File this entry under facilitation skills and sales management.
Last Friday morning, I facilitated the first 2011 meeting of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals.  After an introduction and welcome from our gracious host Brian Brereton of Leadership Strategies, we listened to Sean Purcell describe IBM’s view of Inside Sales.  Next, Cheryl Abbott gave a glimpse into her world as an inside sales recruiter.  With ten minutes to go and our audience of small and large company salespeople and managers, as well as consultants (wink, wink), all eager to get on with their day, we still had one item to cover – coming up with ideas and topics for future meetings.
Ten minutes to Brainstorm!  Brainstorm-t-shirt-vintage-t-shirt-review-snorg-tees-snorg-tees
If you’ve ever managed a sales or marketing team or led a strategy session, odds are you’ve had to brainstorm.  Think of this incomplete list of potential brainstorms sales executives lead:

  • Customers or prospects to approach with a new offering or capability
  • Locations for lunch, offsites, award trips
  • Training needs
  • Competitors
  • Potential Channel Partners

Have you ever sat in a meeting where the leader said, “okay give some ideas on____.  Just fire them at me.  We need to brainstorm.”
How’d that go?
Sometimes the session goes well, but not always.  Why?  Some people love to brainstorm, show off their creativity. They tend to dominate the brainstorm and may chill the interest of the intelligent, but more introverted.   Others roll their eyes, worried they will freeze up or have their ideas shot down. Leaders fret that only the most vocal or obnoxious will speak up making the session less than optimal. Some may be more methodical; they need a little time to get their head around the brainstorm topic.
So, borrowing a best practices strategy from The Secrets of Facilitation, I asked everyone to take a silent two minutes and jot down any and all topics they’d like to see at a future meeting. “Let your mind run, no wrong answers.” Then, to give everyone an equal voice, I went around the room asking for the first item on each person’s list, which I posted to a flip chart.  If someone mentioned their first item, then give me the second one and so on.  One at a time, one person at a time.  No duplicates, no elaboration, no comments from me, the facilitator, or anyone else until all lists were exhausted.
With two minutes to spare we came up with 25 ideas!  And everyone seemed to enjoy the inclusive, non-threatening process.
Mission accomplished.
I subsequently posted the list to a free Zoomerang survey and sent it to everyone in attendance. If you are in the Atlanta area and are interested in Inside Sales, please feel free to take the survey.
So, next time you need to brainstorm, follow this best practice process.  Your audience will appreciate you.
A couple plugs:
1) Do any of your team members or you yourself use the internet and a telephone to complete a sales process step?  Consider joining the AA-ISP.
2) Need facilitation skills beyond this brainstorm process?  Do you lead meetings?  Then, yes you need facilitation skills.  Go to Leadership Strategies.  Take a public class.  Have a group in a similar boat?  Ask about private classes.
Good Selling!