Anyone who has attended my training on specification strategy will know that I am an advocate of CPD. If done well, it is a great way for a sales representative to become established in a practice and projects them, and their company, as a leading authority on the selected subject.
Unfortunately CPD is not always done well, so here are some suggestions for improvement.
Just because CPD is technical does not mean that your seminar should not be well written and presented. I’ve seen far too many seminars which have been written by the technical department. Pages of words and data with no clear message. Yes it needs to be technically correct, so perhaps the technical department is a good starting point. But it also needs to deliver a few key messages in a concise manner and be clearly laid out. Follow the rules of any other presentation; a few simple statements on each page, not too wordy and supported with images. Have a clear story line and end with conclusions. If the seminar is about a complex document, such as the Building Regulations, and you must refer to long tracts of text, consider hand-outs to support some bullet points on a slide.
Then next important point is delivery. It needs to be well presented. Start with the script and review it several times to make sure it flows well and makes all the points in an effective manner. Then rehearse your presenters so that they can deliver the script without reading it. It is no more acceptable to stand in front of the audience reading the script than it is to forget to mention important points. Many experienced sales people don’t like working to scripts, they also have the tendency to improvise. That is just not acceptable. If you have worked out a well structured message then you need to ensure it is delivered in a consistent manner every time. Investing in presentation skills training will repay itself many times over. Remember if the presenter is standing with his back to the audience reading the slides (something which is quite common) it is your company that will be viewed negatively.
Having written a compelling CPD seminar, got is certified and your presenters trained you then need to select the right target organisations for delivery. Have a list of targets drawn from the top specifying organisations working in your sectors. These are the organisations where you will maximise your return from delivering the seminar. Remember it is just not architects who need CPD and can influence the selection of your products. Include specialist engineers and quantity surveyors.
Make sure that everyone knows about your seminar. Issue a press release, have details clearly displayed on your website and directly approach your target organisations. Call them up and speak to the CPD coordinator. Have material you can send through which introduces your seminar, presents the benefits for the audience of attending and has a call to action. The seminar might not be a sales document, but you still have to sell it into a practice.
Once a seminar is booked there should be a check list of preparatory actions. This will include sending through a pack of information for the CPD coordinator to circulate in the practice, a preliminary phone call to confirm arrangements for delivery and if there are any specific issues they want covered in addition to the seminar. Research the practice. What projects are they currently working on? Have they used your products before and if so on what projects? Make sure your presenter knows as much as possible about the practice before the seminar.
Finally, remember that delivering the seminar is not the end of the process but the start. You need to define a series of follow-up actions to ensure that you get the maximum return from the visit. Don’t rely on the sales person to think of these. Set out a list of actions which will build relationships and create opportunities in that practice and require a progress report. This will allow you to measure the return you get from your investment.
When done well, CPD seminars are an extremely effective and can lead to long term relationships and significant business. Done badly and they are a waste of money and can even discredit your company. So get it right!
First published by RIBA Insight March 2014.