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 by improving the traditional industrial and machinery sales kickoff meeting.
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 among the sales team, boost motivation through team building, 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 improvement 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 - and a waste of sales kickoff events.
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 leaders have to be focused to plan and cultivate the right skills development at a kickoff event.
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.
Improving Peer to Peer Learning with a Great SKO
Creating a Cohesive and Impactful Sales Kickoff: A Roadmap for Success
A successful sales kickoff (SKO) is pivotal for galvanizing the sales team, setting the tone for the upcoming year, and ensuring that the entire sales organization is aligned with the company's business goals. Planning a stellar sales kickoff requires incorporating elements that foster team building, skills development, and a deep understanding of the sales processes and customer success strategies that will drive growth.
Crafting the Perfect Sales Kickoff Agenda
The sales kickoff agenda should be deliberately designed to balance informative sessions with engaging, interactive elements that bring the whole team together, whether it's an in-person event or a virtual sales kickoff. Given the shift towards virtual events, the challenge and opportunity to create an impactful virtual sales kickoff is now viable. A mix of live presentations, breakout sessions, and interactive workshops can approach, but not replace, the dynamism of in-person events in the virtual space.
Emphasizing Team Building and Skills Development
Team building activities should be featured in a kickoff event, designed to not only boost morale but also to foster trust and collaboration among sales pros. These activities, coupled with targeted skills development sessions, ensure that the sales team is equipped with the latest techniques and strategies to navigate the complexities of the sales landscape.
Aligning Sales Processes with Customer Success
A key focus of the SKO should be on aligning sales processes with the objectives of customer success. This alignment is critical in ensuring that the sales team not only meets its targets but does so in a way that enhances customer satisfaction and loyalty. Discussions around best practices, case studies, and success stories from the previous year can illuminate the path to achieving this alignment.
Setting Goals for the Upcoming Year
The kickoff event should serve as a platform for setting clear, achievable goals for the upcoming year. This involves a thorough review of the previous year's performance, an analysis of industry trends, and an adjustment of strategies to meet the evolving needs of the market. The entire sales group, from the sales leader to the newest team member, must leave the event with a clear understanding of the targets for the year and the role they play in reaching those targets.
Incorporating Industry Trends and Customer Insights
Understanding industry trends and integrating customer insights into the sales strategy are critical for staying ahead in a competitive landscape. The SKO is an ideal time to dive deep into these trends and insights, providing the sales team with the knowledge they need to adapt their approaches and stay relevant to their customers' evolving needs.
Celebrating Success and Recognizing Achievements
An awards ceremony to celebrate the achievements of sales professionals is a vital part of a successful SKO. Recognizing individual and team successes not only boosts morale but also motivates the entire team to strive for excellence. Sharing success stories inspires the team and highlights effective strategies and behaviors that can be emulated.
Building a Continuous Learning Culture
The SKO is just the beginning of a year-long journey of growth and development. Establishing a culture of continuous learning and improvement ensures that the momentum from the kickoff event is sustained throughout the year. Regular check-ins, ongoing training sessions, and a supportive leadership team are essential in fostering this culture.
A Unified Path Forward
A successful sales kickoff event is more than just a meeting; it's a strategic initiative that sets the direction for the sales team and the entire organization for the year ahead. By focusing on team building, aligning sales processes with customer success, setting clear goals, incorporating industry trends, celebrating success, and fostering a culture of continuous learning, companies can ensure that their sales kickoff is a powerful catalyst for growth and success. As the sales team departs from the kickoff, they should feel inspired, aligned, and equipped to tackle the challenges of the upcoming year, driving the company towards its business goals with renewed vigor and determination.