A weekly company meeting is the key to sales.

Imagine opening your small shop door and finding a fully licensed, well-spoken, sales-minded journeyman plumber - job application in hand - eager to make life easy for you. Or perhaps, you'll discover a personable customer service expert, who doubles as an accounting wizard, looking for a job.

Sorry. It's not that easy. If you want to develop your small shop, you are going to have to create (or copy) operational guidelines and systems for success. Then you're going to have to teach those systems to your employees.

Don't count on finding a superstar on your front step. Work with the people you have. Teach them how to win. The key is training. And the place to start is your company meeting.

I'm going to help you. This article will teach you how to make the most of your company meetings. A meeting is a way to communicate information vital to the survival of your company, and your employees.

Have you ever thought of it that way? Or, have you thought of meetings as a waste of time? Take heart. Your meetings don't have to turn into gripe sessions, and a waste of billable hours. The weekly company meeting can be the core of your training program.

First On The Agenda

he purpose of this meeting is to keep everyone at your company focused on one thing - SALES. Do you disagree? Well, get over it. Without sales, your business is a hobby. Please come to terms with this. Good sales involve doing the right thing for your customers, at the right price and in compliance with all laws of man and physics. Is that so hard to get behind?

Your weekly meeting topics should revolve around sales. How to make sales, sales that sit well with your customers, sales that leave profits on the bottom line, sales that comply with all safety and code regulations, sales that solve your customers' problems.

Let this serve as a general guideline, just to get you thinking about your own agenda:

  • Read the company mission statement. This is a gathering of the troops. Lead them to victory! Share your vision of the company. Insist that each employee memorize the company mission statement. You could offer $5 to anyone who can recite it on the spot. Try reading from the dictionary the definitions of all the words in the mission statement. You could have everyone recite it in unison.

    Don't have a mission statement yet? Well, get busy. Use these meetings to develop a purpose for coming to work that transcends plumbing and heating. ServiceMaster's mission statement is: To honor God in all we do; To help people develop; To pursue excellence; and To grow profitably. ServiceMaster racks up more than $5 billion a year in sales, and it started out selling janitorial franchises. Create a grand, meaningful mission statement and revisit it at every meeting.

  • Make employee announcements. Offer best wishes for birthdays, anniversaries and new babies. Make sure newcomers are recognized and welcomed. Start a fun initiation tradition for new employees, like donning the company jacket. Or a high-fiving round of introductions.

  • Discuss "Big Wins" of the week and acknowledge the winners. Make a big deal out of great performances. If you have posted the information on the shop wall, everyone already knows the top salesperson or contest winner. Still, make a formal presentation to the weekly winners. Read glowing customer response card information. Did someone do a particularly nice job with an angry customer? Act out the "save" with the responsible employee. Clap, stand up and cheer, crown the winners with a tiara made of PEX pipe. Think Golden Globe. Think Oscars. Think Harvard Hasty Pudding.

  • Go over a specified section of the operations manual. Read the sections of your operations manual one by one, week after week. Take turns reading. You'll KNOW that everyone has read the whole thing. Make your case for the written procedures. Discuss. Apply the acid test - do these procedures help or hinder making good sales? Don't be afraid to change what doesn't work.

  • Offer a hypothetical sales scenario. Role play different approaches to the situation. Encourage someone to impersonate a difficult customer he's encountered, and reward the person that does the best job winning him over. Introduce new phone scripts and have everyone practice with one another.

  • Introduce a new product or service. Discuss the features and benefits of the new item. Have volunteers give a 30-second spiel on the item, and what's in it for the customer. Lay out the policies regarding price, and any special promotions.

  • Wrap up with a contest update. It's a nice way to send everyone out the door. Contests are great. But it takes an effort to keep the energy up. Have long-term and short-term contests. Report on the status of a long-term contest. You could also run a mini-contest every day. Most customer compliments wins. Or highest average sale. Most disposals sold. Involve every department in some kind of game. Most service calls scheduled. Quickest truck restock.

Here are some more general tips on having meaningful company meetings:

Start and stop on time. Don't be late, and do not tolerate latecomers. I've heard of locking the door when the meeting begins. Those who miss the meeting are responsible for finding the information they missed, and are written up. Once-a-week-no-matter-what. What's more important than this?

Use stories to make a point. Lectures fall on deaf ears. A real life story - yours or someone else's - can be spellbinding. Mine your past for appropriate stories. You can also read a well-written passage from a book to highlight a lesson. Nice touch.

Don't take more than an hour. As the leader, prepare ahead of time. Don't ramble and waste their time. Work on your communication skills. Use the right words, so you can use fewer words.

Have a written agenda. At least two days before the meeting, post the meeting agenda. You can send an e-mail or memo, or tack the agenda on the company bulletin board. Some folks just can't participate in a discussion unless they have thought about it, and slept on it. Stay on the agenda. If someone goes off on a tangent, call TIME OUT. You can put the topic on next week's agenda, or discuss it in private after the meeting.

Hang in there! Don't quit having meetings because no one is participating. They are waiting for you to give up! Hang in there. Ask open-ended questions - what, why, how. Call on people to share their thoughts. In time, they'll chime in.

Pay people for their meeting time. If you don't take meeting time seriously enough to pay people for it, they won't take it very seriously either. Just pay them, and save yourself the inevitable headaches associated with not paying them for it. They're worth it. Build the cost into your overhead, like any other cost.

No matter the topic - safety, operations, technical training - remember the big game is SALES. Figure out how to tie it all together.

Keep the teaching technology simple. f you are a wiz at Power Point, go ahead and use the technology. As a rule of thumb, the apparatus used to deliver the learning shouldn't be more difficult to master than the subject being taught. Do mix up your presentation techniques in some way - video, lecture, reading, role-playing, flip charts, question and answer. This keeps it interesting, and makes the information more accessible to people with different learning styles.

NEVER EVER attempt to discipline in a group setting. You have been guilty of this, I know. We all have. But it doesn't work. In fact it's downright destructive.

All policy violations should be dealt with immediately, and privately, with the offender. Even if everyone at your company is in violation of a particular policy (not likely) discuss it in private with each individual.

I once had a job where we referred to the weekly meeting as the weekly beating. Ouch. Not good.

Keep the meeting positive! You are their leader. Good leaders teach. That's what you get to do in this weekly meeting. Teach them about your vision, your hopes and dreams. Teach them what they need to do to succeed in your wonderful company.

Follow up on all action items. Keep a running list of the things you "green light" in the heat of the meeting. Do them, or delegate them. Let your team know what's going on with long-term projects.

Take your role as a trainer seriously. The best book on the subject is Dan Holohan's "How To Teach Technicians Without Putting Them To Sleep." The title says it all. Stop by www.HeatingHelp.com to order.

Also, Dan and I among many others will be hosting training seminars at the National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers (NAOHSM) convention June 4-8 in Lake Harmony, Pa. Call 888/552-0900 for details, or visit www.naohsm.org. We'd love to see you there!