Virtual SKO

Sales Kick-Off 2021 will soon be upon us, and this time , as we’re all working from home more, it’s highly likely to go virtual.

That’s why it’s imperative for you to know what engages and motivates people from a distance. How can you shift your salespeople’s mindset to align them with the strategy, objectives, process, content, and tools they need to succeed in 2021?

You can find out more about taking the lead in the aftermath of Covid-19 by watching our webinar.

Unique challenges

The annual SKO is your starting point for aligning your entire sales organization around your company mission, vision, strategy, and objectives. Just like previous years, your sales team will be wondering how they fit into your plans, and what you as sales leader are doing to support their effort and ensure they succeed. But things are different this year, because of restrictions on people meeting in person, in groups… at home, in the office, or anywhere you might normally go for a team event.  

Regular team-bonding activities and sessions are out of the question, because you’re not allowed to meet in larger groups. So what other activities can you arrange to build team spirit, and encourage and enthuse your sales reps?

5 steps to virtual SKO success

Step 1: Set clear objectives for your virtual SKO.

  • What’s the number one issue impacting sales efficiency that you need to address for the coming year?
  • What’s the main change or transformation you can implement to drive your sales organization forward?

Try to see the bigger picture when answering these questions. Working out how issues relates to your sales process will help you determine if need better planning, other talent…

Step 2: Define your program content.

Once you’ve set your objectives, you can use careful planning to make the most of your time and create content that aligns with your goals.

  • Ask yourself what questions your team are likely to have, and prepare your answers;
  • Can you arrange any hand-on exercises or breakout sessions?
  • How can you make these activities work in practice?

It’s worth running through your ideas in advance to iron out any issues that might arise and structure the SKO properly. Don’t forget: you also need to give your salespeople time to network or simply recharge sometimes.

Discuss all these questions and issues with your team, so they can help you find answers and make any necessary arrangements. Once you’ve formulated your SKO, you can reverse engineer the meeting.

Step 3: Find out what you can in advance.

  • Invite your salespeople to share customer success stories;
  • Record their best elevator pitches;
  • Provide team updates;
  • Etc.

Step 4: Encourage participants to get involved

  • Stimulate chat before, during, and after your keynote to gather questions and concerns from the floor;
  • Break out into virtual sessions so that people can discuss plans together.

Step 5: Outline what happens after the SKO

  • Work out the best way to ensure your plans for result-driven adoption and reinforcement are put into practice;
  • Think about execution and set up virtual sales initiatives to pave the way to success;
  • To improve your commercial performance by prioritizing your activities, read our checklist.

In summary

When asking yourself how a virtual SKO can drive results, it’s important to consider the following:

  • A virtual SKO is still a live event, so you still need to engage all attendees and make sure they get involved;  
  • The medium used to deliver the messages doesn’t change the outcomes – and the outcomes depend on shifting the mindset, explaining each salesperson’s the contribution, and following up implementation;  
  • The plan for what happens after the SKO is just as important as the event itself.  

Going virtual

To help you shift your usual SKO into a virtual one, you can consider shifting your SKO budgets for travel, accommodation, and networking into post-event sales effectiveness programs.

  • Investing in learning and coaching;
  • Develop the new insights required to carry out the new plan;
  • Focus on the skills that need to be reinforced;
  • Work out how to measure success.

Looking for Common Sales Enablement pitfalls? Here’s 4 mistakes to avoid.

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One might say the missing link, but I prefer the term “strong link”: the link that unites teams, creates solidarity and strengthens synergies.  I’m talking about the Sales Development Representative (SDR for short).

This is a new sales function from across the Pond, reflecting the current trend of specialisation of sales teams in the B2B sector. Times when salesmen had to do everything themselves, from prospecting to concluding deals, are definitely over.

Let’s take a closer look: first and foremost, why the need to specialise? And what is the difference between an SDR and an Account Executive or an Inside Sales?

Why should sales teams specialise?

Traditionally, salespeople were responsible for the entire sales cycle, from prospection over qualification and sales negotiations to the management of the customer portfolio. Today, sales teams tend to specialise. But why?

Three main advantages:

  1. Better performance: specialisation allows each team to excel in what it does
  2. More easily accessible and better organised data: systematic processing of data from different sources, structured and encoded in a follow-up tool like CRM
  3. Improved customer relation: prospects who are not interested are not bothered longer than necessary. Efforts can be focussed on qualified prospects.

In short, the SDR will do research, look for and qualify prospects before passing the torch to an Account Executive in order to turn them into customers.

What’s the difference between the SDR and an Account Executive?

Like any other community, the Sales community has its own language. But it’s difficult to find two enterprises who have the same definition for the terms Account Executive, Sales Executive, Business Developper, Account Manager or… Inside Sales. For the moment, we’re going to keep it simple and limit ourselves to SDR on the one hand and Field Sales on the other. In other words, we’re going to make a distinction between the person who stays at the company and the person who goes into the field.

  • The SDR starts his activities rather early in the sales cycle. His tasks comprise the creation of lists of prospects, as well as prospecting through telephone calls, e-mail and social networks. In order to do this, he uses IT tools (CRM, data base, web sites,…)
  • The SDR identifies prospects and starts negotiations before referring them to the Account Executives, whose responsibility it is to conclude contracts. This means that the SDR is the customer’s first “human” contact with the company
  • The SDR contacts and qualifies the leads identified by the marketing team, confirms that an opportunity exists and refers the Sales Qualified Leads to the sales team
  • The SDR maps the key players of the key accounts and provides support to the Key Account Managers for an optimal decision-making process

It is therefore the SDR’s responsibility to arrange the first face-to-face meetings as soon as the lead has reached a certain maturity.

Doesn’t that resemble the responsibilities of an Inside Sales?

Yes and no. What they have in common is the qualification of the leads. The Inside Sales qualifies the incoming leads but, contrary to the SDR, he doesn’t have to generate leads himself. The latter also performs outbound sales, which means he generates new leads himself and maintains relations with them. This requires a wider range of competencies than the Inside Sales: he has to control social networks, marketing campaigns, incoming calls and cold calls after a written and personalised contact with the prospect. If necessary he also makes demos. One might go even further and state that after the qualification, he is able to conclude a distance contract. This is the case for transactional sales or for solutions of low complexity and value.

In short, the SDR knows and controls the offer and the needs of the market. He is able to have a well-reasoned conversation with the targeted prospects, to challenge them to discover new perspectives and to arouse their interest enough for them to want to have a face-to-face meeting.

The SDR creates added value during the interactions. He optimally paves the way for the Account Executive, who will then continue the personal contacts with the leads.


On a recent lead generation training course, I was very surprised to find a large majority of salespeople among the participants. It turned out that these sales reps were attending because their marketing wasn’t delivering leads that made sense from a sales perspective. Some of them had KPIs for cold calling, and results were reportedly getting worse and worse.

This situation again illustrates that the majority of businesses in Europe haven’t yet realised we’ve arrived in the ‘age of the customer’. Not that the customer has changed, but thanks to the internet, social media and new mobile possibilities, buyers have changed the way they interact with us. Organisations that want to secure or grow their business shouldn’t wait any longer to start looking at ways of meeting the empowered customer’s needs.

A well-oiled sales and marketing machine is essential

Buyers today can find loads of information about your products, and your competitors’, in just a few clicks. If you want to do business with leads who are looking for a solution like yours, it’s the marketing department’s job to provide the right information in the right form, at the right time in your lead’s buying cycle.

Cost efficiency and volume are key: marketing generates leads in a one-to-many digital approach. Only leads that meet specific marketing criteria (MQL) are being handed over to sales, who then take over from there. Sales qualifies both the contact and the buyer readiness (SQL), and leads rejected by sales are recycled by marketing into campaigns that can be made very specific thanks to the new insights gained by sales.

One marketing activity that is often forgotten is demand generation: besides capturing ready-to-buy leads, marketing can also create demand through inbound marketing. Leads from these campaigns can be nurtured to hopefully become sales-ready one day. Without demand generation, sales will keep on complaining about the quantity and quality of leads provided by marketing.

So has your machine been oiled to meet new customer demands?

How to get the machine running

If your machine’s a bit sluggish, it’s probably time to stop the ongoing battle between sales and marketing. Take a new look at activities and responsibilities, and create a value chain that helps your customers buy from you.

Here are a few tips to get sales and marketing collaboration on track.

  • Share common goals
    Across departments, increase awareness that we’re all trying hard to achieve the same company targets. Collaboration is key!
  • Share a common vocabulary
    In the age of the customer, replace your sales process with a buying process, and make sure both sales and marketing are speaking the same language. Introduce a clear demand-generation process with milestones based on commonly agreed definitions to make it work
  • Co-development and best practice
    Work together as one team. Both sales and marketing can add lots of value, insights and messaging to improve traction, conversion and ROI on marketing activities. Sales meetings are an ideal platform to keep marketing up-to-date with what’s happening in the market; marketing can take the stage to inform sales about ongoing results and planned activities in line with the sales organisation’s needs, again reinforcing the importance of common goals
  • Marketing: messaging should allows the building of customised content
    Research has shown that that up to 90% of content created by marketing goes unused by sales. Implement a content strategy that enables the building, sharing, measurement and improvement of messaging quality. Messaging should allow the building of content that is customised for different roles, their individual buyer readiness, and context
  • Marketing: ‘why change’ content
    The majority of content aims to convince us why we should choose company X or product Y. But research shows that 60% of opportunities are neither won nor lost; they simply disappear without a sale. The content that explains why customers should change is therefore crucial for creating demand and increasing conversion

Want to find out more and see the whole picture? Watch the webinar ‘How to Align Sales and Marketing’ with guest speaker Pascal Persyn, CEO at Perpetos, and moderator Deva Rangarajan, Associate Professor at Vlerick.

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Even before most customers go to a supplier, they have gathered information and seek an answer to specific questions. A traditional salesman who displays his excellent product knowledge in his sales pitch and who has mastered the conventional negotiating techniques does not meet his quotas anymore. An exceptional salesman, on the other hand, knows in which buying phase the customer contact has arrived, understands the situation and is able to give advice. It takes three things to turn any salesman into an exceptional salesman: content, technology and a continuous learning process.

Content

To illustrate his words and continuously learn about the product range and its possibilities, the salesperson needs the right content, sufficiently flexible to be combined and supplemented at his own discretion. The content is created in a dynamic process so that other salespeople always have the most recent knowledge and documents at their disposal as well. Content creation becomes one of your principal sales support processes so that your salespeople constantly improve their knowledge and adapt to any customer situation.

Technology

Your seller needs software not just to be able to show the content in the right manner, but also to be able to consult the most recent information on the customer in advance. CRM should be more than an automated filing cabinet or tedious administrative work. It should support the seller in doing the right thing at the right moment with the right contact. Sellers should use the tools willingly and constantly so as to store and share knowledge as well as to review their own actions. This brings us to the third aspect of our topic.

Continuous learning

The learning process of each seller should also become part of the corporate culture. Your sales team needs permanent training and coaching. Everyone considers it normal that the best athletes have to train and are coached on a daily basis. This is also necessary for sellers whose environment changes continuously. Their own products develop, the market changes, the customers evolve and the competitors are not sitting back and doing nothing. A seller who acts as a talking catalogue is not much use in this context. To be a good adviser, they need to be able to count on your support. Training and particularly coaching are more important than ever. Empathy and commitment to the customer are capacities which require lifelong learning.

These 3 elements ensure better and deeper relations with customers and will make sales talks more relevant than ever for the customer.


I often hear that customers have changed drastically in recent years. What has actually changed is their way of interaction. Your sales, marketing and products have to adapt to this evolution, and a number of pitfalls may show up in the process.

1. You do not send the right message

Most websites I visit are continuously referring to ‘we’ and the benefits of working with ‘us’. This is of no concern to the consumer as he is looking for answers to his questions. Customers are obviously influenced by the information they find online, so you should take care that they actually get answers. Such content will make customers feel more connected and committed to your company. Step into your customer’s shoes and check whether you get answers to the questions that may occupy customers during their entire purchasing cycle.

Research has furthermore shown that prospecting costs (cold calling) have quadrupled over the last five years. You can counter this by fostering customer confidence online in accordance with their purchasing activities (buyer’s journey). How? By focusing on how the customer will be impacted if he decides to work with you. So do not talk about yourself too much, and preferably not all.

2. You focus on selling solutions

Solution selling used to take centre stage in the sales process. This is no longer the case in the current age of the customer, as the customer has already formed an idea of his solution before the seller is involved in his buyer’s journey. Customers get irritated when they are told things they have known for quite some time during a sales meeting.

The customer is therefore not waiting for a diagnosis or solution from your salesperson. Your sales department needs to have a thorough understanding of the customer and his situation. Based on this information, the salesperson can modify or enrich the customer’s view during the sales meeting. This furthermore needs to be done in line with the strengths of your company and product offer. In other words, the sales department needs other skills than in the past. Sales activation and support are indispensable in this regard.

3. The product never takes centre stage

The customer needs to see a clear reason to opt for you. However, if you focus too strongly on the product or service, the customer is not involved in the process and you do not support him in his buyer’s journey. It is important that you know your customer’s profile and develop an optimal solution on that basis.

Most salespeople have a better understanding of their product than of the customer’s situation and environment. Especially companies based in Europe have this problem. The fact that your product is better than the products of your competitors is not the message you want to send out.

4. You train your salespeople on the basis of product trainings

When asked how they train their salespeople, most companies answer: ‘with product trainings’. This is in fact not the right way. We already know that customers have formed an opinion before they come in contact with the seller. The risk is that your salesperson may try to convince the customer, or even worse, enter into a discussion with the customer.

This is the result of sales trainings which focus on what you are selling and why you are better than the rest. The more you lash out against the competition, the more you encourage customers to opt for the cheapest solution. So in the worst case you decrease your margins yourself. This is why you need to teach your staff how to explain the impact to the customer.

5. Your data are not of high quality and you do not segment sufficiently

Companies obtain the best results when they segment their market potential on the basis of common needs and challenges. Companies with a wide range of products and/or services can combine this strategy with a vertical market approach so as to make their message more clearly recognisable.

For example: you sell products that are ideal for companies with a large number of branch offices. Companies in the banking sector and the retail industry have a lot of branch offices and buy on the basis of common needs. There is only a difference in the terminology used (shop manager versus branch manager); the underlying message remains the same. A layered approach enables you to increase the reusability of marketing and sales support (cost reduction) and makes it easier for your salespeople to adapt during the meetings. This will also have a positive effect on your margin and win ratio.

Please note that a good segmentation does not suffice; you obviously need to have an excellent database as well. A reliable process to complement the segmented database on a continuous basis is indispensable in this respect.

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Suppose your company is ready to make its next investment. You might be planning to change your ERP system, start e-commerce, re-do the website or even buy new office premises.

There are various milestones to take into account when considering where you are in your buying process:

  • Are you 100% sure you want to change the existing situation?
  • What will your new purchase enable you to do?
  • Have you already calculated the costs and ROI?
  • What criteria will you use to compare suppliers?
  • Have you compared the differences and benefits of the various options?
  • How can you guarantee that your future supplier will not disappoint you in the long run?
  • Have you checked if the new solution will cause any new problems?

You’re probably not the only person involved in this buying process: do you think your CFO and other colleagues will give the same answers to the questions above?

Everyone goes through the same mental stages in the buying process

Keep the future investment in mind for a moment. Do you realise that all your colleagues, like any individual, go through the same mental stages before making a decision to buy? Scientific research shows that every buying process follows the same sequence of mental stages. This ‘buying clock’ is a good tool for working out the readiness to buy of everyone involved in the decision-making process.

This doesn’t mean that everyone’s buying clocks are synchronised, however; the speed at which people go through the various stages depends on various factors:

  1. Experience of buying a similar solution
  2. The extent to which we can differentiate the impact of the various options
  3. The importance and impact of the decision on ourselves and/or the organisation

The mental journey through the whole buying cycle can take seconds, months or even years before all relevant decision-makers have completed it at their own pace and a contract can be signed.

Increase your company profits with these insights

The next stage: apply the ‘buying clock’ to the sales process in your company. Are your sales and marketing personnel aware of clients’ mental buying clocks? Wouldn’t it be great if your team could detect your clients’ readiness to buy correctly, and then act accordingly? For example: no sales person with good knowledge of the buying cycle will talk about a product’s specific features until the client is convinced they need something even similar to your solution. The client will feel better understood if you address them in a language that matches where they are in the buying process.

More sales with higher margins at a lower cost

At an organisational level, your company will develop a common language that helps to align sales activities and vastly increase efficiency and effectiveness. If you want to be able to achieve the following, consider making the readiness to buy the reference point for every action you undertake for individual clients. You will gain various benefits from applying these insights:

  • A common language to improve the sharing of experiences and improving team performance
  • Accurate timing of actions, resulting in a lower cost of sales and higher ROI on marketing
  • Higher conversion rates
  • Less margin erosion
  • Predictable, objective forecasts

Buying behaviour has fundamentally changed over the past ten years. But there are still lots of companies approaching buyers of today with outdated best practices and mindsets, or continuing to advocate the old way of selling.

Until recently, it was still possible to achieve reasonable B2B sales results by simply highlighting solution benefits. Clients had no alternative but to take the sales person’s advice when making their buying decisions. People who still have this mindset should beware: buyers have taken over the sales process, and now they have the power. And they want to avoid risk as much as possible.

How can we adapt to today’s buyer?

A lot has already been said about the switch from product sales to solution sales, or from transactional into consultative selling. But we still see that neither has delivered on its full potential, and results remain far below expectations. This is why:

  • Both aim to implement a repeatable, linear and mechanical step-by-step process (not a ‘real’ sales environment!)
  • The sales support environment is not upgraded simultaneously; bonuses, product training and literature, events, CRM and even reporting remain largely unchanged
  • Management tries to resolve this with sales skills training and there is no change programme

You can fix this by focusing on the buyer, and learning about your clients and their markets.It’s also important to factor in risk mitigation. The ‘customer trust equation’ by David Maister, one of the world’s leading authorities on the management of professional service companies, is an excellent formula for clarifying the idea of risk mitigation:

T = (C+R+I) / S

T: trustworthiness (or perceived risk of working with you)

C: credibility = words (I can trust what he says)

R: reliability = actions (I can trust him to …)

I: intimacy = emotions (I feel comfortable discussing the subject)

S: self-orientation (I can trust that he cares)

The denominator of this fraction is (of course) what has the biggest impact here. You have to convince your clients that you really understand their requirements and objectives. The conversion rate will be lower if the client thinks the seller is focussing on themselves, regardless of the quality of your products or your sales person’s knowledge. In this case the seller is not being driven by the client but by a bonus that depends on the deal being struck, the internal pressure of a forecast, the special offer they want to sell, management’s desire to sell more of these solutions, or the belief that they’re an expert and want to prove it to you.

So consider risk management and look at all the conditions that can have an impact on sales when deciding how to improve your sales performance.

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European start-ups would benefit from looking at their English-speaking counterparts’ approach. Brits and Americans tend to focus on promotion from day one. They make sure their target audience becomes aware of their product while continuing to develop it. Belgian start-ups, on the other hand, for example, will invest every last cent on product development in the hope that the product will then sell itself. This is a typical European mentality, and it doesn’t only apply to start-ups; we also see this in product launches from established companies.

The problem isn’t just down to budget allocation. In Europe we often wait too long to recruit employees for our marketing communication department. And when they do come, they have to be real all-rounders: people who can organize lots of different events, create PowerPoint presentations, write press releases and direct marketing and whitepapers, get the right photos – all while not losing sight of Google ratings or neglecting social media. It’s surprising that we don’t specialize in marketing communication more, especially considering we have done in sales for so long already.

Raise awareness before your product is ready

Almost nobody is waiting for products from a start-up. A hard truth. If you launch a product without first raising awareness, nobody will be there, eager and waiting to buy it. Everyone has to go through the same buying cycle process before they are really ready to buy, so it makes sense to raise their awareness first.

Be patient, because this process can take some time, depending on how complex your product is and how urgently your prospective customers want to find a solution for their associated problem. This means you have more time to continue developing your product while preparing the market for launch.

To create awareness at a very early stage of the sales cycle, you can for example invest in whitepapers and distribute news through the press or social media. As long as you’re only spending your marketing budget on media you can use for content that makes customers think about their challenges, and what solutions they need to resolve those problems, then you can already tell them how you can make the difference (without any explicit explanation of the product itself).

Sales will thank you

When you prepare your potential customers properly at an early stage, you make life much easier for your sales department:

  • they have leads ready as soon as they go to market
  • they achieve higher success rates from the very start
  • the cost of sales is considerably reduced, compensating for the marketing budget you’ve already spent

Scientific research has shown that every buying cycle is a sequence of the same mental processes; almost as certain as a law of nature. Our Buying Clock is an easy way to see the willingness to buy of everyone involved in a potential sale.

You can work out where the client is on Buying Clock by asking questions such as:

  • Are you 100% sure that the current situation has to change?
  • What will the impact be of the new solution?
  • Have you calculated the cost and ROI?
  • What criteria will you use to compare suppliers?
  • Are you trying to understand the differences and benefits of the various options?
  • How do you guarantee your future supplier won’t eventually fail on your expectations?
  • Have you checked whether the new solution won’t bring new problems?
Perpetos Buying Clock

The buying cycles are far from always synchronized

You know ‘what time it is’ in the buying cycle when you’ve got answers from everyone who is influencing the decision. Everyone goes through the same mental processes in a purchase, and it’s very plausible that different people are in different stages.

The speed at which we go through the various stages of the buying cycle depends on various factors: experience of buying similar products or services, understanding the various options’ impacts, the decision’s importance and impact on us and our organization. A buying cycle can last from a few seconds to months or even years depending on these factors. Being able to detect and influence buying readiness and helping to synchronize the buying clocks will not only shorten the buying cycle. It will also improve conversion rates and decrease discounts.

Understanding the buying cycle leads to better results

Do your sales and marketing teams know what time it is on every client’s Buying Clock®? Wouldn’t it be great for your team to discover how ready your client is to buy, so they could approach them in the right way? Then sales would never start talking about product features before the client is ready to even consider buying that type of product. And marketing wouldn’t overload anyone with too much information about all the benefits. Clients will feel better understood, and make a decision faster, when approached with messages that match their buyer readiness.

When everyone in your organization can detect the client’s buying cycle, you can develop shared terminology to align your sales and marketing activities and increase your efficiency and effectiveness. To maximize your organization’s potential, make your client’s readiness to buy the reference point of your sales strategy and process. This can lead to the following impact:

  • Shared terminology for sharing experiences will improve the whole team’s performance
  • Precise timing of your actions, resulting in lower cost of sales
  • Higher conversion
  • Less margin erosion and discounts
  • Objective, predictable forecasts
  • In summary: more sales with higher margins at a lower cost

Curious how to prepare your commercial team for the empowered customer?