What Happens In ___ Stays In ___: How to Optimize Your SKO

You just had your kickoff at some relatively far off and relatively exotic location. Reps flew in from every corner of the globe fired up to connect with colleagues they had not seen since the last kickoff. New-hires arrived with some combination of trepidation and excitement about their first day on the job.

Considering the real and opportunity costs of preparing and putting on your SKO, this likely was a significant investment. Here’s the problem and it’s a big one. Within 30 days of the SKO, if you believe the research, your sales organization will have forgotten 88% of what they were trained on. Tell that to your CFO.

So what can you do to make sure that what happened at the SKO from a learning perspective didn’t stay at the SKO?

To optimize the SKO experience and payoff, let’s consider four costly and common mistakes and how to avoid them.

First: Ill-Defined SKO Learning Objectives. One of the most prevalent and pernicious mistakes we have seen from having participated in dozens of SKOs is that the desired outcomes are typically not well-defined. All it takes to address this is making sure the SKO committee asks and answers:

“Given this year’s go-to-market strategy and our assessment of sales skills and knowledge gaps, what do we want our reps to be able to do differently after the SKO?”

Answering this question results in the team walking out of the SKO planning session with a very clear set of learning objectives, a documented SKO-specific training strategy, and a defined process for testing understanding and ensuring lesson application post-SKO.

Second: An Event-Centric Mentality. The SKO is often treated as a one-time event as opposed to a natural and critical component of the sales organization’s development journey. To avoid this natural trap, you need to treat the SKO as part of a learning path. This means requiring reps to take and get certified on a set of online courses prior to setting foot in the SKO hotel lobby.

This approach improves the SKO learning experience because more time can now be spent exchanging ideas and experiences about a given topic than laboring through dozens of PowerPoint slides. In fact, the same PowerPoint decks your product managers would normally use to present at the SKO could instead be turned into online courses that your reps can take and review at their own pace prior to the SKO. This ensures they will be better prepared and more inclined to ask well-informed questions and contribute meaningful insights during the sessions.

Using this strategy will help boost retention of key concepts and enable fuller understanding of the essential learning points delivered during the session by the subject matter expert who built the online course. It’s the equivalent in terms of process and intention of requiring students to read the chapter on “Ancient Rome” before walking into the European History class lecture on the same topic.

Third: One-to-Many Learning Structure. More often than not, the SKO training venue is structured so that the ‘popup classroom’ consists of dozens/hundreds of Type-A salespeople scattered across n number of tables in a too-hot or too-cold cavernous conference room with crappy lighting and no windows sitting on their bums for hours on end.

Two problems with the typical SKO one:many scenario. The “1” is often a very technical product manager or sales engineer trying to explain the intricacies of an arcane protocol by whiteboarding a hard-to-decipher schematic. The “many” is a room full of reps still recovering from the previous evening’s liquor-filled festivities. This setup does not inspire useful conversation, and is a bear to manage for even the most gifted instructor. The other issue with a large group session is that “students” with different levels of experience and acumen are lumped together. So what do we do?

Shift the focus from the stage to the tables. Shift the focus from presenting to facilitating. Learning happens at the tables when peers share experiences and ideas and challenge each other. This requires well-thought-out activities with discussion guides to prompt valuable dialogue and a table lead that is capable at and committed to helping the group draw out lessons from the session. The other key benefit of this approach is that it is super practical and relevant because people are sharing or asking for help about real-world experiences. Invaluable.

To address the ‘different people are at different skill/knowledge levels’ issue, you can offer “beginner” and “advanced” course choices. Or offer a syllabus of different courses that reps can choose to attend based on their self-assessed or manager-suggested areas for improvement. If budget or resources or sales staff size don’t make any of these alternatives feasible, you can still make sessions with mixed skill/knowledge level audiences highly successful.

The key is to have the session, particularly if its focused on selling skills, consist of reps sharing stories of specific approaches they took to win critical deals. Ensuring discussion topic relevancy based on real-world scenarios and driving group participation enables an enjoyable and productive learning situation for all concerned regardless of experience level.

Fourth: Lack of Planned Post-SKO Training Reinforcement. If the SKO is treated as a one-time event, little if any thought will be given to what needs to happen post-SKO to reinforce the knowledge and skills emphasized during the SKO. There are a couple of ways to tackle this issue.

For product and competitive training, do a post-SKO certification. If reps know they are going to be tested after the SKO, their likelihood of engagement during the SKO training sessions goes up. Moreover, the process of having to develop a post-event test forces you to think about what you want to reinforce, which should align with the learning objectives you defined pre-SKO.

For selling skills training, provide your frontline managers with a framework and guide to help them methodically assess and develop rep-specific skills. Deal and pipeline reviews are perfect coaching settings and opportunities. Skill mastery evolves from repeated discussion and application of that skill in real and high-stakes situations. For a rep and their manager, there is no higher stake situation than a key deal that can make or break their quarter.

Having your managers use deal reviews to develop rep-specific deal management and sales conversation skills will hone your managers’ coaching skills. The frequency and cadence of deal and pipeline reviews creates the perfect opportunity for continual skill development for both rep and manager, which, ultimately, is what you are after.

So, what will you do to ensure that, at least, when it comes to training, what happened in _____ didn’t stay in _____?

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