It’s that time of year when companies hold their global sales kickoff meetings. Over the past 18 years, I’ve been to a lot of these and know the benefit they can have for the company and the sales force. The CEO has the opportunity to review the past year with his or her sales team—the wins and the losses—as well as talk about the year ahead.
And for the sales force, it’s often the only time they can get together in person. Salespeople tend to view themselves as lone rangers, responsible for achieving their outcomes independent of what else is going on in the business, in the industry or in the economy. That can be very isolating.
But at these events, the CEO can be a downer, lecturing them or using playful jabs that leave the team feeling deflated. The best presentations seek common ground with the sales staff and leave them feeling up.
When I think of these moments, I’m reminded of a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt: “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” Ideally, the presentations given by CEOs are more “leader” and less “boss” in nature.
Unfortunately, only about 50% of the time do the CEOs hit the right tone and generate a sense of cohesiveness and shared goals with their audience. The other half deliver speeches that leave the sales force feeling disenfranchised, wondering why they are part of this company and whether it might be time to find another place where their skills and capabilities will be appreciated.
Often that’s not what was intended. More likely, it happens because many CEOs have never been in sales so they don't understand the sales psyche. Whatever the reason, the following examples give you a sense of what can go right and what can go wrong.
The Inspiring Presentation
CEOs who deliver an inspiring presentation come from a place of humility. They put their ego on hold and recognize that everybody from the C-suite on down has a different role and contributes to the company in a unique way—and that all of them are important.
They are also good listeners, listening to the market, their customers and their people, and then sharing what they have learned. Communication is the key, with information flowing in both directions. These CEOs know what improvements need to be made, but at the same time are more than willing to celebrate positive outcomes.
The result? The sales force comes away feeling inspired, a part of something meaningful, and that there is a purpose to what each one of them does. And this positive feeling carries over long after the kickoff meeting is over, resulting in stronger performance from a reinvigorated team.
The Isolating Presentation
This type of presentation can take two forms. The first is typified by self-centered CEOs who believe they are the smartest person in the room and aren’t shy about telling people what they think, how to do their job, and what they are doing wrong. It’s a combination of arrogance and superiority that leaves no room for interaction, completely disregarding the old saying that there is no “I” in “team.”
They decide what information should be communicated and often use facts and figures to drive home their points with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. And that’s precisely the type of impact they have on the salesforce: it feels pounded into the ground.
The second form features a liberal dose of sarcasm and bad inside jokes that come off more like insults. I witnessed one of these several years ago, with the jabs from the podium coming fast and furious, attacking everyone from the CSO to individual salespeople. I remember thinking that if I worked for that company, I’d resign before the end of the day. And it was obvious from the expressions on the faces of those in the audience that many felt the same way.
Regardless of which way the Isolating Presentation manifests itself, the outcome is the same: low performance, low engagement and high turnover—and sales figures that, in the end, are nothing to boast about.
Take your moment to influence seriously
Remember, these sales meetings may be your only chance to address the whole sales force. If you want your presentation to be more inspiring and less isolating, think about what outcome you want, then tailor your talk to achieve it. What will influence and encourage your audience? How can you engage with them to generate a sense of connectedness and purpose? What message will most resonate with your sales team long after they leave the event?
Just because you’re the CEO doesn’t mean that people will automatically follow you. In the end, people follow leaders, not titles.
Challenge for leaders: Before you give your next speech to your sales force, get in touch with your inner “salesperson.” Analyze what will inspire and encourage your team, then integrate that into your content.
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