As the mince pies and prosecco of 2016 quickly become a fading memory, the minds of sales leaders across the land turn to that traditional January fare – the sales kick-off.
The very utterance of these three words can throw the most rational of sales directors into a mix of excitement and panic. Excitement because a well-run sales kick-off event can make a huge difference to your year - budget beating sales performance, an inspired sales team hungry to deliver against a new target or sell a new service line. Panic because if you get it wrong, the time, money and missed opportunity can be career limiting.
With stakes this high, why do so many sales kick-off events fail to deliver?
The good news is that it’s not about budget or the venue. In our experience success comes from a combination of factors coupled with a generous dash of common sense and a willingness to work damned hard.
Factor 1 – Obsessing over ROI (in a good way)
Sales kick-offs don’t come cheap. In addition to the obvious expenses (venue, travel, accommodation, the bar bill), there is the opportunity cost of taking your team off territory for the duration of the event. Adding all this up, what’s the real cost of the event?
There may be an obvious and compelling reason for running the event, perhaps a new service line, corporate message or launch of a refreshed sales enablement campaign. If so, your ROI calculation will stack up nicely.
If, however you’re running an event out of a sense of tradition, ask yourself the question – what would happen if you didn’t run the event this year? What are the implications (positive and negative) and are they surmountable in other ways?
If after careful consideration the event is deemed worth running, we implore you to become obsessive about the reason for the sales kick-off. If it’s due to a new message, ensure that each and every part of the event is focused on delivering and then reinforcing this new message. Equally if the event is going to rotate around the launch of a new product line, focus your energies on ensuring that the delegates leave with all the information they need to make it a success. Anything less than obsession in getting the required result from the event is going to erode your ROI so tread carefully.
Action: Agree your focus and measure success against it. It doesn’t have to be a complex calculation – Eyeful are a presentation design company with a long history of making sales kick-off events successful and our well-trodden ‘Must, Intend, Like’ model is perfect for focussing your events direction toward the results you need.
Factor 2 – Beware the Ego Speaker
This may make for uncomfortable reading but sometimes the CEO and your colleagues on the board are not the right people to be leading a sales kick-off event. Akin to a wedding seating plan, the running order for these events are often seen as a political exercise rather than what is of most value to the audience.
Think carefully before adding any speakers to the running order, asking yourself some basic but valuable questions:
- Why am I asking them to speak?
- What value can they bring to the delegates?
- How will they support the event’s key message (ref. ‘obsession’ in Factor 1)?
- Are there better people (internal or external) to get this message across?
Simple questions but when asked honestly, can shine a light on some peculiar casting of speakers.
Eyeful has a reputation for obsessing about the connection between presenter and audience, building stories and visuals that maximise the unique opportunity presentations bring. Using tools like Audience Heatmapping, we’ve become pretty adept at knowing what works and what doesn’t work for different audiences. One thing we can say with total confidence is that a typical sales kick-off audience are more interested in what they can personally get out of the event than listening to a leadership team meandering their way through a series of generic presentations.
Action: Take responsibility for the agenda early on, only approaching speakers who you believe would add most value to the sales audience. Manage any bruised egos early in the process.
Factor 3 – Less is More
There is a well-worn phrase in the world of presentations – “no-one ever complained about a presentation being too short”. The same applies to sales kick-off events.
The audience at a sales kick-off event is an important one – they bring in the deals that keep the business moving forward. As such, the temptation for any speaker given a slot at the event will be to squeeze as much information into their allotted time as possible. This means the important and valuable content can get quickly drowned out by the inane and irrelevant.
This takes us onto the eternal bugbear of sales kick-offs – Death by PowerPoint. Sales events don’t need to become an exercise in PowerPoint presentation design mastery, searching for new animations, transitions and video inserts to keep your audience awake. Look to a more ‘blended’ approach to presenting to ensure that your key message is delivered in as an engaging and immersive way as possible – think outside of the PowerPoint box to truly resonate with your audience.
Action: Brief your speakers in advance on the key message of the event and ensure that they understand this needs to be their total focus. Reiterate that you retain editorial control of all presentations and will tweak as required to ensure maximum impact and value from the event.
Factor 4 – Give Yourself a Fighting Chance
As with many events, sales kick-offs are prone to last minute ‘headless chicken’ moments – final changes to the agenda, speaker materials being tweaked/completely re-worked and a woeful lack of rehearsal time.
There is never an excuse to not have presentations written, reviewed and designed in advance of an important event. The sales leader needs to ensure that the ‘last minute all-nighter’ culture does not pervade their business – it has a hugely negative impact on the event and delegates, potentially rendering the entire process a waste of time, money and energy.
Action: Remind all speakers that presenting at this event is a huge privilege – they should see it as a wonderful opportunity to share useful information to an influential audience. Flying by the seat of their pants is not acceptable and should never be tolerated.
Factor 5 – Follow up to Maximise ROI
Too many sales events are seen as a single moment in time – once the awards dinner is complete and the tables tidied away, life very quickly goes back to normal.
What a waste of time, money and effort…
Look to implement a yearlong follow up/reinforcement program to ensure that the investment made at the event is maximised. This might be in the form of regular updates (online meetings, shared success stories using the insights gained at the kick-off), a regular drip feed of valuable sales collateral (not just PowerPoint decks but case studies, testimonials, ROI calculators) or, ideally, a combination of both.
Also, ensure your message is communicated outside of the sales team – allow your message to become part of the organisation’s internal vocabulary.
Action: Implement a yearlong communication and reinforcement plan at the start of the process to maximise impact.
What to do now
Sales kick-off events are a high stakes moment in any sales leader’s year. So much can hinge on the event being a success yet equally a false move can have long term impacts on the focus and morale of a sales team.
For too long, experienced sales leaders have ploughed the same furrow with diminishing returns. The sales kick-off of old needs to be rethought and refocused. The upside of taking a fresh approach is considerable. Equally, doing the same old thing year in, year out is unlikely to deliver the results you or your business demands.
So, go on – take a different approach to this year’s sales kick-off and see where it can take you…
Simon Morton founded Europe’s leading presentation design company Eyeful Presentations in 2004. His goal was big but simple – support businesses to create more powerful, engaging and effective presentations that make the most of opportunities and deliver results. 12 years, thousands of presentations and millions of engaged audience members later, Eyeful’s mission continues. Simon’s book, ‘The Presentation Lab’ continues to make waves and has been released around the world in 6 languages. He is globally recognised as a thought leader in the field of presentations and now dedicates much of his time to speaking, writing or coaching businesses on how to make the most of every presentation opportunity. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.