This is not your father’s sales organization. Today’s sales teams have transformed more in the past 3 years than the past 3 decades. So why would you run a sales kickoff like you’ve always done?
Sure, many sales organizations did a quick pivot to all-virtual SKOs in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. It was all about solidarity and making the best of the situation, and there were, in fact many success stories. But, there were also many disappointments- disengaged sellers who longed to be back in person, information overload, challenging time zones for global teams, digital fatigue, and more.
So, what next? While SKOs may be perceived as the biggest cost in a sales budget; in reality, they should be reframed as a strategic investment that drives the change needed to succeed in the new year. With 2023 sales kickoff planning already underway, how should sales leaders build an event that meets the needs of today’s sellers while managing economic uncertainty?
- “Proper planning prevents poor performance.” Sales leaders are often too busy with Q4 activities to properly plan kickoff events. Deputize someone (usually the sales enablement leader or a chief of staff or similar) to navigate the tricky waters of planning this event. Define a charter for the event, give the deputized organizer the support they need and then focus on making the Q4 number. Your SKO charter should include goals, define timelines, acknowledge risks, establish responsibilities and provide an overview of the budget.
- Align the agenda to Q1 priorities. Yes- this is a kickoff to the new year and you’ll want to ensure sellers have a high-level view of the year to come. But, beyond that, the primary focus must be what they need to do to get their year off to a strong start- executing their Q1 strategy.
- Just say no. Every function in the company will be thinking like Eminem- it’s my “one shot” to get in front of the sales team! Be firm- push back on ideas for sessions that don’t align to the goals and objectives outlined in the charter for the event. There are many other enablement opportunities that can be scheduled throughout the year for topics that don’t make the cut for SKO.
- Apply, apply, apply. If you are taking sellers out of their workflows for a few days for SKO, it better be for a good reason. What if your sellers could return to their territories with updated plans, skills and knowledge ready to deploy? Minimize the sit-and-listen parts of the event with pre-work. Maximize the time in groups where expertise gets dispensed and sellers work on applying the knowledge they’ve gained by updating territory plans, practicing discussion paths and getting stick time with new tools.
- Prepare to show the impact. While laying out the goals for the event, document what evidence you’ll need to prove you’ve accomplished those goals. These should be actions and behaviors (think leading indicators) that can credibly be tied to an overall return.
- Fight to make it an in-person event. Your father’s SKOs probably included a lot of sitting and listening, with a definite party vibe. Can a sales kickoff be run effectively virtually? Yes- of course – especially if it’s viewed primarily as a communications tool. However, what’s the hidden cost of all the missed opportunities to reconnect sellers to the sales team’s culture, to experience the energy of forging new relationships with peers and leaders and to gain exposure to or trade ideas with the “legends” of the company? An in-person event will pay dividends across the full year with a more engaged sales team and reduced regrettable attrition.
Remember: A well-designed SKO is a strategic investment in the coming year. It needs to be focused on informing, inspiring and connecting sellers- giving them the knowledge, skills and drive to start the year strong.
This is not your father’s sales organization, so you’ll need to build an event that’s better than your father’s sales kickoff.
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