Lay the Foundation for a SKO That Moves the Needle
Regardless of how you deliver your SKO, it can’t be treated as a one-and-done event. A SKO usually includes the launch of something new for your sales team, but there will be many connective tissues that continue to impact your sales activities throughout the year. If done well, the SKO will establish your team’s roadmap and define the focus for the year ahead.
If your company is like most, the current economic climate has likely uncovered new sales challenges or amplified existing ones. It’s important to make sure your strategic directives are clear and your initiatives are aligned to drive success. Be realistic and intentional about defining what makes sense for your team. Align your SKO accordingly, and use it as the jumping-off point to ensure long-term improvements to sales performance.
Here are five key areas where the right SKO mindset will be important:
1. Listen More and Plan Accordingly
The launch of a successful SKO takes careful planning and a strong team. Every team member needs to be focused on the goals to ensure relevant delivery, effective collaboration, reinforcement focus and commitment to success.
From project kickoffs to reinforcement efforts, here are the critical questions you'll want to answer:
- How do you align cross-functional teams in a way that leads to the desired outcomes for your sales initiative?
- How do you deliver critical concepts in a way that works best for you and your team?
- How do you weigh your options for executing? Virtual, in-person, combination of both? Pre-work, breakout sessions by role?
- How do you help your reps continue to build proficiency after the launch?
- How do you help your managers drive accountability around new behaviors or activities?
- How do you ensure a rigorous focus on results?
Leaders can’t compromise on the quality and delivery of the most important messages, interactions and activities that will anchor your event. It takes careful planning and lead time to create SKO content, training and deliverables that align sales behind your growth strategy. Setting the tone for this year’s event will be a delicate balance. Start by visualizing this year’s event and the experience you want to deliver.
- How do you deliver your messages passionately, yet add a sense of fun and a touch of humor?
- Where are your salespeople getting stuck right now? What skills, capabilities, knowledge, can you provide to help them overcome their execution challenges?
- Can you tap into your managers to identify what they need to improve seller capabilities and overcome critical gaps?
- How do you successfully navigate pre-work, presentations and activity-based breakout sessions in a way that's relevant to everyone who will be participating in your SKO - Reps, Managers, BDR/SDRs, etc.?
Gather Early Input From Your Salespeople
Throughout the planning process, it's important that your planning team solicits input from a representative sample of those who will attend. Focus your enablement team on grabbing opinions and feedback from salespeople. They have the stories, perspectives, experiences from your buyer's point of view. They also have their own frustrations that will be relevant to other salespeople who will be attending your SKO. Listen and leverage what you hear to develop a SKO event that's both relevant and valuable.
2. Acknowledge Company Shifts and Clarify Your Actions
One of the first things you and your enablement team will need to determine is the event's objectives and desired outcomes. Don’t start planning the how until you’ve defined the what. Ask yourself, “What’s important for my sellers to know at this exact moment in time?” Your organization has likely made shifts to navigate a new business environment. The focus and expectations for your sales organization may have changed as well. A successful SKO launch should address those changes and provide a clear path for success moving forward.
This year’s SKO is an opportunity to provide your sales organization with clarity. Your sales team will also expect to hear what you, as a leader, are prepared to do to support their efforts. If operations have changed, company priorities have changed and/or customer challenges have changed — acknowledge the changes. Then, find the time well ahead of your SKO and throughout the journey to clarify the needed actions.
What will you be asking of your sales team through this SKO journey and beyond? And what's in it for them? Having this “what’s urgent right now” mindset will ensure your SKO is focused on critical objectives and your salespeople's role in making them happen. Remember, the SKO is your opportunity to articulate what’s expected of your salespeople next year and how you’re going to help them get there. What you do (or don’t) say during the journey will have a large impact on your sales team’s actions after they log off or return home.
3. Set Realistic Expectations and Align Them to Company Goals
In making good decisions about this year’s SKO, it’s your job to define a blueprint — or a critical path to success. Visualize what success looks like and the outcomes you need to achieve. Make sure everyone on your planning team has the same vision as well.
Pick two or three key takeaways for attendees to have. Decide on clear, long-term and short-term objectives that you want to achieve as a result of your SKO efforts. Get collective agreement on your SKO’s objectives and outcomes on the front end and help your team stay in lock-step throughout the execution. With clear objectives in mind, your enablement team can work back from your endgame as they develop the agenda, training, deliverables and post-SKO plan. However, this is not your opportunity to abdicate responsibility. Stay involved.
Ensure the SKO agenda doesn't bombard your sales team with too many concepts at once. Be realistic about what salespeople can actually absorb. Remember, it’s better to go deep on a few topics than to barely scratch the surface on a multitude of concepts. You don't want to make the mistake of trying to fit 10lbs of stuff into a 5lb bag. The overall message gets lost, quickly. Avoid that mistake by setting expectations and using your time wisely.
Preparation Drives Success
Use a multi-phased approach to help maximize effectiveness and minimize salespeople becoming overwhelmed with information. We like to think of this approach as layered learning, with the three layers being awareness, proficiency and mastery. The pre-work leading up to the event is how you make sellers aware of concepts and strategies that they will become proficient in at the SKO. [Mastery is achieved through your post-SKO adoption plan, see chapter 5.] Here are a few ways to use your time both during and before your SKO to ensure your team is set up for success long after your event ends:
Before the SKO:
Think of the weeks leading up to the SKO as the time you make sellers aware of what will be covered during the actual event. What specific concepts or behaviors can you bring your team up to speed on to increase engagement at the main SKO? If you're going to roll out new behaviors, skills or products at your SKO, consider an e-learning curriculum that’s released to sellers a few weeks ahead of the SKO. That way sellers show up ready to put into practice all that they’ve studied up on.
During the SKO:
If you want to drive sales impact after the SKO, help your planning team ensure their agenda keeps every participant engaged.
According to Harvard, active learning techniques are what keep people engaged. Active learning happens through role plays, breakout sessions and other group activities. With pre-work out of the way to set context, plan the SKO event in a way that provides individuals ample time to practice applying new concepts to their daily tasks. Basically, avoid stuffing the SKO agenda with too many presentations. Help your enablement team map out activities accordingly. They should incorporate active learning activities that are suitable for the entire group and ones that are best led in smaller groups by territory or by role (managers, BDRs, field reps, etc.)
Breakout group activities require clear milestones and timing guidelines. Make sure your facilitating team members (managers, trainers, leaders) know their role and how to execute.
4. Lead the Overall SKO Strategy
As you move forward, remember, while you can delegate some tasks to your enablement team, there are other tasks they simply don’t have the power, resources or influence to tackle. Consider the input and opinions you need ahead of time to roll out a meaningful SKO that drives organizational change and critical outcomes. Put yourself at the top of that list.
As a sales leader, it's critical that you stay involved in the overall strategy, design and delivery of your SKO. You own the responsibility of ensuring your SKO is impactful and beneficial to your most important asset — your salespeople. Otherwise, why are you doing it?
Your involvement is an imperative component for a SKO that drives the sales engagement and performance improvements you need. Here are a few ways to stay involved:
Development and Deliverables
An off-the-shelf approach won't drive the seller engagement and improvements you're looking for. Own the responsibility of ensuring your SKO’s deliverables are relevant and customized to your sales organization’s execution challenges, your internal processes and your buyers. Building this relevancy into your SKO is key to enabling your salespeople to actually use what you launch in their daily activities. Work with your enablement team to fully understand your team’s sales challenges and map to what’s needed to solve them. Align your approach and deliverables in a way that's relevant to the conversations they're having with buyers every day.
Training, Delivery and Facilitators
The quality of your facilitators and how they present your content is critical for resonating with your audience and delivering results. Great facilitators know that it’s not just content, but the tone of voice, energy and conviction of the delivery that drives the greatest impact. Strong facilitators present information in clear, digestible chunks and share real-life experiences, relevant examples and drive engagement with their audience. If you're looking for outside experts to come in and train your team, ensure they will deliver critical concepts in this way. Work with them to ensure they're tailoring what they cover to your industry, your internal processes/solutions and your buyers. If what they cover isn't relevant to your reps and your managers, then participants will tune out.
Company Representatives and Presenters
The SKO is a great time for leadership and company influencers to address the sales team. While it's important to bring company leadership in, be strict about who you give time to and what they discuss. Anyone who presents should cover a concept that is aligned with your overall SKO objectives. Stay involved in this decision process. Vet presenters. Make it your responsibility to review potential speakers in advance. Ensure their presentations are clear, concise and consumable. Some of the best speakers to incorporate are your top managers and reps. They're the closest to the customer. Your other front-line salespeople will be eager to know what specifically they're doing to be successful.
Avoid Common Mistakes
Whether you're in charge of your first SKO, or you've launched your fair share over your leadership career, ensure you're doing everything you can to provide value to your sales team. Avoid common planning mistakes that will minimize seller engagement and outcomes. Make your SKO a game changer by stealing the secret sauce that the most successful sales leaders use. Take a few minutes to understand what separates the best SKOs from the rest. You may find valuable tips and steps you can take now to execute a meaningful Sales Kickoff that launches organizational change and impactful results. Watch this Q&A discussion on Sales Kickoffs — the Good the Bad and the Game Changers.
5. Reinforce and Make it Stick
As you define the critical topics and activities that are best suited for your SKO, you’ll want to keep in mind how people learn and how those learnings are reinforced and adopted. The actual SKO event, whether virtual or in-person, will only last for a couple of days at most. Define what needs to happen the other fifty weeks in the year to ensure concepts and behaviors become ingrained into your organization and drive consistent front-line impacts.
All training events, whether in-person or virtual, require reinforcement. The more you can define the plan for adoption on the front end, the better you’ll be able to equip your sales teams for success on the back end, long after the SKO has ended. Here are a few areas to consider:
Provide Continued Learning
Adoption of concepts increases when companies provide continued opportunities to put learning into practice. Make what you launch easily accessible and consumable. Find ways to integrate new concepts/capabilities/methodologies into your salespeople's daily routine, like through your CRM, content hubs and other resources.
The best reinforcement comes from mobile-enabled platforms that provide on-demand digital content to help accelerate adoption and give leaders line-of-sight into front-line execution. A mobile-enabled platform provides access to content, tools and resources in real time. The right enablement platform also provides reporting dashboards, so companies can assess how their teams are adopting, internalizing and applying critical skills. This line-of-sight helps you celebrate front-line wins and course-correct challenges before they affect team progress.
Leverage Your Managers
With any SKO or new sales initiative, your front-line managers are the lynchpin to your ongoing success. Incorporate manager accountability and reinforcement into your ultimate endgame. Equip your managers to drive lasting impacts to front-line performance following your sales kickoff. What to consider:
• Define what good looks like in the manager-to-seller relationship moving forward.
• Provide clarity around how they will be measured and supported in driving success.
• Find ways to improve their ability to teach sales fundamentals and reinforce and coach new concepts.
• Incorporate manager-specific training into your SKO to support their ability to drive reinforcement.
• Implement a management cadence or operating rhythm they can follow to drive results (and you can use to support them and measure success).
Lead From the Front
Driving successful adoption and reinforcement of critical SKO concepts starts with you. Whatever you train your sales team on to help them achieve critical sales goals, commit to making it happen. Understand the steps you need to take during and after your SKO to own its success. Before you launch a SKO, remember adoption and reinforcement only matter if what you roll out is significant enough to equip sales to move the needle.
Take action now to invest in what's needed to support your team's overall success. You may need to think beyond the event itself.
To help sales hit company growth goals, the most successful sales leaders often use their SKO as a jumping-off point for a broader sales initiative. You may need to take a similar approach. If your company is making strategic shifts that you need to align your sales organization behind, those shifts will likely demand more than one SKO event. Put in a concerted effort to launch a transformation initiative that moves the needle.