December 08, 2015
Each year, sales leaders invest heavily in their annual kickoff or sales conference. Presumably, it's purpose is to motivate the troops, introduce new products and services and solidify messaging for the market. But that's only thinking tactically. Winning sales leaders use their kickoff conferences to drive behavior, set tone and build culture. That's why the selection of the conference theme is critical to producing a strategic game-changing meeting.
Your conference theme determines content, messaging, scheduling and how sales leaders can evaluate the meeting's ROI later. But the theme should be driven by business needs, not word-smithing capabilities. As you plan sales conference ask yourself, "What is my group's biggest challenge in the field?" or "What can we do next year to leapfrog the competition?" This will help you craft measurable objectives for post-conference behaviors, which can lead to your sales kickoff being one of the best investments you'll ever make. If you pick a theme because you like the song's title, the way the words look on a whiteboard, etc., you are missing a huge opportunity. Choosing something that resonates with you (All In! or Changing the Game!) may sound good in a brainstorming meeting with your planning committee, but does it really address your business needs?
Examples: In 2010, several sales leaders determined that the 2008 recession had slowed down their prospecting and put them in hold-mode. So the theme they chose was "Bouncing Back!" This helped the sales team realize that it was time to get aggressive again and move the company forward. In 2012, several sales leaders realized that the market was heating up faster than their sales culture when it came to seizing opportunities, so they chose "Carpe Diem!" to signal that it was time to go-for-broke. In both cases, the theme was contextual and purposeful. And it worked!
For the last few years in B2B, the rising sales challenge is complexity. IDC research and Corporate Executive Board (CEB) find that there are more decision makers than ever involved in a quality sale. Buyers are teaming up, combining a variety of expertise, and it's making it harder than ever to land anything but the test-and-scale deal. Worse, the nature of what we sell is more complicated than ever, combined with the prospect's new habit of doing their own research and bringing sales reps into the process late in the game. In my research for my latest book (Dealstorming) I find that in many industries (technology solutions, advertising, BPO, services) the speed in which sales teams solve complexity determines their market position. It's no longer a matter of developing the best products or refining our delivery -- we have to innovate around sales complications faster than the competition to win.
According to MHI research in 2014, world class sales organizations that sell 20% more than their competitors cycle quickly through sales challenges by collaboration. For larger opportunities, they go wide, involving everyone in the company that has a stake in the outcome or knowledge about the problem. For medium sized deals, they create teams within their groups and in many cases, recruit customer champions to act as mentor-advocate-sounding board. In other words, sales innovation comes from team work. To quote General Stanley McChrystal, "It takes a network to defeat a network!"
This means that the new center for sales excellence is team building, team prep and team leadership. It's not just about smiling-and-dialing or forceful closing techniques. So, for 2016, a highly strategic theme for sales conference would signal leadership's focus on team based collaboration and rapid problem solving. "Come Together" or "One Company, One Team" or "Teaming Up To Win" or "Team Work Makes the Dream Work" would all be market centered themes that attack the greatest threat to the business ... deal complexity.
This is why I'm 100% focused on speaking about how sales leaders, managers and ambitious account executives can team-up their way to success. It's a matter of looking for collaboration opportunities, using sales skills to recruit team mates, then applying leadership talents to moving them to ideation, agreement and action. In my mind, this is exponentially more valuable to the sales cultures I address than simply, "pumping everyone up, so they too can climb a mountain or win a marathon."
As an opening keynote for a sales conference, I would emphasize a straightforward idea: Don't Go Down Alone! (Video)