Editor’s Note: This post was co-written by Jim Ninivaggi and Mark Levinson.

On February 26 and 27, more than 85 senior sales leaders gathered at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa for SiriusDecisions’ inaugural Sales Leadership Exchange (SLE). While the weather was a little wet on the first night (we’ve been asked to run the event throughout the Southwest to help with the drought), it didn’t dampen the energy and enthusiasm of our attendees. We designed the SLE to foster networking and conversation by limiting the number of guests and holding it in a venue that allowed folks to unplug for a few hours. Mission accomplished – according to feedback from attendees and sponsors.

SLE Levinson Our theme was productivity – which was fitting for our locale. Sonoma is famous for vineyards that produce some of the best wines in the world – and one thing we learned during the wine tasting is that to grow great wine grapes, you have to “stress” the plants. The idea is not to provide the best soil or plenty of water, but to provide just enough nutrients, and just enough water, so that the plants create fruit with concentrated flavor. So instead of yielding lots of mediocre grapes, you end up with fewer grapes of higher quality, which yields better wine. This is analogous to the challenges our sales leaders face – how to improve yield in markets that are “stressed” by improving their sales organizations’ productivity to ensure growth.

We started the event with an evening of wine, dinner and networking. The Benziger Family Winery (one of the few biodynamic and organic wineries) held a wine tasting for our guests – the pinot noir seemed to be a particular favorite. We held the evening’s event in our sponsor room to give our delegates the opportunity to learn about many of the sales applications and services available in the market. The energy and noise level left no doubt that these were sales professionals – these folks know how to network.

After a networking breakfast (which, despite the early hour, matched the energy of the previous evening) Tony Jaros, senior vice president of research at SiriusDecisions, kicked things off by quoting hall-of-fame football coach Bill Parcells, who famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” Tony pointed out that this is especially true in sales – you’re measured on whether or not you hit your number. But he also pointed out that hitting your number does not necessarily mean you’ve produced it at optimal efficiency or effectiveness – which we call maximum productivity.

Jim Ninivaggi, service director, Sales Enablement Strategies (and co-chairperson of the event), then set the stage for our discussion by walking folks through our Relative Productivity Framework – a new way to assess and measure the true productivity of the sales force. One takeaway – how reps spend their time in the “enablement quadrant” – is the true key to improving sales effectiveness.

Jean Olivieri, VP, worldwide sales enablement at ADP, shared how her team helps equip salespeople to have a “continuous conversation” with their buyers – whether online or in-person – through technology, skills and knowledge. There was a lot of buzz around ADP’s tablet-based tool that reps use to guide their customer conversations – including its ability to create a formal proposal and electronically capture a signature – real productivity!

Next, Mark Levinson, service director, Sales Operations Strategies (and co-chairperson of the event), shared our latest research on what separates high-performing reps from their peers, which often comes down to out-executing on the basics. For example, Mark shared that high-performing reps are twice as likely to prepare a pre-call plan than lower-performing reps.

After a lunch that included even more networking, Laz Gonzalez, service director for Channel Management Strategies, introduced an “inside out” view on selecting and engaging channel partners – by walking folks through the partner’s journey. Similar to need to manage a pipeline of deals, Laz stressed the need to engage the right partners – not necessarily more partners.

Jay Gaines, vice president and group director of Executive Edge CMO and Demand Creation Strategies, pointed out that the marketing function is an often underutilized resource for improving sales productivity. One of Jay’s key points was that you often get what you ask for. Sales leaders need to expect and demand more from their marketing peers – and enlist their help (and accountability) for improving the yield per rep.

Our day finished with a presentation from productivity guru Jason Womack, author of the book Your Best Just Got Better (SLE attendees received a free copy). Jason shared some practical tips for removing barriers to productivity. One great tip: Separate your day into 15-minute blocks – and assign activities, meetings, etc. into these 15-minute chunks of time (it’s working for me – I’m into my third 15-minute block I set aside for writing this blog!). Another productivity tip – schedule meetings to last no more than 45 minutes – and start them at quarter past the hour. I’ve already talked with one attendee who has adopted this tip and found that meetings now start and end on time.

A huge thank-you to our inaugural sponsors – BAO, Brainshark, ClearSlide, Lattice Engines, Salesvue, SAVO and Revegy – each of which designs offerings to help improve the productivity of B2B salespeople.

We also thank each of our delegates – for your energy, enthusiasm, questions, best practices and participation. We at SiriusDecisions appreciate you taking time from the day-to-day demands of driving revenue to spend some time with us. We trust that you found it productive.