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#SalesMeetings: Why Bad Meetings Are Killing Your Numbers

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
17 min read

Do you ever get the sense that you know something no one else does? Yeah, other people get it too. This is especially true in meetings, where we’re terrible judges of how well they’re going, and how effective they are.

We tend to be pretty bad judges about others’ opinions of meetings. This is especially true if we’re the ones doing most of the talking because then we’re likely to think they went well, but the quieter people disagree. The numbers don’t lie. Despite being one of the highest leverage activities for sales, statistics show that most people find meetings to be poorly run and unproductive.

Learn to run an effective meeting and you’ll learn how and why your prospects want to buy and increase their buy-in and commitment to you and your company. Welcome to the new #SalesMeetings series on Modern Sales. We’ll be covering the science behind good (and bad) meetings. In today’s episode, I’ll tell you why the problem of bad meetings is far worse and more costly than you think and what you can do today to start making them more productive.

You’ll learn:

Staggering stats on the cost of meetings

  • Did you know that 15% of all personnel budget is spent on meetings but that 58% of buyers think sales meetings are a waste of time? I’ll share some insightful statistics about the true cost of bad meetings and why it’s especially costly in sales.

The science behind better meetings

  • When we’re in meetings we’re interacting with other humans beings, which is to say, there are a few psychological factors at play. I’ll discuss the IKEA Effect about involving others and how to be better liked in meetings. Plus, I’ll share the Serve Don’t Sell methodology for information exchange, in which you learn as much as you can about your client and ask questions with a purpose so that you can deliver the best value.

An overview of the major phases of meetings

  • So much goes into being well prepared for the three phases of a meeting: before the meeting, during the meeting, and ending the meeting. We’ll be digging into the details of this more throughout the #SalesMeeting series, but this checklist can be used to start improving the productivity of your meetings right away.


The Surprising Science of Meetings by Steven Rogelburg
Logan Nickelson at Music For Makers

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

#SalesMeetings: Why Bad Meetings Are Killing Your Numbers:

Full Transcript

Captain Richard Burton was a British explorer in the 19th century who was absolutely fascinated by marriage and sex. He set across Africa observing and documenting norms there. Now, he found himself in Missouri in the United States on his way to Utah.

He’d heard of a new religion called Mormonism, and wanted to meet the leader, Brigham Young. Burton was curious how Brigham Young could have 22 wives in such a puritanical country. Burton did meet with Young, a seeming mismatch of values, but there they were.

While Burton hoped to uncover secrets of the Mormon settlement, what he found instead was a proud and structured leader who hid nothing. He was an absolute open book. And for that reason, the meeting was a bust for Burton. As it turns out, most meetings are a bust indeed, and yet, we spend so much of our working lives, our time, and energy involved in meetings. Why aren’t they better?

In this episode, I’ll tell you why the problem of bad meetings is far, far worse and more costly than you think. Why it’s especially costly in sales, and what you can do today to start turning it around.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Welcome to the sales meeting series on Modern Sales where we’re talking about the science behind good and bad meetings. In this episode, we’ll be covering why meetings are so bad, and what to do to turn them around. Each of the episodes will be titled with sales meetings at the beginning to help you find them quickly.

Now, let’s talk about why meetings are so bad. I’d like to start with a quote, “If you had to identify in one word the reason why the human race has not achieved and never will achieve its full potential, that word would be meetings.” That quote comes from Steven Rogelberg’s book, The Surprising Science of Meetings, which I’ll be referencing quite a bit over this series, but let’s start with the big problem.

Most of the good stuff in sales happens during meetings. When I say meetings, I mean talking to people on the phone, talking to people in person, video conferencing, which is how I do most of my meetings. But most meetings are poorly run and have pretty low impact. A couple of stats about the cost of meetings that, for me, were totally mindblowing.

Number one, 55 million meetings take place every day in the United States. $400 billion is wasted annually on meetings that people say are bad. 15% of all personnel budget is spent on meetings. 15% of your payroll spent on meetings. And in one Microsoft study, 69% of all employees globally who were surveyed, which was over 40,000 employees at different companies, said meetings were not productive.

So, what gives? I’ve been through a lot of school. I have a master’s degree, I have an undergrad degree. Of course, I went to school all the way through high school, and nowhere in there did I get a lesson on how to conduct a good meeting. It’s puzzling really, given that we spend so much of our time in meetings. So, why aren’t we better at them?

Well, one of the biggest problems with meetings is what determines what someone thinks about a meeting, how they rate it, whether it’s good or bad. We’re typically really bad judges about what other people think about meetings, especially when it comes to talkers. And yes, I can be a talker. Maybe you can relate to this, because it’s especially dangerous in sales settings because a lot of people who are attracted to a sales role are highly social and outgoing.

Now, that doesn’t mean they’re the best at sales, it just means that often people self-select who tend to be a little bit more talkative. And that can be a recipe for disaster because people who do most of the talking in meetings, they tend to think the meetings went well, but the opposite is true for people who contributed less.

Let me translate that. If you dominate the conversation in your sales meetings, you’ll tend to think they went really well, but your prospects will tend to find the meeting unproductive. In fact, a full 58% of all buyers think sales meetings are not valuable. And yet, sales meetings are a high leverage activity, perhaps our highest of all leverage activities.

Let’s just think about it from a volume perspective. If you have a relatively small number of opportunities in your pipeline, let’s say 20 active accounts, which is a very small number, you’re ideally meeting with them at least every two weeks during the sales cycle. That’s a full work week every single month spent in meetings, and those meetings are very high stakes, and they’re your most productive time. Shouldn’t you spend them well?

That’s why I’m bringing this series to you because of how important meetings are for all of us. It’s crazy to me that we haven’t spent more time learning about how to run a good meeting, and so that’s what I want to cover in this series here.

So, as I said at the top, this series is largely based on the book by Stephen Rogelberg called The Surprising Science of Meetings, and it’s subtitled; How You Can Lead Your Team To Peak Performance. If you’re interested in reading the book, it’s linked below in the show notes. It does have an Amazon affiliate link, which means, I’ll be paid a small amount if you buy it, but there it is. It’s in the show notes.

Now, the book is about meetings generally, but I’ve applied the material to sales meetings and sales situations in particular. Not everything in the book is directly applicable to sales, but much of it is. And what follows in this series is a rundown of how you can apply the information right away.

In this episode, the first episode, I’ll give you an overview of how to make your meetings more productive, and then I’ll go over each of the major phases of meetings in the coming three episodes in the series. Those phases are pretty simple; before the meeting, during the meeting, and how to end the meeting. A quick note that there is a section of the book that I’m not covering in the series, and that’s on organizational policies. If you’re in a leadership position, then you have control over policies that govern how everyone on your team sells, what they do in meetings, how they conduct meetings, what’s expected of them, what’s expected of your clients.

Keep that in mind as you listen. I do recommend you go out, buy the book, take a look for yourself if you like, or email me to chat about how you can apply better meaning policies to your team and to your organization. And if you’re an individual contributor in a business development role, an account executive, an account manager, a principal at a professional services firm, whatever your role is, you can apply what you learn here to yourself.

Now, there are lots of different types of meetings that happen in sales, from demos to negotiations, to manager and performance meetings, to planning meetings. What you’re going to hear in this series really applies to all meetings; not just sales, but beyond. But I am tailoring the content to sales meetings with clients and prospects.

So, first of all, why are meetings so important? There’s some literature out there, most famously by Peter Drucker, who’s an author and, I guess, most aptly titled management philosopher or something, but he’s known as the guy who created the thinking behind modern management. What he said was, “If your organization is built correctly, you won’t need any meetings. Meetings are a sign that something’s wrong.”

Now, I don’t agree with that. I think perhaps there’s been a societal shift since Drucker wrote that, but underlying Drucker’s assumption is that if you build things correctly, people should just do everything themselves and not need to talk to anyone else about it. But that begs the question of, well, what is the purpose of meetings in the first place? You would probably prefer to complete sales without having meetings, but it’s just not very likely that that’s the case.

I think what we’re going to see is the simple more transactional sales. More, and more, and more will continue to evolve to the point where meetings either are only present on a small percentage of those types of deals or are a smaller percentage of each individual deal. But basically, the more transactional your sale, the more likely we are to cut out a lot of meetings. Maybe not entirely, but less of them.

In more relational type sales, the type that I do, if I’m selling sales training, and probably the type that you do, if you’re listening to this, there are three really important factors at work. Two of them really help us obtain commitment from the client, and one of them should help the client understand what’s going on with them.

So, the first psychological factor is the IKEA effect, which is, involving our clients in the sales process, it keeps them more invested in the process itself, in the outcome that they’re trying to seek. They’ll start to value our solution a little bit more the more involved they are in that process. And so, having meetings is one of the ways in which we can help involve them.

And, of course, the stuff we do in between the meetings also matters, but largely a lot of the relationship building, a lot of the involvement, a lot of the collaboration, it’s happening during meetings. So, the IKEA effect is a really strong mechanism and reason why meetings are so important.

The other one is just liking and likability. Everybody needs a voice. They’ll like you more if you listen to them, they’ll like you more if they can see you as a complete human being. They hear your voice, they see your body language, which is why video is so important if you’re doing remote calls. But in any case, there’s way more information transmitted when we’re doing synchronous connection meetings. We’re in the same place at the same time, or we’re talking live over the phone or via video.

And then, the third big factor is just the primary driver of communication, and that’s information exchange. My ‘serve, don’t sell’ methodology, the one that I made and recommend, requires that you learn as much as you can about your clients, and ask questions with a purpose so that you can deliver the best possible value to your clients.

Now, the only way you can deliver value is to understand what pain they’re in, what goals they’re after, and what value they would get from achieving those goals. And only then do we fully understand how to sell to our client. Of course, this is an iterative process, but it’s hard to imagine that we can really dig deeply without meetings. And so, in these meetings, the information exchange is huge.

So, now onto the three separate components of improving our meetings. And so, in the rest of the series, I’ll do a standalone episode for each of these phases, but the first one is before the meeting.

Now, there’s a lot that goes into this. And the first thing I would recommend you do, and actually the one action item you should take after you hear this today, is to reflect on how are your meetings structured? How effective are they? What’s happening in those meetings? And what things might you change?

And so, planning the ideal meeting structure really starts with this one question: what is your goal for the meeting? The longer your sales process when you’re early in it, probably the goal is to have a second meeting. And of course, you want to achieve something specific each time. So, I recommend you think long and hard about what that specific thing is. So, what is your goal for the meeting?

The second thing is, what’s achievable in the allotted time? You may have to have some flexibility on this one. Maybe your ideal first, second, and third meetings are an hour each, but your client only has 30 minutes. What’s achievable in that time? And then, the third planning tool that you can start using is what Rogelberg calls, in the book, a pre-mortem. That’s basically to say if the meeting were a total bust, what would have happened? And how can you start addressing that now before you have the meeting so you can anticipate all of the things that might go wrong and do something about them?

The next question you can ask about the meeting itself and part of your plan is the timing. Give yourself time to do post-meeting activities. So, one of the problems that we have with meetings is we book them on the half hour and the hour. Depending on the organization you’re in, your calendar is probably completely full back to back. The problem with that is, when we get to ending the meeting, there are action steps we need to take at the end in order to really make the meeting worth everybody’s time. Often, somewhat strangely, people don’t allocate open time at the end of those meetings in order to do the post-meeting activities.

So, as an example, if your standard meeting is 30 minutes, maybe make it 25, and that gives you five minutes to do your wrap-up activities. And the more organized you are in your wrap-up activities, obviously, the less time you need.

The next thing is setting up your meeting agenda. So, what are you going to cover? How long will you spend on each of those items? What snags might you hit? Is there some time in there that’s variable or open for new things that might come up? But basically, how are you going to structure your meeting in terms of what the content of the meeting will be and how long you’ll see on each thing. And also, who’s in charge of running each one of those things?

That, of course, is a big topic. It’s the number one piece of advice most people give to improving a meeting. It’s my number one piece of advice too, but it only matters if you actually follow it, and if the agenda is well thought out and applicable to the situation. But we’ll get to that in the full episode when I do it next.

The next thing is soliciting input. You should reach out to your prospects, your clients, whoever the meeting is with, and ask them is there anything that they want to cover? The way I typically do this is to send them a very, very simple agenda. Just some bullet points in an email and ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to cover so they have a chance to think through what we’re going to talk about, and if they’d like to see something else that I haven’t mentioned.

Next up is involving the right people. Who needs to be involved in your typical meeting? If they can’t be there, I would generally recommend not having it, and pushing your client to bring the right people to the meeting. I know that that can be a difficult thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.

And finally, before the meeting, one thing you can do is help your prospects prepare. So, you can send them information, you can ask them to send you information if it’s critical to what you’re doing. Imagine if you’re a consultant who helps clients save money on their energy bill every month. You probably want to see the energy bills before you have the meeting, right? So, whatever it is that you need your prospects to prepare, and whatever it is that they need to see ahead of time, make sure that you document what those things are, and you have a process for either getting them from the client or getting them to the client.

Next up is during the meeting. This is the thing that most people think about is what do we actually do while we’re on the meeting? In full disclosure, this is the bulk of my training in my ‘serve, don’t sell’ methodology. What happens in these meetings is one of the biggest determinants of the outcome of the sales process. So, obviously, it matters how people heard of you in the first place. Obviously, it matters how quickly you can build trust, which has a lot to do with what happens at the meetings. But overall, the bulk of the work is being done in the meeting, or at least the part that you can control is during the meeting. That’s the bulk of it.

You can’t control what other people decide. You can help them get the information they need to make a decision, and you can present it in a way that’s favorable to you while always being honest. But the main thing that you have control over is that meeting. So, during the meeting, we want to make sure we’re doing everything correctly.

So, the first one is really basic, and that’s, start and end the meeting on time. I don’t think there’s anything else to say about that. The next one is about how the meeting actually begins. And the key here is to bring the right energy to the meeting. You should be positive, enthusiastic, but not a cheerleader. It should be somewhat interesting and lighthearted but valuable to people. And of course, your planning will really factor into that.

And the next thing is to include direct engagement as much as possible. So, I’ve gotten a lot of demos from software account executives, and what I can tell you is most of them are not interactive. So, generally, it’s just the account executive checking the boxes to make sure they go down the line, and they show me everything that their manager told me to show me.

I got to say, there’s nothing worse than being asked by the rep what I want to cover, and then they proceed to go through their standard sales pitch anyway. I personally hate that. It won’t necessarily stop me from buying, but it will create a negative image of that salesperson for me, and potentially, hinder the process for them.

Next thing I do is remove as many opportunities for distractions and low focus as possible. As I said, 58% of buyers think sales meetings aren’t valuable. Well, we want to make sure that we’re creating an environment that is most likely to lead to a valuable sales meeting. One of the things we can do is try to remove those distractions and try to not have our client’s focus diverted throughout. I’ll give you some ideas for that in the episode where I cover what happens during the meeting.

Next is thinking on the fly. So, even though you have an agenda, even though you have an ideal meeting structure, and even though you’ve solicited input from someone before the meeting happens, you still need to think on your feet a little bit and be able to adjust to whatever your client needs. Now, I know this is a little bit tricky, because on the one hand we’re saying you really need a plan, and on the other hand, I’m saying you need to be willing to abandon the plan, or at least divert from it a little bit, but it is true.

And the last thing to think about during the meeting is inviting feedback. This is something that I always do in the beginning of my meetings, especially if I’m going to go through a sales deck, is I tell the other person, “Look, the reason I’m here is I want you to feel like this was valuable and you learned everything you needed in order to make a better decision. If you have a question, if you have feedback, please, please, please interrupt me.” I recommend you do that because getting feedback in the moment is one of the most helpful and critical things that can happen during these meetings.

And finally, the last phase is how the meeting ends. I’m just going to go through, blow by blow, what to think about. Number one, you should always recap what you’ve covered as it pertains to the agenda, and that should include next steps.

The next thing I want is agreement from the other party. I don’t mean I want them to buy my stuff. Of course, I do want them to buy my stuff, but what I mean by agreement is we both agree on what’s going to happen next. And so, maybe that’s, we’re not going to talk again. That’s fine. Maybe that’s, they need talk to someone else on their team. Maybe it’s that there’s a followup that’s built-in, which is totally typical, right? So, whatever that agreement is, assign to-dos to each meeting participant based on what needs to happen in order for this thing to keep moving forward.

I would recommend always ending on a positive note: telling the person why you’re excited about working with them, reminding them how much better things could be once they adopt your solution if they would actually be better. But always end on a positive note.

And then, there’s the followup and reflection. So, after you hang up the phone, after you do your post-meeting follow-up, after you leave the building, whatever it is, reflect on the quality of the meeting. What did you cover? What did you not cover, but should have? Rate the effectiveness of your meeting, and make some notes about what you’ll do differently next time.

This doesn’t have to be formal, just think about it. And if you do this on a regular basis, you’ll start to make adjustments to the way you do everything when it comes to meetings; to the way you plan, to the way you conduct the meetings, and to the way you end the meetings. So, I really recommend this reflection step.

Obviously, the last two things you need to do are send your promised followup items and set a note for yourself to follow up with the client on the next steps, whatever those were. So, here are the key takeaways from episode one of the sales meeting series. Meetings take up a ton of your time. A ton. They’re seen as useless the majority of the time, and they’re also the highest leverage activity you have in sales.

Improving the quality of meetings is critical to ongoing success. And so, running an effective meeting means your prospects will like you more, teach you how they want to buy and why, and increase their buy-in and commitment to you and your company. There are three major components of meetings, each requiring special attention and individualized attention before the meeting, during the meeting, and ending the meeting. I’ll cover each of those in depth in the coming three episodes in the series, but for now, that’s it for this episode of the sales meeting series.

In next week’s episode, I’ll tell you what your next meeting has in common with a past US president. If you’re not already subscribed to this podcast, please do so by clicking the subscribe button. And if you’re getting something out of it, please tell someone else who would also benefit from it.

You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with some behind the scenes info, as well as other exclusive sales content I put out, by signing up for the newsletter at It’s totally free, and it’s linked in the show notes.

Thank you to everyone who makes this podcast possible. Tess Malijenovsky is our producer. Juan Perez is our editor, and Mary Ann Nocum is our show assistant. Our show theme and ad music is produced by me, Liston Witherill, and show music is by Logan Nickelson at Music for Makers. Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill of Serve, Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

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