By Thomas Barrieau
Director, Sales Enablement Practice
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In my last post, I talked about the importance of looking beyond the strength of your sales enablement strategy and assets and paying attention to what can drive adoption. I noted the trap of ignoring this issue based on the faulty thinking that sales people have to or would be crazy not to take advantage of a good sales enablement program. We need to sell salespeople on the value of the work we do as sales enablement professionals and one of the best opportunities to do that is during annual sales kickoffs.
Because sales kickoffs are both an opportunity to address the constituency you serve without the usual distractions they face and a rare chance to find them all in one place, you’ll want to do all you can to integrate your strategy and offerings into the event. If you’re not already involved in the planning and execution of a sales kickoff, you’ll definitely want to identify who, in your company, is in charge of this and make contact with them early on. Planning for a big sales kickoff event typically starts at least a full quarter in advance of the event and can happen as early as the day the previous one concludes.
Just as a sound sales enablement strategy will include both classic, classroom-style education opportunities and other knowledge resources that reinforce and extend the learning process, so too do you want to take a dual pronged approach to your sales kickoff. Live education events will consist of your keynotes and breakout sessions. These will be your prime opportunities to tie the event’s objectives to your overall sales enablement program objectives. It’s vital, though, to recognize that your attendees will be taking a drink from the proverbial fire hose. As such, it’s not a reasonable expectation that they will have a high rate of retention coming out of the event.
To deal with this, use the presentations as an occasion to layout the grand vision, get people excited about it, and—most importantly—inform your audience of how they can continue the learning process and why they should want to do so. This means spelling out additional training resources (e.g., on-demand video training), other knowledge resources that bring valuable messaging closer to conversations with buyers (e.g., call and account planning resources), and points of contact who can answer questions after the event (e.g., marketing and sales support groups). These should be noted at the end of each presentation and provided in electronic format with live links to the actual sales enablement resources at the conclusion of the event.
To ensure that these assets are actually utilized, it’s time to bring out the old carrot and stick. The carrot requires presenting information that underscores the value of the education and supporting resources. Case studies and customer success stories, particularly if delivered with sales rep testimonials, are the best way to demonstrate the utility of what is being presented. The stick—don’t worry, it’s a rather soft one—is the engagement of front-line sales managers to ensure the new knowledge is used following the kickoff. Though a soft one, this stick is very important.
Because the information presented at a sales kickoff is typically the result of a great deal of strategizing at the highest level of sales leadership, and is intended to set the direction of the salesforce for the coming year, much of it will be new information: new strategies about how to go after various markets, new messaging with which to engage prospects, and new resources that can be used to prepare for customer conversations. Putting this new information to use requires behavior change and that’s not going to happen by itself.
One of the most effective ways to promote this shift in habits is to provide coaching that stimulates it. For this reason, it’s important to give special attention to how front-line sales managers are educated about new selling strategies, messaging, and knowledge resources. Bringing them to the sales conference a day early for additional training is well worth the added expense. At a bare minimum, they should be given strong encouragement during management meetings after the event (and on a regular basis going forward) to incorporate the new information and materials into their regular coaching activities.
I’ll close this post with a list of things to keep in mind when planning a sales kickoff.
- Keep your eye on the core objectives
- Motivate – get sales team excited about the prospects for success in the coming year
- Reward – celebrate success and creativity in the selling process
- Enable – provide new tools, knowledge, and resources to help them be more productive, as individuals and as a team
- Focus – provide a clear vision for where people should put their energies in the coming year
- Motivate by recognizing the special nature of sales
- Solicit input from the field on what they want and deliver on it
- Make the team feel special with executive (C-level) recognition of sales challenges and accomplishment
- Pay special attention to the role of the front-line sales manager and consider an extra day for special training and recognition (focus on how to build kickoff objectives into ongoing coaching practices)
- Reward through recognition
- Recognize “what right looks like” through peer-authored success stories
- Provide rewards for non-revenue-related achievements and non-sales-team contributors
- Enable through innovative approaches to education
- Tribal knowledge
- Encourage/schedule opportunities for reps to learn from each other
- Sharing of creative solutions and field-developed selling resources
- External knowledge
- Competitive insights to help selling against the competition
- Market and buyer insights to facilitate faster and deeper connection with prospects
- Third-party content sourcing to demonstrate the broader perspective that can build trust
- Let the voice of the customer be heard, both good and bad
- Tribal knowledge
- Focus through candor and clarity
- Dispel the fog of reorganization by clearly setting the new direction
- Align market-focused campaigns with customer-facing sales messaging
- Make sure everybody and everything is tied back to your core messaging
- Brief all presenters on your core messaging and provide guidance on tuning their presentations to align with it
- Wrap up every presentation with “Key Takeaways” (including references to ongoing learning and other sales enablement resources) and how they support the core message
- Recognize that the event is part of a process
- Provide pre-event reading to start the learning process and get people ready; be sure front-line sales managers are pushing it
- Provide post-event resources that reinforce and extend the learning process
- If possible, review these materials and/or include them in workshops to introduce them and demonstrate their utility
- Provide guidance for front-line sales managers on how they should incorporate new information and/or customer messaging into their coaching process