Things to Consider When Planning Your Annual Sales Meeting

Posted by Jenna Cronin on Mon, Oct 12, 2015
Jenna Cronin
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Whenever sales leaders tell me they are planning their sales kickoff (SKO) or annual sales meeting, my first question is, “what’s the purpose of the meeting?” To be more specific, nearly all meetings serve to do one of four things: celebrate, provoke, inform or review. Upon sharing these themes, the reaction I almost always hear is, “we want to do all four!” In reality, we’ve never seen a successful attempt to balance all of them. One theme will dominate.

While none are good or bad, there’s a distinct curve of popularity. Employees love to celebrate. They’re intrigued by provocation. They may not be so excited to learn. Let’s face it, they hate review. As much as your employees might wish otherwise, the “fun factor” is not the only measure of a successful meeting!

If you are involving any outside firms or speakers to help support the event, identifying the purpose is a critical place to start. The theme will have a huge influence on what kind of speaker to look for, and how long the message will be. This series examines each focus area and the considerations for determining which will have the greatest impact for your sales force.

 

Things to Consider When Planning your Annual Sales Meeting

Whenever sales leaders tell me they are planning their sales kickoff (SKO) or annual sales meeting, my first question is, “what’s the purpose of the meeting?” To be more specific, nearly all meetings serve to do one of four things: celebrate, provoke, inform or review. Upon sharing these themes, the reaction I almost always hear is, “we want to do all four!” In reality, we’ve never seen a successful attempt to balance all of them. One theme will dominate.

While none are good or bad, there’s a distinct curve of popularity. Employees love to celebrate. They’re intrigued by provocation. They may not be so excited to learn. Let’s face it, they hate review. As much as your employees might wish otherwise, the “fun factor” is not the only measure of a successful meeting!

If you are involving any outside firms or speakers to help support the event, identifying the purpose is a critical place to start. The theme will have a huge influence on what kind of speaker to look for, and how long the message will be. This series examines each focus area and the considerations for determining which will have the greatest impact for your sales force.

 

Celebration

You had a record-breaking year. Congratulations! You want to applaud your team and give them the opportunity to pat themselves on the back. However, there’s a real danger in the organization resting on its laurels. The last thing we want to do is to arrive in March with everyone still relaxed and thinking, “well, we had a fabulous year last year!”

A motivational message is the obvious answer – ride the momentum into the New Year. The right speaker should leave your employees feeling good and energized. Let’s consider the important question to ask: are the Rah-Rah-Rah remarks actionable? How will you know you successfully motivated people, after the fact? Many of the sales leaders we talk to say they’ve accomplished their goal if the attendees walk away feeling appreciated and like they belong. The best celebrations recognize people who were exceptional at the tasks and didn’t just have great results.

Last year, one of our clients was planning an SKO to wrap up a year where they hit great numbers. Like many companies in the same boat, they planned to capitalize on this success by making some big changes to poise themselves for even greater growth the following year. We faced an audience that had achieved lofty goals and was understandably a bit weary. The message had to be triumphant and yet provide reassurance of the unknown – the big changes coming. Amidst uncertainty, it’s a delicate balance to inspire both energy and loyalty: a feeling of being part of a greater whole.

If celebration is the highest priority, how will you have your speaker support the central message?

 

Provocation

A keynote speaker’s impact can be purely motivational, or it can push the boundaries of the audience’s perspective. Think about the most memorable TED talks you’ve seen. They don’t just tell a story – they awaken a new frame of reference and inspire people not to accept the status quo. Now think how powerful this approach would be when aligned in the shift of the strategy of your business. The right keynote is a valuable way to support recent changes within the company. Some examples of these new actions might be:

  • New compensation plans
  • New people or structure in leadership
  • Reassignment of territories
  • Changes in the competitive landscape
  • Regulatory changes

The need for repositioning could even be as simple as “we missed our number.” Regardless of the trigger for the new way forward, the SKO speaker has the same task: to provoke audience members out of their comfort zones and to spark a different way of thinking. The common trap that both speakers and sales leaders make is to tell their listeners about why all the changes are a good thing and how excited they should be. Let’s remember one of the key rules of human communication, and something we teach in our training programs:

 

People place a higher value on what they say and conclude for themselves, than what they are told by others.

 

The goal is to get buy-in from the audience on a new idea. We know that modern selling is not about showcasing a product and pointing out all the bells and whistles. Let’s make sure our internal communications abide by those same rules! Rather than focusing on the trigger or change itself, an outside perspective can help by addressing a few broader topics. Where does the organization stand relative to peer organizations? Why and how do certain areas stand out as opportunities for improvement? One critical ingredient a speaker can use to inspire self-reflection on the part of the attendees is data on what excellence looks like. Establishing that new frame of reference requires context, and the more scientific the better. 

 

Informative or Review

If your reps are spread out across the country or the world, it’s not easy to bring them all together for live workshops. Your annual event can be the perfect opportunity to give them some training while they’re all in one place. The launch of a new product, a merger or acquisition—even a reorganization of territories: these are significant events that create a new need for knowledge and best practice sharing.

Last year, one client of ours planned their SKO around a pivot in the types of buyers they were targeting. They shared the new direction for their sales efforts during the few months prior to the annual meeting. Exciting, shiny marketing materials, distributed all around! Meticulously-developed buyer profiles hashed out over roundtables between managers and sellers! Quiz any rep on the messaging they were encouraged to use and you’d get an impressive answer…it just wasn’t translating out on the front lines. To see a true change in behavior, they knew they needed to work on the conversation skills, with a big emphasis on live practice. 

Enter the concept of the workshop. There is no doubt that working with real leads and accounts, role-playing, and making live calls will give reps a huge leg up when turning skills into habits. Incorporating a workshop into a larger event can be a tricky endeavor; we have to determine how to best utilize attention span of the attendees. The goal of your meeting could be to get your team using new techniques (informative), or to continue supporting an initiative you’ve already invested in (review). Either way, the session needs to be orchestrated carefully to keep people engaged and produce a real outcome when they return to work.

Length of session is one critical choice to consider. At Funnel Clarity, we like to refer to the half-day as the “no man’s land:” too short to learn a set of skills in context, too long for a keynote meant to ignite the imagination. Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine any group participating in a two or three-day SKO and still have enough energy left for a two-day workshop (the average length of a comprehensive program).

Our most successful engagements take one of two paths: fill a full day workshop with the most relevant approaches, or carve out a power-packed 90 minutes to launch the training program. In the latter approach, participants leave with a few concrete take-aways to put into practice, but the bulk of the learning is done over the next few weeks through remote delivery. Another important decision has to do with the facilitator delivering your workshop. Will an outside speaker who is well-versed in new product launches (or reorganizations, or messaging to different buyers) be the right fit? Is a member of your internal enablement team best suited to instruct or review?

A true practical workshop can spur the biggest measurable change in your team when planned and executed correctly. We just have to keep in mind that patience and energy can be short in the scope of that grander event. The best organizers strike that balance between keeping focus and allotting enough time to really develop muscle memory.

 

Make it worthwhile

Putting on a great sales meeting means committing to one purpose and determining what outcomes you want to see. Ask yourself: how will you know the event was successful? Once this is clear, then go about setting the agenda and filling time slots. Now, good luck and get to planning so you can enjoy the holidays!

 

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Topics: Team Performance