Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How to Select a Sales Kickoff Meeting Keynote Speaker

Let’s assume you are in charge of planning your company’s annual sales kick-off (global sales conference, annual sales meeting, or national sales meeting), the most important sales meeting of the year. You’ve picked the best location, chosen the right hotel, and are in the process of finalizing the meeting agenda. However, one critically important task remains to be completed--you must select the perfect keynote speaker. After keynoting more than one hundred sales kickoffs, I’d like to share my sales meeting ideas with you.

There are four main types of keynote speakers to choose from; celebrity, motivational, industry mavens, and sales experts. Celebrities (entertainment stars, sports heroes, business icons, politicians, etc.) will speak mainly about their personal experiences. Conversely, industry mavens are analysts and consultants who talk about current issues and future business trends. Meanwhile, motivational speakers exuberantly try to touch listeners’ emotions. And finally, there are sales experts who share their specific sales-related wisdom and knowledge with the audience.

So, how do you decide which one is right for you? Here are five questions to ask a potential keynote speaker in order to help you determine whether or not he or she is right for your meeting.

1. What is the profile of the typical audience you present to?
There aren’t any two sales forces that are exactly alike. Every sales force is unique in three different ways; complexity of the sales process, the average level of sales experience, and the state of morale. Perhaps the biggest mistake when selecting a sales kickoff presenter is picking one whose main message doesn’t apply to the products you sell or resonate with the sophistication of the sales force. For instance, even though a keynote speaker has successfully presented to mid-western real estate agents in the past, he or she would not be a good fit to for a software company.

Ensuring that the speaker is in tune with the sales forces’ morale is another critically important consideration. Even though it is an imperfect world, you are in charge of creating the perfect experience for an audience that is in a variety of states of contentment. Many salespeople are happy, some are apathetic, and others are downright despondent. Ideally, you want a speaker who is experienced in speaking in this type of difficult circumstance. For example, if your company has been part of a recent merger you want a speaker who is familiar with the intricacies of this situation and how it affects morale.

2. How would you prepare for our meeting?
Even though you may sell the same products as several other companies, your sales force faces distinctive competitive challenges. For instance, there’s a big difference between selling for an eight-hundred-pound-gorilla-sized company than an upstart competitor.

The successful keynote presentation should include major messages that are applicable to the realities of your company’s competitive situation. Therefore, the presenter should conduct extensive pre-presentation interviews and diligent background research to ensure he or she understands your marketplace, products, and salespeople.

3. Do you customize your presentation?
Since salespeople present for a living they know when they are being fed a “canned” presentation. The most successful keynote presentation will incorporate elements of the salespeople’s daily lives into the actual presentation. This may include tangible advice to defeat your archenemies and tactics to present your products more effectively. As a result, the presentation needs to be customized so that it helps address the toughest obstacles your sales force faces.

A one size fits all presentation delivered exactly in the same way over the past five years has a high likelihood of falling flat today. Audiences appreciate a presenter who has taken the time to understand their challenges and provides them with strategies they can put to use immediately.

4. When do you typically present at sales kickoffs? At the beginning, a nightly dinner, or the meeting’s end?
You wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. Similarly, the particular speaking slot you are trying to fill requires a specific type of keynote speaker. If the speaking slot is at the meeting opening, you most likely want a powerful presenter with an impactful message (because he or she is probably speaking right after your company’s chairman, CEO, or VP of sales). A keynote to be delivered during a dinner gathering should be fast-paced, up-tempo and include a healthy dose of humor. Conversely, a closing speaker needs to be able to rally the troops and reinvigorate them with a sense of purpose.

5. What takeaway materials do you provide?
A typical keynote presentation will last just an hour or two at most. Given such a short timeframe, how can it be more than just a “feel good” experience? The best way to achieve lasting impact is by providing takeaway materials that the salespeople can reference over the long-run. That’s why I’m a big fan of presenters who provide copies of their books, informational CD’s, and PowerPoint presentations to the audience.

Finally, one of the most important factors you should continually remind yourself of during the selection process is how well does the speaker dovetail with your sales kickoff theme. The best speaker will center their presentation on your theme and work his or her material around it. If you’re still not one-hundred percent certain what your theme should be, they should possess the practical experience to help brainstorm with you on an appropriate theme. Because the best speakers understand that your success and their success are intimately intertwined.