Does A “Sales Kickoff” Deliver Value?

Next month, Forrester Research will host its inaugural Sales Enablement forum in San Francisco. Sales enablement was a key topic at the ITSMA member’s conference last November as well. With so much interest focused on new technologies aimed at making sales more effective and efficient, I wondered what value the traditional start-of-the-year sales meeting still holds for B2B firms.

It also happens that I’m just a few days past experiencing my first kickoff meeting with Xerox Services, held last week in Orlando. Here’s proof: a candid shot of me running a workshop on “Switching On: How To Boost Growth in Xerox Services” and voting on team brainstorm priorities. Authors Chip and Dan Heath have a new book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard”, that provided the theme for our meeting this year.

I have to admit, returning to the Disney Yacht and Beach Club did give me a bit of “déjà vu” since this venue has been the site for many prior Forrester and other popular high tech conferences. Without giving secrets away, let me just say that it was a very interesting experience to plan, execute, and participate in my first sales meeting in over 15 years. The recent economy, and the advent of new virtual conferencing technology, seems to be taking internal sales meetings down the same road traveled by the Edsel. Or has it?

In talking to colleagues at other large companies like Wells Fargo, Saleforce.com, Adobe, and many high tech firms in the valley, I found that sales kickoffs, in various formats, remain common. The key value my friends cite for hosting in person events include:

1) Connect with team members – nothing replaces spending time face-to-face. Many high tech firms tried virtual events during the past couple of years and, while they liked the novelty, most returned to physical events this year.

2) Set the tone for the coming year – rally the troops around a common theme and set of goals.

3) Inspire new thinking and behavior (usually provided by an outside expert or speaker).

4) Reward and recognize the sales community as a whole outside of President Club/Top Performers programs.

5) Streamline mergers/acquisitions by giving people an opportunity to interact in person.

6) Create camaraderie through structured and unstructured social activities – creating fun, silly, and exciting experiences is a common part of the program.

The value here seems a bit vague and intangible, huh? I mean, really, how does any of this lead to revenue growth, greater profitability, and customer loyalty? And there lies the challenge of justifying the expense and trouble of the annual sales meeting and why many firms are rethinking the place kickoff has in sales operations.

At the intersection of “Sales 2.0″ technologies and sales meetings, I think executives (and marketing professionals who support the activity, investment and process around sales enablement) need to remember that sales is ultimately about people and those people create and manage important relationships with your customers. Beyond their comp plans, Sales needs to feel valued, and a source of competitive advantage. Technology investment alone won’t provide that, but investing in ways to increase Sales’ commitment to your business plan, vision, and roadmap will.

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