5 Ways Leaders (Unknowingly) Sabotage The Sales KickOff

You’ve got a big number to hit.  It’s time to rally the troops.  You bring your sales team together for the sales kickoff meeting.  It’s big.  It’s expensive, and the logistics rival a space launch.

But, sadly, for many companies the annual meeting is a rinse and repeat exercise with little staying power.  It’s fun in the moment, but the ROI is low.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  I’ve been to hundreds of sales conferences in my early years as an attendee or organizer, and for the last decade, as a keynote speaker.  From 50 people to 50,000 people, from Vegas to Vienna, I’ve seen it all.

Here are the 5 big (and somewhat subtle) mistakes that undermine the success of a sales kickoff conference.

1. Quota-focused instead of customer-focused
Sales targets are critical, but they don’t create a compelling story for the team to share with the market. Imagine one of your people walking into a customer saying, “I’ve just come from our sales meeting.  I’m on fire!  Let’s talk about how you can help me crush my number!”

The internal conversation becomes the external conversation. Whatever you talk about at the meeting, will be what people share with customers. When I speak to sales teams, I focus on customer-impact. I want the team on fire for customers, who are the actual source of revenue.

2. Speakers know your products, but not your purpose
The true and noble purpose of an organization is to add value to their customers. Sales kickoffs are the opportunity to amplify your purpose and strategy.  Yet too often, people use the main stage to review product features or company policy that could be just as easily communicated via an emailed deck.

One of the most valuable things I do is help teams bring forth a greater sense of purpose. Knowing why your job matters fuels a passion that can be communicated to the market.

3. No Advance Leadership Briefings
Engaging presentations are critical, but it’s the connective thread of multiple presentations that actually builds culture. As an outside speaker, my job is to put forth thought-provoking content that supports the larger organization strategy. For example, preparing a recent keynote for a financial services firm, I read the CEO’s public correspondence to get myself familiar with his goals, and his language.  I do advance phone calls with key leaders to get the field perspective. We discuss key themes and messages. These advance briefings ensure alignment without repetition.

4. No Manager Follow Up
When managers head to the bar with their teams immediately after the meeting, it may be great for bonding, but it’s a lost opportunity for coaching. Front line managers are key to driving results.  When I keynote a conference, I request a five-minute manager huddle right after the session. In the time it takes for their team to order the first round, managers learn quick reinforcement tips they can use the next day. Five minutes later, they walk into the bar ready to lead the charge.

5. All hat no cattle

Presentations full of puffery and even tear-jerking stories are nice, yet afterwards no one changes their behavior, or even their thinking, one iota.  It’s a tricky dance. Rah-rah enthuses, but devil is, as they say, in the details.  As a speaker, I’ve always believed my role is to introduce provocative concepts, illustrate the point with emotionally engaging stories, and then, this is critical, provide practical techniques for implementation.

Meetings are a big financial investment; even more, they’re an investment of time. Avoid the five mistakes, you’ll have a better time, and you’ll get a better ROI.