Faced with a weak economy and organizational imperatives to drive down costs, many companies are finding that once-robust travel budgets don’t stand a chance. Add up airfare costs—along with hotel fees, dining tabs and productivity lost due to travel—and the total becomes increasingly harder to justify. In fact, according to the National Business Travel Association, 49 percent of company travel managers are investigating travel alternatives.
This trend to pare down isn't lost on your sales force. Chances are, sales reps too are seeing the "fasten seat belt" sign quite a bit less, especially when it comes to destination sales meetings and conferences. Budget scrutiny and the resulting need to cut costs have recently spurred the cancellation of a spate of these high-profile events, whose price tags would have tipped into the millions. And with so few companies expected to report growth this year, no one wants to lose selling time by spending days in a sales meeting.
Wanting to further understand the prevalence of these cancelations and potential impact to sales forces nationwide, Brainshark conducted a survey of small, medium and large organizations across the U.S.
Survey Results: An Overview
Responses were collected from 390 sales, marketing and training executives across a variety of industries. Not surprisingly, '09 spending faces serious cuts—in fact, 44 percent of all organizations reported that they are cutting sales meeting spending this year, with 67 percent of large organizations (those with a sales force greater than 500 reps) showing cuts on the docket.
As for smaller organizations: 56 percent of companies with 101-500 reps reported a decrease in '09 sales meeting spending, as did 50 percent of companies with 50-100 reps and 36 percent of companies with fewer than 50 reps.
We then asked these organizations about the specific cost-cutting measures they are taking. Responses were as follows:
• Reducing the frequency: 41 percent are eliminating at least some of their sales meetings
• Food for thought: 50 percent are cutting back on food and beverage at the events
• Going at warp speed: 25 percent are cramming their content into a shorter amount of time
• You're out: 11 percent are shaving off the number of attendees
The Implications: Death of a Sales Meeting?
Do these results indicate what Arthur Miller might have dubbed the "Death of a Sales Meeting"? Fortunately for the next Willy Loman—and for your sales force— the answer is no. Sales meetings aren't dying, but they're increasingly evolving, as companies seek alternate methods for knowledge transfer. It's important for organizations to ensure that a missed in-person meeting doesn't amount to a missed opportunity to communicate.
In order to identify an effective and—most importantly—cost-effective way to supplant and supplement their in-person meetings, companies should first examine the goals of their events and the way information is presented. For example, during that annual trip to Florida, how much of the time is spent in truly interactive sessions like role-playing and collaborative team exercises? How much is communicating the latest product information or competitive and market knowledge? How much is reinforcing consistent messages and best practices? Every meeting is likely a mix, and companies are re-thinking how they approach that mix.
Increasingly, companies are leveraging technology, including virtual meeting solutions and on-demand content delivery, to reduce costs and get reps back into the field more quickly. The survey also showed that in two-thirds of companies, at least 50 percent or more, the format of sales meetings consisted of delivering information—or in sales vernacular, "death by PowerPoint," referring to the fire hose of information that sales reps often receive.
It's all business-critical, but it's also very conducive to the adoption of on-demand multimedia presentations, where sales teams can virtually hear from their leaders at a fraction of the cost, and without taking away from peak selling time. Oftentimes, these on-demand presentations include videos, attachments, and surveys and polls, and allow companies to track sales participation and completion. Knowledge retention is also higher since reps can focus on the content at a time that works for them, instead of focusing on staying awake in a hotel conference room.
By identifying the goals and traits of their meetings in this way, companies can pinpoint the technology and overall solutions that best fit their needs and identify alternate, budget-friendly ways to communicate.
For sales, travel has long been an important part of increasing revenue and keeping reps and partners well-informed. But as organizations increasingly make difficult budget decisions and cuts, it is important that they adapt successfully to change by adopting tactics that will promote and sustain growth. And while they might not be jumping on a plane to get there, the destination for organizations is still survival and, of course, success.
Joe Gustafson, CEO of Brainshark, Inc., founded the company in 1999 to help knowledge experts accelerate the flow of information to their audiences in a highly effective format. He is an experienced leader in the technology-based training industry.