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Much like a new year celebration or birthday, sales kickoff is viewed as a significant milestone that calls for commemoration, reflection and resolution. When it’s done right, reps and managers alike leave sales kickoff feeling motivated and ready to close. Processes have been refined, pipelines have been optimized and everyone has a clear roadmap to quota.

This is great! The only problem is that it happens just once a year. Think of how much better teams could perform if this level of reflection and refinement took place on a more frequent and regular basis.

Why wait until the beginning of the year to make beneficial changes to your sales process or roll out that new pipeline? It’s time for companies to kiss the traditional, annual sales kickoff as we know it goodbye and start taking a more adaptive and iterative approach to sales.

Adaptive Planning

While having a defined sales pipeline and process in place is 100% necessary for running an organized and accountable organization, too many companies become married to these guidelines. As such, they refuse to update or experiment with them as needed outside of doing the type of massive overhaul warranted by a major event like sales kickoff.

Waiting to figure out what could have been done differently until after a deal or opportunity has been lost is too late. What’s more, your sales process should be thought of as a series of guardrails designed to keep reps on the path to closing, rather than a rigid, one-size-fits-all framework.

Adaptive planning empowers sales folks to be flexible and quickly adjust to meet individual prospects’ needs throughout the sales cycle. One way to do this is by creating multiple sales pipelines for different types of customers. Another is by baking if/then logic into your sales workflows. Perhaps the most important is for managers to meet consistently 1:1 with reps to evaluate and address any issues or bottlenecks.

For instance, if you notice that a deal has been sitting in a particular pipeline stage for far too long, don’t wait to see what happens – analyze existing outcomes and adjust your plan accordingly on the spot. Perhaps this prospect needs an extra on-site, or requires a customer reference a little earlier in the process than others.

Don’t let “the way things are done” get in the way of winning new business. The same goes for onboarding new reps, sourcing prospects, communicating with leads and so much more.

Continuous Iteration

You’ve probably heard the philosophy “move fast and break things,” as preached by many successful Millennial-driven companies like Facebook. At the heart of this notion is the belief in “failing fast,” taking what you’ve learned and doing better next time.

Unfortunately in sales, teams often work tirelessly toward quota over the course of an entire fiscal year, only to realize their “failure” when they come up short of their forecast. A breakneck analysis is done and a few major changes are put into place at sales kickoff to try and do better the next year…and the cycle continues.

To avoid this trap, break your goals into shorter, more manageable segments. Think of these blocks of time as your “sprints,” as inspired by agile development. Think of it this way: revenue is to sales what a finished product is to developers. Just as agile suggests that focusing on a development project as a whole is more difficult than breaking it down into smaller parts that build to a finished product, sales should do the same with revenue goals.

At the end of every sprint, evaluate your sales process, outcome or strategy and make small, incremental optimizations. This iterative approach allows you to both fail and succeed more quickly, as well as promotes continuous data-driven decision-making.

To continuously iterate effectively, there are a few important rules of thumb to keep in mind:

– When choosing a timeframe for your sprints, be cognizant of the amount of time needed to collect enough data around a process or strategy to make statistically accurate and impactful optimizations. A quarter is usually a safe bet for larger projects like evaluating a new customer segment or trying out a new pipeline, while a week or two may be long enough for smaller changes like editing an email template or call script.
– Don’t do anything too drastic in a single sprint. Jumping too far ahead and skipping important steps may lead you to miss important discoveries and misattribute success.
– If you are planning to monitor and optimize a particular long-term outcome, choose a couple of key metrics for consistent benchmarking. This will help you keep your original goal in mind and more easily identify what exact iterations are responsible for performance improvements.

Kicking Out the Kickoff

Whether annual sales kickoffs have been the cause or the effect of sales teams’ reluctance to adapt and iterate on a consistent basis, one thing is for sure: taking the time to frequently optimize sales performance can only benefit your team. To help get you started on this process, check out this interactive guide for refining your sales process on a regular basis!