Are Sales Kickoffs Important for Industrial & Machinery Sales?

Ed Marsh | Mar 17, 2023

Tl;dr - An annual sales meeting is a long-time staple of machinery sales management. Traditional practices are inadequate for today's markets, however. Industrial companies can take some best practices from the Sales Kickoffs of technology companies. Aligned marketing and sales, effective sales enablement, and high quality sales training are examples. 

What is an SKO?

SKO or Sales Kickoff is an annual or quarterly sales meeting. It's part cheerleading and motivating, part product and sales technique training, and increasingly a product of interdepartmental coordination.

In the industrial sales world, these are normally called the "Annual Sales Meeting." The tech industry, however, has turned the SKO into a substantially more elaborate event that recognizes the importance of sales and marketing alignment and sales enablement. There are some worthwhile lessons that industrial companies can apply to their machinery sales businesses.

Sales Kickoffs Shouldn't be Just About Products

A good SKO delivers on multiple objectives at once. Industrial companies have long used their annual sales meetings as an opportunity to build camaraderie, boost motivation, and conduct extensive product training. Those remain important goals, especially in a world of remote work which isn't as new to distributed field sales teams as it is to others.

The product training is often formulaic and focused on technical details and features, with a nod to benefits. Of course, it's important for sales reps to be familiar with products as part of their sales development efforts. But typically, the training portion of annual sales meetings for machinery sales teams delivers a set of information entirely focused inwardly - on the machines themselves with a smattering of competitive info mixed in.

That's a mistake.

After all, nobody buys a machine, service, or product because they're excited to buy it. They buy it for the outcome it will help to achieve. And increasingly, even when they desire the outcome, they don't buy because of the complexities of large buying teams and increasing indecision in the face of overwhelming information and options.

Good sales kickoffs are increasingly about buyers and markets, putting capital equipment solutions in the context of prospects' businesses, and helping to educate buyers and guide them to the best decision for them. 

Sales Training That Empowers Machinery Sales Teams

Top-performing business executives have executive coaches, just as superb athletes have multip coaches (diet, fitness, skills.)

Sales reps need constant training and coaching. Sales training isn't just an onboarding task. Buyer expectations, market conditions, competitors (including status quo and other ways buyers think they can achieve the same outcomes), and prospect behaviors constantly evolve.

Unfortunately, few industrial companies provide consistent training and coaching on sales skills and techniques. A good SKO doesn't deliver a year's worth of training, but it can establish priorities for a year or quarter in support of improved, ongoing training.

In addition to discussions of quotas, comp plans, and President's Club/awards, the sales kickoff should include training that's specific and tactical on topics like prospecting, uncovering compelling reasons to buy, question threads to quantify the financial impact of outcomes, and trending topics like growing buyer indecision.

It should also cover topics like territory management, account management, target account sales, and effective use of technology.

And that leads to the biggest change that needs to happen in annual sales meetings - the role of marketing.

Sales & Marketing Alignment, Sales Enablement, and Revenue Growth in Today's Markets

To comment on the role of the internet in industrial buying is almost banal; it's so obvious and embedded in our work.

At the same time, many machinery sales teams miss some of the implications.

Much of the function of marketing and sales overlap in an environment where prospects actively avoid sales reps during their research, and conduct most of it online and anonymously.

That means that the machinery marketing team is actually part of the machinery sales team - they're responsible for early-stage sales, and they have to do it virtually.

Even after the handoff from marketing to sales (one of the important functions of marketing automation and lead scoring) sales will continue to rely on marketing for enablement content to support their complex sales effort.

Fostering this collaboration between sales and marketing is a key function of the sales kickoff that requires careful planning and proper expectations.

Sales Enablement Strategy and Training

A significant portion of the SKO should be dedicated to improving sales enablement execution. While the sales enablement strategy should be set well in advance, the SKO should include content including:

  • what sales enablement content is available (including for what persona and stage in the buying journey)
  • how to find the latest content (sales content management tools)
  • how and why to use it (e.g. sharing links to provide tracking insights and support versioning, vs. sharing attachments)
  • techniques for using enablement content to reach other roles on the buying team that aren't directly engaged
  • tips for optimizing sales tech tools (often managed by marketing) to improve effectiveness and efficiency
  • prospecting data, the ICP, and activity tracking and accountability
  • reports and dashboards for self-management
  • target account sales / account-based marketing implementation
  • buyer research - both quantitative and qualitative, with insights from product managers into lessons learned and product roadmap
  • win/loss reporting and competitive battlecards

The point is that today's machinery sales kickoff should incorporate marketing insights and support, just as the revenue growth process should integrate both functions to create an appropriate buyer experience.

The information delivered is critically important to the sales effort. The very process of preparation is critical to the creation of an effective sales enablement strategy and the nurturing of sales and marketing alignment.

Don't Waste Precious Resources on an Echo Chamber Event

Pulling together an entire capital equipment sales team is an expensive proposition. Time out of the field, travel expenses, preparation time, meeting expenses, and management time are all costly. 

Those are business costs and are entirely sensible if they drive improved performance. That's only achieved though building SKOs that address buyer expectations. That requires thorough collaboration between marketing and sales - in the event planning, in the conduct of the event, and particularly in the substance of the education and training.

Machinery sales teams can learn a lot from technology companies - from the role of sales development, through the development of sales & marketing alignment, to the creation and execution of a strong sales enablement strategy.

Start now to make your next annual sales meeting a much more dynamic SKO to drive results.