What’s in a Name – SKO, GSM or GSX, It’s Still a Kickoff!
Even as the first month of 2019 has slipped into history, with the second midway through, companies with a calendar fiscal year will have left behind their annual Sales Kickoffs (SKO) and started looking ahead with confidence and competence to close deals.
That’s a fair expectation given that millions in multiples are spent by companies to prepare their frontline personnel for market aggression and success through enablement training at sales kickoffs. From a personnel point of view, SKOs are a fun way to assimilate fresh ideas and pursuit tactics, be they negotiation skills or competitive intelligence or solution trends/roadmaps and deploy them effectively for new customer acquisition.
Back to Old Ways – Price May Reign and Selling on Value May Take Backseat
As I interface directly with sales teams at Genesys on the bids I manage, I can sense some fresh post-SKO excitement among them with a keenness to translate the kickoff vision into reality. The strong messaging that resonated throughout the event in Dallas carries potential win themes.
Often, though, once the fun and games are over it is back to old ways – hitting the field and seeking to win on price with value selling taking the backseat. It may not simply mean that all SKO learning is tossed out of the window, just that inflexibility on price may not be prudent as market dynamics differ from region to region.
Where it gets tacky is when price as a deal clincher becomes the norm rather than an exception. In an environment where we have been winning deals with pricing that is much higher than competitors, it is proof that customers are willing to pay more for a superior solution with proven strengths against competition. They are not stray instances, so that momentum must not be lost.
While pre-SKO work is mandatory, post-SKO scrutiny will have to go beyond routine surveys and be year-long even if it is not easy to enforce. Quarterly reporting and business reviews will keep the leadership across how we are tracking in terms of execution of the defined strategy and closure.
Sales Enablement and Winning Proposals
It is not just sales personnel who attend the SKOs, support teams are a part of them – lending an operational hand, chipping in with event-associated work and, significantly, bringing home win themes and strategies they can implement through proposals and presentations.
To that extent, Genesys SKOs have been enabling me to sharpen my proposals with accent on business initiatives, solution differentiation and alignment with the objectives of prospects. At the risk of sounding smug, I must say that I have started putting my 2019 SKO learning to practice as I have the habit of creating custom content that is kept current in alignment with corporate initiatives.
Attending SKOs, Blogging Since 2005!
I have been attending SKOs since 2005 (the year I joined Cisco, the year I started blogging!), with the General Sales Meeting (GSM) in San Francisco being my first. It drew 15,000 Cisco people from around the world, a figure that will perhaps stand at around 20k now. The event appears to have now taken a new nomenclature – Global Sales Experience (GSX) with even an online experiment.
Whatever the name, whatever the medium, there is no dilution in purpose, with every company (Genesys included) holding SKOs sacrosanct – that of giving attendees a big-picture view of business/market evolutions, celebrate successes from the previous year while presenting priorities for the next and getting Sales aligned with corporate objectives and big bets.
Thin Attendance and iPod Prizes to Draw Sales Teams
Cisco had such a big portfolio of solution offerings that a wide range of knowledge-sharing sessions had to be packed into the kickoff. Attendance at many of them was so thin that attractive lucky-draw prizes were thrown in as a bait. Incidentally, I won one as well.
Genesys fared better with good turnouts at the breakouts. Even so, I will be sceptical about whether mere attendance was adequate for the teams to have a fair grip on what was being communicated.
The Changing Face and Power of Social Selling
They were days when social selling was almost non-existent and any blogging and Tweeting only meant the airing of personal viewpoints far removed from the positioning of business value proposition. LinkedIn, too, was generally limited to serving the function of a professional platform (and what a terrific success it was, with no competitor for LinkedIn!) with not much business navigation and selling.
Now, though, networking has taken on a social selling dimension, where profiles get transformed into professional brands for advanced prospecting and sales navigation, enabling users to engage with potential customers online, boost pipelines and hit quotas.
Social selling is a boon when handled well and a bane when missteps occur. It is a great leveller when every employee, irrespective of the position they hold, can contribute to the success of the company they represent.
An active social media presence became imperative for businesses with the fake news venom and competitive misinformation from rivals coming into play, as I had argued in another post here, Maximum Visibility, Minimum Credibility.
Promotional posts and professional prospecting are the two sides of social selling, with both serving businesses well.
Clinton and Cirque de Soleil
The side-track aside, before I quit Cisco in 2010, I attended a few more kickoffs, including the one in Las Vegas when former President Bill Clinton was a keynote speaker. Lance Armstrong was a keynote speaker as well – same time, different halls! Not a cycling fan, so chose to attend the Clinton keynote.
In retrospect, I cannot help thinking that while Clinton had then left behind the Monica Lewinsky taint, Armstrong subsequently slid from unparalleled professional glory into personal ignominy with damning dope exposures.
Cisco kickoffs were very grand, high-spending events (a 50-billion-dollar company can afford to) spread over a week though the company is to a large extent frugal. In Las Vegas, the proposal group I belonged to even took us to the spectacular Cirque de Soleil show as a team. We were in the second row, with Clinton just in front!
They were also hyped up events with a unidimensional pitch, with sales being the heart Cisco. Of course, they are with Genesys as well even if I am tempted to trigger that enduring, never-ending debate on who is paramount – innovators or sellers. Businesses will fall in their tracks if they get into the trap of egotistic equations.
Trailblazing innovations need good salesmanship for market leadership and recognition. Selling is no easy cruise even with the best of products, particularly amid an intense competitive environment. It can be a stormy ride with Sales needing all the multipronged support they can muster for a smooth closure.
G Joslin Vethakumar