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February 11, 2020

4 Best Practices for Planning a Next-Gen Sales Conference

Shelly King, Manager, Sales Force Development, CooperVision, faced a challenge. Her team supports a multi-generational sales force, dispersed across the U.S. and Canada, in a rapidly changing and competitive industry.

As her team began planning the company’s annual sales conference, King knew they needed to rethink the meeting to prepare reps better. How could CooperVision set the tone and focus for the coming year, and align the organization to execute against plan in the most efficient and effective way?

King evolved the conference with the help of two key technology and content partners. Read on to learn about the process King and her team followed and get four best practices to help your organization create a next-generation annual sales conference.

The Challenge: Prepare a Diverse Team for Success in a Rapidly Changing Industry

CooperVision, the leading global manufacturer of soft contact lenses and related products and services, has offices and manufacturing plants around the globe.

King’s five-member sales force development team is responsible for training 150 medical device reps in the U.S. and Canada and 25 regional sales managers, as well as liaising with commercial departments that impact the sales organization and global peers. The team plans the company’s annual Americas Sales Conference (ASC) in December and mid-year Plan of Action meeting.

One of the company’s training challenges is a diverse and multi-generational audience of approximately one-third each Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. The group includes 200 U.S. and Canada-based sales reps and managers and several Latin American reps and managers. The reps also have varying levels of experience and company tenure, with half relatively new to the company and half with four years to 25 years’ experience.

The Solution: Leverage Modern Learning Strategies

The company had three main goals for the meeting:

  • Leverage modern learning to engage attendees and ensure a productive and impactful conference.
  • Equip CooperVision’s sales force with the latest data, industry trends, knowledge, and skills for effective selling.
  • Prepare regional sales managers who would serve as the primary facilitators for the ASC workshops.

CooperVision enlisted help from Allego for sales readiness technology and global performance improvement company GP Strategies for content development services. The partners worked together to develop the most engaging meeting that would maximize learning and retention.

“For the most successful event with effective outcomes, I knew we’d need to use modern learning strategies with better engagement and provide knowledge as well as skills,” said King. “Our reps need to learn critical information affecting our customers— to understand it, hear it from a doctor, see it being modeled, and then practice it themselves.”

In previous years, the conference included workshops of varying styles, lengths, and quantities, typically rotating non-linear topics. For this meeting, CooperVision created three workshops, one each day. Attendees were split into small groups and each workshop was broken into smaller segments by knowledge transfer, group work, application, and reflection.

The Conference: Learner-Centric For Long-Term Results

To ensure that the meeting was learner-centric and heavily application-based with long-term results, CooperVision used a three phased approach:

  1. Pre-Work Preparation – Reps received a playbook of fundamental information as well as pre-call planning worksheets that could be done ahead of time to make the time at the meeting more impactful.
  1. In-Class Workshop – Workshop materials built on the pre-work learning and on each consecutive workshop. This allowed sales reps to hear ideal scenarios and modeling and apply the to their real accounts
  1. Sustainment Planning – Sustainment materials reduced the forgetting curve and ensured reps applied learnings in the field. This also allowed CooperVision to continue delivering new and relevant information that was deemed critical during the course of the meeting.

“We used Allego to record videos of actor doctors in realistic example scenarios for modeling purposes. Reps could apply those learnings to the doctors they prepared for. We created job aids for technology shortcuts to help them be more efficient and for use during the meeting,” said King. “All of this was curated and deployed via Allego. It was a one-stop shop for meeting attendees to find every resource related to the sales conference.”

The Results: Success with Allego and GP Strategies

King reported that CooperVision’s revamped annual sales conference has reaped results in improved skill level and business outcomes.

“Most sales reps reported feeling much more educated and prepared for complex customer conversations,” she said. “There was more sharing of best practices than prior meetings. It set the stage for future meetings where we have steadily increased this aspect with great success.”

She added, “Sometimes there is discomfort with change, but the support from GP Strategies and Allego helped our team to deliver value with engagement, which ultimately provided results.”

The Takeaways: 4 Best Practices

King shared four best practices for implementing a next-generation annual sales conference.

  1. Enlist executive sponsorship – Make sure you have executive sponsorship. Explain the ‘why’ of your plan. Even if they don’t fully understand every detail of your plan, if they buy into the ‘why’ they’ll be your champion.
  1. Involve sales leaders early – Bring sales leaders along the journey–give them peeks behind the curtain to help them stay on the path. Listen to their concerns and needs. You can likely accomplish your goals and theirs by keeping an open mind and involving your partners.
  1. Require pre-work – For a highly engaging, learner-focused event, you will need pre-work, and everyone needs to understand that it’s not optional. Communicate early and often, and give sufficient time for the work to be done.
  1. Prepare your sales team – Change is hard. Prepare your sales team for a certain level of discomfort. You can address this feeling but make it fun and a safe place to fail. If you do that, you will all succeed.

What’s Next for CooperVision?

King credits the strong partnership of Allego and GP Strategies as a key factor in allowing her team to deliver innovative programs to the people it serves.

At CooperVision, the team has already taken its next steps to leverage modern learning strategies. It’s continuing to utilize microlearning, technology and sustainment to evolve sales meetings, while focusing on business needs.

“We’re leveraging practice with coaching and feedback via Allego even more than we have in the past – and seeing great results,” said King. “Allego is pretty broadly used in our organization and we have plans to expand that further.”

Watch the Video

See Shelly King’s presentation at the 2019 Sales Enablement Society Annual Conference: Modern Learning Journey – Evolution of the Annual Sales Conference.

Learn More

To learn how to reinforce learning long after your sales professionals go back to the field, download our business brief Allego for National Sales Meetings.

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