Sales Kickoff: An Opportunity to Kick-Start Culture Change
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Sales kickoff has long been a pillar of responsibility for many sales enablement teams. But in a year that has been filled with health, economic, and humanitarian crises, expectations for how business is conducted and how organizations support their employees have undergone a massive shift globally. Amid such large-scale changes, sales enablement has both an obligation and an opportunity to lead the organization forward in pursuit of a more flexible, inclusive, and collaborative culture.
As an event that is often an organization’s sole opportunity to gather a global audience across multiple functions, the sales kickoff – often referred to as SKO – is the perfect opportunity to set the stage for culture change in the year ahead.
Undoubtedly, sales kickoff is bound to look a bit different for most organizations than it has in the past, as many teams are now tasked with executing either a full or partial virtual event on a global scale for the first time. While the methods of delivery may change as a result, the core purpose of a sales kickoff remains the same: to unify the revenue organization around collective goals and motivate employees to achieve excellence as they begin the new year.
“I expect there’ll be far fewer physical events moving forward and people will have found solutions for problems like big sales conferences just as we are right now,” said Rebecca Bell, associate director of global sales enablement at IQVIA. “They’ll have to find a different solution or a different set of ways of doing things. I think if those are successful, it might change things forever. Right now, I feel like sales enablement is really relevant to the success of the company moving forward.”
As such, sales enablement plays a critical role in effectively delivering that message in this new environment in order to empower all employees to be a part of the journey toward an improved culture in the year ahead.
“It’s important to not be apathetic about culture,” said Kayde Givens, director of revenue enablement at Chorus.ai. “An apathetic culture can get really toxic, really fast. It’s on us as enablement leaders, but also on our sales leaders, our HR teams, and others to jump in and be able to shape that culture every single day.”
By communicating a shared vision for culture change as the organization begins a new fiscal year, sales enablement can engage the passion of employees and lay the foundation for that change to become embedded in their behavior. Consider how you might incorporate the following factors into your sales kickoff this year to drive a positive culture in the year ahead.
Inclusion in the workplace means more than just ensuring diverse representation with who is in the room. It also means empowering all of those diverse voices to share their insights and have their input reflected in the actions an organization takes.
Given the unique nature of sales kickoffs as an opportunity to bring together teams across geographies, time zones, languages, and more, sales enablement should pay special attention to how the event facilitates and encourages inclusion.
“From a culture perspective, I think inclusion is everything,” said Kate Philpot, global sales enablement director at Getty Images. “Defining what that inclusion means is also important. Then, thinking about practically, what are the steps that you’re going to take in order to make that inclusion feel meaningful for the people that you are trying to include, is also really important.”
For example, consider some of the following factors to ensure people feel included in a meaningful way:
- Who is given a platform to present? Take a critical look at the session line-up. Speakers should represent a range of teams and subject matter expertise, and gender and racial diversity are also crucial considerations. Ensure perspectives that reflect a wide range of expertise are given equal amplification.
- How are we including employees across regions? People will be less likely to actively participate if they feel like they are in an unfamiliar environment. With barriers such as languages or time zones, it is important to be intentional in making content accessible so that everyone feels welcome to participate. For example, if the audience will be global, ensure live sessions are hosted during normal working hours for all time zones. Additionally, consider adding subtitles or inviting a translator to accommodate team members whose native language differs from that in which the sessions are delivered.
- Do people at all levels have an opportunity to have their perspectives included? As Google’s Project Aristotle research initiative found, teams are more effective when employees have “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking”. In other words, teams are better equipped for success when more people take turns sharing their insights, rather than a few strong voices dominating a conversation.
By opening opportunities for more diverse voices to be heard and empowering active participation, it helps set expectations for inclusion across teams moving forward, and instills confidence in team members who are typically more modest in sharing perspectives. Philpot shared an example at a Sales Enablement Soirée session where she was able to facilitate open conversation virtually by teeing up her expectations for sharing best practices up-front. By emphasizing that there were no wrong answers and inviting those who were more reserved to speak directly, it gave exposure to new voices.
“They were able to participate and get exposure to their colleagues in other offices in a way that wouldn’t historically have happened,” said Philpot. “So ironically, the fact that we’re all remote and the fact that they were all dialing in delivered more inclusion than what would have been the case otherwise.”
One dramatic shift that has occurred over the past several months as remote work became the norm for many companies is heightened empathy and vulnerability. People are learning how to balance professional responsibilities within their home environments, whether that means navigating how to work in a shared space with five roommates, or helping children with their online school. This has revealed a large need for increased flexibility from organizations in order to support a healthy work-life balance for employees.
“Our sales culture of driving hard and being really excited if someone stayed till seven and made all their dials has totally changed,” said Givens. “You have to say, how do we actually adjust to the work-life that you’re living in now? Because it’s very different. We need to support them in that.”
With this in mind, it is important for sales kickoff to embody this culture of empathy and understanding with a flexible design. In coordinating event logistics, ask some of the following questions:
- What is the time commitment? For many employees, it might be challenging to dedicate eight-plus uninterrupted hours to required material while also balancing personal responsibilities at home. Instead, consider how a virtual sales kickoff could make use of micro-learning sessions to break up larger topics. Or, leverage pre- and post-work assignments so that people can digest some of the information on their own time. When live sessions are necessary, be sure to include breaks in between to take care of necessities.
- Are there any environmental considerations people should be aware of? While it is ideal for people to have cameras and mics on when interacting with colleagues or participating in discussions, be cognizant of the fact that it might not be feasible for every person to find a quiet location to participate from for hours at a time. If it will be necessary for an activity to have mics and cameras enabled, be sure to communicate those expectations well in advance so that people can plan ahead for those sessions.
“We all know that it’s more of a drain on your energy levels to be on nine hours of in a day,” said Philpot. “So, break the sessions up and offer more breaks.”
With flexible expectations and requirements, it encourages participants to come to each session fully engaged and in the right mindset to actively listen and learn.
One of the primary benefits of an in-person sales kickoff is the opportunity it presents to foster collaboration across teams that do not normally get to interact with one another. While teams might not be traveling to or gathering at a central location this year, that doesn’t mean that the spirit of collaboration cannot be emulated in an online setting. It just requires a bit more intentional planning and coordination than might be necessary for an in-person event.
“You would be very unlikely to stand in a classroom for hours on end and just talk at people,” said Philpot. “You would ask them questions. You’d ask them to turn to their neighbor and have a chat. You’d ask them to put their hands up and say whether they agreed or disagreed with your question. All of that’s available through the technology. It just requires you to think a little bit in advance and decide which bits you’re going to use when.”
Think about the following questions when planning ways to encourage teamwork and collaboration:
- How are we facilitating cross-team interactions? While in-person events offer organic opportunities to network with people outside of one’s normal team, these opportunities for collaboration will need more deliberate focus in a virtual setting. Consider how collaboration can be prompted with small group activities or breakout sessions. Be intentional about assigning small groups to include representatives from different teams that might not normally work together.
- Are we leveraging all of the expertise we have in the room? It can be easy to cater to what is familiar when designing activities for large groups. To avoid this, be sure to partner with subject matter experts on a variety of topics and who represent a range of teams or regions. This way, questions or prompts can be embedded in activities that invite people to share their unique experiences and insights.
With some intentional thinking around fostering collaboration, it helps reinforce its importance to organizational effectiveness while also demonstrating how it can be done successfully through virtual means.
In a year that has experienced a domino effect of large-scale societal changes, it is important that organizations nurture a culture that supports its people through those changes and evolves alongside them. As an event geared toward driving momentum as we begin a new year, sales kickoff can be a catalyst to create a culture that is more inclusive, flexible, and collaborative.
“Out of every catastrophe, there is an opportunity,” said Philpot. “The really positive thing has been that [crises] have started a conversation. It is getting people to challenge their thinking that even six months ago would have been quite rigid…The creativity, desire, and willingness to consider alternatives has been a positive change that [sales enablement] can continue to drive.”