SalesCraft 03.08.11: Perpetual Kickoff – Sales Kickoff as an Enablement Platform
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Ahhh Kickoff! There’s nothing like it. An annual event for most sales organizations that signifies the beginning of a new year – time to put last year behind us, size up the opportunity for the year ahead and get to work! This is an important ritual for sales people and sales leadership and everyone agrees that Kickoff is about recognition, motivation and networking with your peers – all good things.
Having planned several Kickoff events for VMware and Hyperion as well as a few others, I’ve learned a few things along the way.
- It is human nature to rally around an event, especially if there is a stage involved.
- Too often, an event overwhelms the strategy behind the event.
- No matter what happens at Kickoff, the executive team will call it a success.
So what can we learn from this? Despite the hard work and expense of a Kickoff, it is a relatively low risk event. People WILL step up and deliver, and any inconsistencies in strategy can be covered up by a killer video or a great guest speaker. Besides, the boss is emotionally wired to see only the positive. So, we’re done, right?
Not if you think about the possibilities of what a Kickoff could be in the future. This was the topic for our first SalesCraft event of 2011 and it seemed clear that everyone could see the untapped potential of a Kickoff that aspires to be more than a well-produced pep rally. As we surveyed the room, here’s what we learned –
- On average, most companies spend between $2800 – $3200 per person on Kickoff.
- Despite attending dozens of Kickoffs, not one person could remember anything of significance they learned at a Kickoff. (Although there was one disturbing tale of a man and a horse…)
- Very little effort has been applied to measuring the ROI for Kickoff. Everyone does a survey, but the survey evaluates the event rather than the impact.
So, let’s look at this more closely. For a medium to large sized global company, Kickoff costs between $2 million and $10 million. There are very few investments of this size and scope that your organization would support without being tied to results. One of the best quotes on Kickoff I’ve ever heard was from a CEO who said “at Kickoff, your best sales people decide whether or not they want to commit to another year”. If that’s true and I believe that it is, then Kickoff is a strategic tool for retaining top talent. Reinventing Kickoff as a perpetual event tied to an annual sales enablement platform factors the salesperson and what they need to be successful during the year into every aspect of planning Kickoff. This will not be lost on your top performers.
More than once I’ve had a sales leader ask me how to extend the Kickoff experience beyond the event. These are often the people who do my reviews and decide how large my bonus will be, so I’ve spent some time thinking about this one. I believe that in order for Kickoff to be “perpetual”, significant behavioral change must happen in a number of areas.
Kickoff as a Sales Enablement Platform – This seems like an obvious idea, but today enablement or training is a lesser priority at Kickoff and often something that is added on to the agenda with far less fanfare than the awards dinner.
Here are a couple of key changes that must occur.
- The annual sales enablement agenda must be set as part of the planning process for the upcoming year, and Kickoff should be one of the deliverables to the overall plan.
- Clear goals and objectives for the annual enablement agenda that align to revenue and business objectives must be set.
- Field leadership must be willing to benchmark the sales team against those goals (think of this as pre-work for Kickoff).
- Kickoff budgets and how they are managed must be reassessed in light of the enablement priorities.
- Field leadership must be fully on board. They must be engaged early in the process and play an active role in supporting and reinforcing the enablement agenda.
- Kickoff must be managed by Sales Enablement as opposed to an Events team. But don’t lose sight of the important role of Marketing or the Product teams contributions to the overall plan and priorities for the year.
- The plan for post-Kickoff must be signed-off and have full support from sales leadership prior to Kickoff in order to keep momentum strong once the event is over.
At the SalesCraft meeting, we broke into three groups to discuss what must change in the planning process and approach to Kickoff in order to make Kickoff a year round experience. Here are just a few of the big ideas.
Benchmark Before the Event – With the sales enablement agenda set for the year prior to Kickoff, it is critically important that you benchmark the sales team to determine current skill levels you can measure against throughout the year. This is how you establish metrics you can tie to results.
- Get sales leadership buy-in through pre-briefings and commit to sharing benchmarking results with management.
- State the enablement goals clearly. This means you must have clearly established objectives and executive sign-off.
- Develop pre-work that benchmarks the current skill level and builds anticipation for the enablement content to be delivered at Kickoff.
- As you develop the content for Kickoff, be sure to incorporate a beta test process to review the training and materials with a group of people who are representative of your sales audience. Incorporating their feedback can dramatically improve the final deliverable and reduce any risk associated with the launch of a new enablement initiative.
At Kickoff – This is the launch event for your enablement agenda so it has to be high-quality. Don’t be afraid to put the attendees through their paces – engagement-based learning is key. Make sure that all presenters are familiar with the enablement goals and objectives and encourage the executives (particularly those with speaking roles) to connect the enablement agenda to the key initiatives for the year. By doing this, you will connect the enablement received by the sales team to the results they must deliver.
Making Kickoff Stick – Consider adjustments to the Kickoff agenda that drive reinforcement after the event. This includes keeping the sales leaders after the Closing session to prepare them for how to support the messages and lessons learned at the event and give them some management skills to incorporate the curriculum into activities with their team. This is also a good time to share plans for post-work and present the enablement agenda for the year in greater detail.
After Kickoff – Conceptually, a “perpetual” Kickoff is the equivalent of an annual sales enablement plan. And this means that in many ways, the real work begins once Kickoff is over. Immediately following Kickoff, be ready to reinforce the messages and learning from Kickoff by making the materials available. Also look at programs that require them to use their skills and potentially be certified. The aspect of certification may be daunting, but it is human nature to follow-through on an activity that has a demonstrable outcome. Certification is also something which can be measured and tied to results.
Also plan to promote examples of success which reinforce the enablement plan. From there the opportunity exists to leverage top enablement “adopters” to take on mentorship roles for the next phase of the enablement plan.
Where appropriate and if budget allows, look to mid-year events that can be executed locally or support deeper learning for key segments of the field organization such as the channel or technical teams. These events should be incorporated into the enablement plan for the year and build on skills developed at Kickoff.
Between the large events, explore how to use video, webinars and even online simulations to support the enablement agenda. A powerful sales enablement technology platform is needed to support these efforts. Look for a solution that leverages current tools such as video and mobile access along with learning management system capabilities. Throughout the year, sales leadership, content and communications all can be leveraged to extend and reinforce the kickoff experience.
Other Fun Ways To Extend Kickoff
- Create a theme for Kickoff that you can leverage all year long and incorporate it into everything you do for the year.
- Build contests into your enablement agenda and don’t be skimpy with the prizes – people like to win.
- Tie at least one of your awards to achievements through enablement.
Change is difficult in any organization, but perhaps even more so when you plan to change an event like Kickoff which has such emotional resonance with sales leaders and attendees. All of your stakeholders are familiar with Kickoff – they’ve done this before and will likely revert to past norms when planning your upcoming Kickoff. This is why you must be prepared to sell the concept of a perpetual kickoff early and obtain executive sponsorship for the change. Then be prepared to actively sell the value of a perpetual Kickoff more broadly and pro-actively manage the new approach.
So if you’re looking for something juicy to sink your teeth into, perpetual Kickoff may be the ideal opportunity. Even if you’ve just recently held your Kickoff, you can begin piloting some of these ideas for extending the kickoff experience now. Start building your case for next year at least six months prior to end of year.
Many sales enablement teams are looking for ways to raise visibility and obtain resources for enablement activities. Hitching your enablement plan to Kickoff is not only an impactful and powerful way to deliver results for the organization and field leadership, but it is an elegant way to raise visibility and demonstrate the value of sales enablement.