What Your Reps Really Think About SKO

Peter Catalano

Like many at Brevet, I’m a former sales rep. And I’ve been to my share of good and bad sales kick-offs. While the intention was usually pure, too often the design of these events were flawed. Now as a consultant, I continue to hear the horror stories of failed SKOs. Budgets were through the roof, but the sessions didn’t achieve their goals. Year after year, we see many of the same mistakes.

When we speak with clients about their next annual kick-off, I often hear things that come across as 'red flags' to my former rep self. Here are three common mistakes that drive reps crazy:

1. Product, Product, and More Product: A big priority at any SKO is getting reps up-to-speed on new product launches. As a rep, I had to endure hours and hours of PowerPoint product training. And honestly, I probably remembered the first 5 minutes of those presentations. SKOs aren’t the best venues to get into detail around new products and services. Often these presentations reinforce the very habits you want reps to avoid. We shouldn’t be surprised when reps show up at prospects and feature dump. After all, those SKO product sessions were just that - feature dumps!

2. Congested Timeline: We all understand that a rep’s time is precious and SKOs can’t go on forever. With budget concerns, there is even more pressure to fit as much content in as possible. But a fundamental truth of adult learning is that more isn’t more! Jam-packed agendas do more harm than good. Carefully design the SKO agenda so you hit the major topics. But build in plenty of ‘whitespace’ – less structured time for informal discussions, group activities, and idea sharing. You never want a rep to leave SKO feeling that their voice wasn’t heard or their question wasn’t answered.  

3. Overly “Glamorous” Events: There seems to be an arms race when it comes to entertainment and evening events at SKOs. Yes, casino night is fun and the formal awards banquet can be glamorous. But, let’s be honest. These themes can quickly become over-the-top, especially after a long day. Be smart in planning your SKO evening events. Yes, it’s great to let loose with your co-workers. But consider less formal and more affording ways to foster collaboration and fun. Most reps equally appreciate less fussy evening schedules (with adult beverages, of course) as budget-busting extravaganzas. Informal events provide a great atmosphere for building camaraderie and sharing ideas. But even the most effective events don’t require you to turn a ballroom into Vegas. 

The good news is you’ve still got time to get your 2019 SKO strategy right. Move past these red flags with three “must haves” for your next SKO:

Peer-to-Peer Connections:

It can get lonely on the road as a rep. SKO may be the only time you’re together as a collective sales organization. Build in time for reps and managers to interact beyond the cocktail hour. Impactful SKOs dedicate substantial time to small group breakouts and interactive sessions. Peer collaboration around major deals and large accounts are especially welcomed. We’ve helped many clients transform a day of boring classroom training into engaging deal workshops. These sessions involve real-time coaching by peers and experts, and they help reps get deals ‘unstuck’. Everyone benefits: the rep working through his or her deal plus the other reps, who are no doubt seeing patterns in their own deals. Participants take away practical next steps that close opportunities. The value of the closed deals more than pays for the entire SKO.

Practice Makes Perfect:

It’s sometimes forgotten that practice matters, especially in sales. Far too often we’ve seen sales leaders struggle with rep complacency. Tenure, success, and ego can erode the overall capability of the team. Use the SKO as a forum to practice and receive constructive feedback. As a rep, my firm ran a competitive game at SKO where each of us had to “stand and deliver” a new message against a peer. Managers scored each round and provided real-time feedback. I won the first round but lost in the second. And it still bothers me to this day that I lost! Looking back, this competitive practice better prepared us to deliver the new message than any conceptual training ever could. We've worked with clients to turn traditional SKO formats into multi-day sales competitions where reps compete in multiple-phased simulations. This model creates real engagement, true knowledge retention, and lasting skill development.

Senior Leadership Accessibility:

It’s not uncommon for senior leaders like CEOs and BU leaders to attend SKO. But too many times these executives just deliver overly scripted ‘state-of-the-union’ presentations. For many sales professionals, these come across as disconnected from reality (and very boring). Today’s reps are looking for a more authentic and personal connection with their leaders. Instead of a formal presentation, have executives participate in ‘fireside’ chats and informal Q&As. Help senior leaders build personal connections with reps and managers in smaller group sessions. Focus on making executives accessible and real. If you have an overarching message to convey, send a note prior to SKO. Use the live event time for executive-to-rep dialogue. We've helped companies reposition the SKO into a form of market research. This design lets the CEO and other leaders gain powerful customer insight. Reps get to put their fingerprints on new product ideas and bring in their customers' perspectives early in the development process. It’s something reps will really remember when it comes time for them to execute in the field.

Good SKO Planning Starts Now

SKOs can be a powerful tool in driving collaboration and engagement with your sellers. Done right, it might be the best investment you make to get everyone ready to kickstart the new year. Contact us for more ideas to help you host your best SKO ever in 2019.

Peter Catalano

Peter Catalano

Senior consultant with significant expertise in sales strategy, training, enablement, and transformations. Peter combines his background as a sales practitioner with practical consulting experience to drive successful client engagements.