taken as a whole, it’s a powerful cocktail in which the ingredients must be in a precise mix to work to the company’s best advantage.

But, outside corporate headquarters, there are a lot of other forces at work that influence the effectiveness of a company’s efforts: The economy. Customer mergers and acquisitions. The effects of changing technology. And that’s before we even mention the competition. The point is, there are a lot of factors that have influence on the success or failure of a company’s sales plan that are well outside the control of sr. management.

Great companies grow through good times and bad. Through bull and bear markets. Through seismic changes like mergers, acquisitions and market transformations. And through it all, the one constant is the people who represent your company to the markets you serve.

With that in mind, perhaps a company’s most sustainable, competitive advantage is the willingness of your salespeople to do the most they can … with whatever they have to sell … in whatever market space they find themselves in.

The Role of Emotion
Business leaders often forget that our economic entities are populated by emotional beings.

In the MRI lab at the University of Florida, a test of brain activity confirmed what researchers suspected for a decade: As Coca-Cola’s famous “Mean Joe Green” ad unfolded frame by frame, the MRI revealed what was going on inside a test subject’s brain. When oxygen carried by blood pooled in the medial pre-frontal cortex—an area just behind the forehead—Jon Morris, a market researcher and communications professor, knew he had scientific proof that the ad elicited emotion.

Marketers and researchers have been uncovering this truth for some years … that emotion is what drives attitudes and decision-making. The University of Rochester School of Medicine recently published a study based on brain activity imaging that reveals emotions are inextricably a part of the decision process. This study even goes so far as to state; “if you eliminate the emotional guiding factors, it’s impossible [for people] to make decisions in daily life.” A 2004 study by Carnegie Mellon University ties the buyer’s moods to their attitudes on price And a study from the University of Texas, indicates that emotion may even play a role in helping people remember factual information. Researchers found that consumers reacted more favorably to ads—like Budweiser’s “Whassup”, which used storytelling to elicit emotion—than they did to ads that compared one product to another, like those for Miller Lite.

One of the most fundamental learnings from this body of work has been the following: People make decisions—which brand to buy, which color to wear, which politician to believe—based on which of all the options that are available to them makes them feel the best … and then use logic to justify that decision. In short …

People may rationalize decisions with the facts,

but they make decisions with their feelings.

Gerald Zaltman, a Harvard Business School professor emeritus, believes an overhaul of our thinking about communications is long overdue: “The traditional model of advertising is still the hypodermic model where you ‘inject’ meaning into customers,” says Zaltman. The techniques in his 2003 book, How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, are capturing more attention in the agency world. “If we say it often enough, we get it across, and that is just wrong. What has changed is that companies have realized that existing methods don’t go nearly far enough in helping them move to a closer understanding of their target.”

Thus, the highest predictor of changing behavior is emotion: Feelings drive attitudes … which in turn, drive behaviors.

Creating Emotional Capital
In the past, knowledge was not treated as an asset, but today, corporations zealously guard their intellectual property. And—just as information has become a key corporate asset—businesses have also come to value their intellectual capital as a measure of the collective knowledge that inhabits the minds of the people in our organizations at any given moment. But the fact that this asset exists in people’s heads gives executives pause. Unlike other corporate assets, it’s difficult to measure, to manage, and to control. It’s valuable intellectual property that walks out the door each evening with your employees.

As  Kevin Thomson states in his book, Emotional Capital; “knowledge management is moving up the agenda in many companies, yet organizational knowledge is meaningless if your people are unmotivated.”

Motivation—in the form of an emotional connection—is what impels your field salespeople to succeed. It’s what motivates them to study new product information—even when no one’s badgering them to do it. It’s what stimulates them to make that one more call at 5:05pm. It’s what induces them to reach out again to a prospect who’s rejected them in the past. Ultimately, it’s what makes field salespeople successful … and what makes any company a more robust competitor.

Seizing the Opportunity
A business has limited opportunities to nurture positive emotional capital with a geographically-dispersed field sales organization. The mundane media of day-to-day communication may transfer information and may even promote knowledge, but their ability to nurture an emotional connection is severely limited. In that light, the most important opportunity to make an emotional connection is the annual sales meeting.

Unfortunately, many sales meetings focus on fluffy entertainment or mind-numbing “slide-whipping” at the expense of establishing a meaningful emotional connection with salespeople that will drive them to drive your organic growth.

Hoopla vs. Heart
As noted author Rita Mae Brown put it in an interview with National Public Radio, “creativity is not about self-expression … it’s about hard work.”

Crafting an experience that produces a precise result on a target audience takes creative ability to be sure. But, even more, it takes discipline to develop an approach that’s as innovative as it is boldly on-point. Working through the mental and emotional gymnastics necessary to come up with strategically relevant concepts that connect with the heart is both art and science.

Some meeting organizers confuse spectacle with  creative impact. Thirteen elephants in formation with a marching band, a performing seal and indoor pyrotechnics may wake up the guys in the back row, it may get people to talk at the break, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your audience will get your message. Spectacle doesn’t equal substance … and it doesn’t guarantee a result. Like giving your kids too much candy, it only produces a momentary high. Creative that connects emotionally with the viewer has an impact that lasts well beyond the next coffee break … a feeling attendees carry home in their hearts.

More Than Table Stakes
The measures that are typically in use to assess meeting effectiveness, focus on operational effectiveness—which are not relevant to increasing organic growth. In order for a meeting to be measurably meaningful, it must influence a quantifiable change in the attitudes of the attendees.

As important as operational effectiveness is, in today’s business environment it just doesn’t move the needles. For a CEO who’s trying to build shareholder value, whether the attendees liked the chicken that was served at the banquet is not a strategically-significant measure.

The fact is, executional excellence is simply table stakes, or what we call maintenance variables. When you visit a fast food restaurant, you expect that your food is delivered quickly and that the stuff that’s supposed to be hot is hot and the stuff that’s supposed to be cold is cold. In the meetings business, this translates to pulling off a meeting without a hitch. That’s simply what we expect from meeting professionals.

Where the meeting gets meaningful, is when it delivers leverage variables. In our fast food example, a hamburger with leverage variables would still be delivered hot and fast, but might be made with organically-raised beef and served on a sourdough bun with Arugula and Roma tomatoes. That’s a difference that truly makes a difference.

Measurably Meaningful
A sales meeting reaches it’s true potential when it influences measurable change in specific attitudes that are highly-correlated to increased performance by field sales personnel. In the literature of psychology and market research, five indexes emerge as most relevant to this goal:

  • Organizational Commitment (OC)
  • Tactical & Strategic Alignment (TSA)
  • Perceived Organizational Support (POS)
  • Emotional Outlook (EO)
  • Expected Success (ES)

Taken as a whole, these five indexes provide a comprehensive picture of the attitudes that drive the behaviors of your field organization. Taken individually, they provide precise diagnostics to guide message development and identify critical issues for further action.


Rick Cornish creates communications that inform, influence and inspire… helping organizations increase sales, promote unity and persuade their people to embrace change. Working in video, corporate meetings, event marketing and more; Rick delivers purposeful creative that drives business results and builds stronger brands.


By Rick Cornish
© 2007 Flying Colors Incorporated
© 2013 Rick Cornish LLC
All Right Reserved
May be quoted in print or online publications with attribution.
May not be reproduced, sold, or distributed without the expressed, written consent of Rick Cornish LLC.

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