Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Running an annual sales kickoff

We've just finished our year and are talking the sales team off site for a couple of days to kickoff the new year. Sales kickoff's are challenging to get right. You have to find the right balance between motivation, hard core training and fun to send the sales team off prepared and fired up to nail the year.

It's especially challenging in a fast-paced, high growth company because so many things are usually changing at once. Product, process, goals etc. and thoughtful orchestration is needed to keep up the pace and excitement but ensure that the team get the right meat-and-potatoes information.

My rules-of-thumb on how to strike the right balance at a sales meeting are:

1. Motivation - schedule in the time at the beginning and at the end to motivate the team. Share the vision of the company, both for the year and for the next 10 years so they can share it with their customers, friends and family. Sales people carry the brunt of the pressure in times of growth - make sure they know why they're doing it beyond making money.

2. Review performance - review the last year both good and bad. Share the plans in advance and then tell the truth of which were achieved and which weren't. It's important to set aggressive goals (for all those over achievers who join sales), make them, but also fess up when you don't make them to keep integrity with the process.

3. Set objectives for the next year - obvious right? - but I believe it setting objectives around customer momentum like number of new customers, number of major customers, average increase in penetration of last years new customers, ASP etc. And of course the old faithfuls bookings, revenue and cash collection.

4. Train on process. Yes, this can be boring but it's essential the sales team knows how the customer pre- and post-sales support process really works. They are part of the team setting customer expectations so they need to work with the customer support team (in our case a solutions consulting team) so ensure the customer's experience is smooth.

5. Train on product. Pretty straightforward - but sales teams often only retain what they really need to know so it's important to cover the year that's coming, but also to put clarity and emphasis on the next 90 days. What is in their bag? What exactly should they say? What exactly can they sell and we deliver so they can make their quota?

6. Plan in problem solving breakouts. This not only breaks up the deathmarchofslides but also it creates an opportunity to get great ideas from the sales team. I like to break up into teams of no more than 6, with mixed disciplines in the teams, and give them a real problem facing the company to discuss, come back with ideas for solutions, and then present those solutions to the group.

7. Include the key corporate team members. This is important not only because usually the corporate team gives alot of the training, but also so that they corporate team can walk a mile in the sales teams shoes, hear the issues and barriers and develop and appreciation for how hard it is to consistently sell almost any product.

8. Work through any elephants on the table. If you have an issue coming from engineering that you know is being discussed in sales, but it's uncomfortable to talk about get it on the table. There's always one. I've seen issues like contract process (contracts was a block hole to sales and took too long), quality (sales knew there was a problem, engineering did not want to talk about it until it was fixed) etc. The sales team will have better confidence going into battle knowing the truth than suspecting it but the company not acknowledging it.

9. Talk through the air cover they'll have in the year. Marketing - often the butt of sales jokes - but able to create demand, awareness and leads and essential to soften a market for sales.

10. Have fun. I don't mean mindless fun - I mean teambuilding fun. We're going to Atlantic City today - it's cheap and cheerful for training and gets everyone away so they can focus. And while we're there we'll do some team building functions: maybe bowling, maybe poker lessons - still to be planned but we'll be mixing the team up so we play together as much as we work together.

And we'll kickoff 2008 with intensity!

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