Sales Kickoff: How to Start the New Year with a Bang

sales kickoff

The sales kickoff isn’t your average sales meeting or event. It’s a valuable opportunity to acknowledge your team’s efforts over the past twelve months and hone in on ways to increase their sales success in the year to come.

While arguably the most important sales event of the year, Brainshark’s State of Sales Kickoff Meetings survey found that 74% of attendees don’t feel their company’s annual meeting merits an “A” grade—and a full 29% would assign theirs a “C” grade or lower. 

Clearly there’s room for improvement!

Let us help you kick off your new sales year with a bang with our guide to sales kickoff themes and meeting ideas to energize your team. With the right sales kickoff agenda, you can be ready for growth in the new year. 

All it takes is some dedicated planning and sustained follow up for your kickoff sales event to generate excitement among your reps, help your organization align on strategy and lay the groundwork for greater team productivity. 

In this guide, we’ll explore what you need to know to prepare for and structure a successful sales meeting. We’ll also pass along some advice from the experts and share tips for running a virtual event.

But first, let’s nail down exactly what a sales kickoff is.

Table of contents

What is a sales kickoff?

A kickoff is an annual meeting or event for your sales team, sales and marketing department or entire organization. Typically scheduled in January, this pivotal sales gathering lets you wrap up the end of one fiscal year and pave the way for the next one.

Part inspiration, part education, most kickoffs leverage some combination of speakers, activities and constructive discussions to help:

  • Boost team morale
  • Highlight valuable sales strategies or product updates
  • Build rapport among the team and department members

An impactful sales kickoff won’t just inspire your reps to land more leads and close more deals when they get back to the field—it will give them the tools and knowledge they need to help make that happen.

How to prepare for your kickoff

Every sales kickoff needs an overarching purpose. You may want to celebrate recent wins, clarify goals for the new year or help your team hit the proverbial pavement feeling re-energized and equipped to improve your sales activities.

Once you’ve figured out what the overriding goal of your meeting is, here are some key preparation points to consider. 

What data or information will you need?

To make the most of event presentations or training sessions, you may find it useful to:

  • Gather shareable data on last year’s sales forecast, sales results and specific successes
  • Clarify where your department or company stands now and where you’d like it to be by the end of the year
  • Establish key event takeaways that tie company goals to team member objectives

Many organizations send out meeting content or even pre-work packages in advance to engage and prepare participants, then follow up with post-work packages to help team members put the skills or knowledge they acquire during the event to work in the coming year.

If relevant, don’t forget to also check the availability of event venues, keynote speakers or sales trainers and key salespeople within your own organization who might present informative, inspiring overviews of their major wins and losses from the previous year.

What physical items will you require?

Make sure you have sticky notes, pen, paper and worksheets on hand. Not only will participants need some way to record and follow up on key points later, scientific studies suggest we learn better when we jot down notes, quotes and anecdotes by hand.

For larger events, you may require name tags or ID badges, as well as AV equipment like:

  • A sound system
  • A laptop computer and laser pointer
  • A presentation screen 

You should also provide a package of summary materials (in print or online) that team members can take away and refer to. Research suggests that we quickly forget much of what we learn (50-80% by the following day) unless it’s reinforced over time.

Who needs to be there?

Don’t feel you should limit your meeting to sales reps only. For a broader perspective and presentation of sales kickoff ideas, consider bringing in:

  • Members of your other customer-facing, marketing and product teams
  • Department managers, founders or CEOs
  • Customers (particularly brand ambassadors) or even company investors

The better the people attached to your organization understand one another’s roles, the more connected they’ll feel to shared goals. 

When should you schedule your event and how long should it be?

The timing and length of your kickoff will largely depend on your budget, the size of your sales department and your objectives. 

An in-person event may unfold over a single day or less at your office, or over two to three days at a hotel conference center. It can be scheduled for a weekday, during a time when sales are typically slow, or over a weekend to mitigate workplace disruption.

Regardless of how you schedule your event, you’ll encourage better retention of the information discussed and presented if you prioritize quality over quantity.

What should people bring?

In small, intimate kickoff sale settings, you may want to have team members bring their laptops to facilitate brainstorming or to stream webinars you’ve sourced or prepared. At the very least, they should bring along some personal thoughts or notes around your kickoff meeting ideas to explore as a group. 

Attendees of larger events, meanwhile, should come equipped for mingling and Q&A sessions with pertinent insights or questions about the topics under discussion. You may also want to suggest (with proper permissions from guest speakers) that attendees come equipped with a recording app or device.

Choosing a sales kickoff theme

According to Colleen Francis, sales strategist and author of Nonstop Sales Boom: Powerful Strategies to Drive Consistent Growth Year After Year, cohesion in sales helps build a sum that’s greater than its parts. Not only do cohesive sales teams work to eliminate ambiguity with open, cross-departmental communications, they celebrate their successes together.

Your sales kickoff should be a reflection of that cohesion. 

Running your event under a single, unified theme isn’t just the ideal way to make it more cohesive, it helps you focus in on your overriding purpose or goal. Whether you’re predominantly celebrating success, motivating your team or educating your reps, the right theme will make your event meaningful, memorable and entertaining.

Here are a few points to keep in mind when exploring sales kickoff themes.

  • The theme you choose should align company strategy with meeting objectives
  • A colorful, vibrant theme is a great way to tell a story about what success will look like for your team in the months to come
  • Even the most creative theme can’t create lasting value if agenda topics are scattered

“After participating in more than one-hundred sales kickoffs as a keynoter speaker,” sales consultant and trainer Steve W. Martin said, “I can now attest that the first step toward conducting a successful sales kickoff starts with choosing the right theme.”

Kickoff themes to get your team thinking creatively

Choosing a sales kickoff theme that distills the main point of your event down to a single idea lets your reps know what to expect from the year ahead and can help them to think more creatively. 

Decide what’s most important to your company right now (growth, differentiation, innovation), then build your theme and agenda from there.

Here are some themed sales kickoff ideas to help get you started.

  • Your Company Motto. Your organization’s slogan, motto or tagline makes a handy and perfectly serviceable theme for a sales kickoff—especially if you’re in the build stage and this is your first event. Consider running a smaller, seminar-style event at your office with the goal of increasing sales coverage or establishing a working sales model. Your motto can serve as the focal point for polishing up your corporate presentation, helping your reps get more familiar with your products or sharing what’s been working in the field.  
  • [Your Company Name] On Fire. This theme works well if you want to focus on your company’s stellar performance over the past year—and fire up your sales team to build on those achievements. Your company’s growth stage, for example, is the ideal time to acknowledge, celebrate and learn from sales triumphs by handing out recognition awards, asking reps to speak about their best wins and breaking key successes down into a step-by-step process.
  • Ignite Your Sales! This is one of the best sales kickoff themes when the main purpose of your gathering is to introduce a new sales strategy, product, service or compensation plan. The key with this theme is to motivate team members by enthusiastically describing what’s new in sales for the coming year, showing exactly how it will benefit your reps (consider slides or a PowerPoint presentation) and demonstrating practical ways to adopt your novel approach, product or plan (perhaps with the help of a webinar).
  • Raising the Bar. If you’re introducing a next-level sales tool or technology platform, this theme will prepare your team for a more robust sales environment. You may want to invite a representative to speak about the benefits of their tool or tech (and what your team can expect to achieve with it), share video clips of the platform in action, run a training overview session and host a comprehensive Q&A.
  • All Systems Go! Steve W. Martin suggests this space-related theme if you’re planning to launch any kind of build, growth, sales or internal process improvement program in the coming year. 

Don’t be afraid to get creative where your sales kickoff themes are concerned. 

If, for example, the focus of your next sales gathering is around taking market share from a competitor, you could use the theme “Freezing Out the Competition”—and look to the December 2021 polar solar eclipse for inspiration!

Whichever theme you decide on, just make sure it serves as the centerpiece for the ideas, presentations and activities that will make up your sales kickoff agenda.

Creating a sales kickoff agenda 

To make the most of your sales kickoff, it can be worth scheduling any or all of the following into your meeting agenda.

  • State of sales presentation: An overview of where your organization stands in terms of sales, marketing, research and development or customer support (you can use Pipedrive’s dashboards to display the information you want)
  • Product updates: A rundown from the customer’s perspective will give your team a better understanding of client challenges and motivations uncovered by your company
  • Competitive analysis: Where your company is positioned relative to its competitors
  • Sales skill development: Insights, tactics or training to help reps overcome their biggest sales challenges
  • Sales strategy sessions: These should be based on real-world successes, whether inside or outside your organization
  • Internal speakers: Reps can benefit tremendously from hearing behind-the-scenes specifics of how colleagues nurtured and closed their best sales deal

You may want to bring in motivational guest speakers or incorporate video presentations, games or even skits into your kickoff. 

Just be sure to also schedule in regular breaks, along with time for discussion, networking or mingling, so team members can have the opportunity to develop friendships and professional collaborations.

Sales Kickoff Agenda Example

No matter the length of your kickoff, it’s wise to schedule the most creative or mentally demanding activities in the morning when many people do their best thinking. Shorter individual sessions overall, meanwhile, will help keep attention spans focused.

Here’s a simple, sample agenda for a single-day sales kickoff meeting:

8:00-9:00: Coffee, breakfast and time to mingle

9:00-9:30:  Your year in review. Along with summarizing your past sales year in numbers, this presentation is the ideal time to celebrate wins, highlight industry trends or discuss key changes within your organization.

9:30-10:15: Internal speaker. With your event theme in mind, choose a member of your sales or marketing team to share a personal success story, provide a marketing update or demonstrate a new product.

10:15-10:30: Short break

10:30-11:00: Client guest speaker, customer feedback video compilation or competitive analysis presentation

11:00-12:00: Theme-based workshop, brainstorming session or sales or product training

12:00-1:15: Lunch, networking and a chance to catch up on business of the day

1:15-2:00: Team-building activity or friendly competition group event

2:00-3:00: Keynote or motivational guest speaker. Their presentation should tie to your theme in an inspirational or educational way.

3:00-3:15: Short break

3:15-4:00: Workshop or guided breakout discussion around your guest speaker’s presentation

4:00-4:30: Lighthearted company skit or video

4:30-5:00: Sales kickoff wrap-up

If your sales meeting demands more in-depth coverage than what’s outlined here, you can lengthen your agenda into a two-day event by:

  • Extending session times (but limiting them to no more than an hour)
  • Adding a second keynote or internal speaker
  • Swapping out workshops, sales strategy or product training sessions with breakout discussions, Q&A panels or personalized team videos 

Bear in mind that multiple-day meeting agendas typically require bigger logistics planning in terms of accommodations and group meals, and may include hotel bookings, happy hours, late evening networking events or award ceremonies.

sales kickoff ideas

Sales kickoff meeting ideas from the experts

So how do you make your annual agenda as impactful as possible? Three experts weigh in with kickoff meeting ideas to make your event relevant, engaging and memorable.

1. Make it results-driven

According to Richard Harris, founder of The Harris Consulting Group, “What really sets the best sales kickoff meetings apart from the mediocre ones is making sure you provide your sales team with something more valuable than they had before they walked into the sales kickoff.”

His tips include overcoming practical hurdles (like how to help reps close more deals) by:

  • Defining the behavior that you want to change
  • Engaging in role-play or other interactive scenarios
  • Bringing in a professional sales trainer

2. Make it interactive

As Anita Greenland, Chief Experience Officer with The Brooks Group sees it, lectures can be boring. She recommends keeping your team engaged by adding interactive components to your meeting. 

“Tapping into as many senses as possible helps to reach all learning styles. For example, videos, music, props at tables or in chairs, and scented markers require different parts of the brain to be engaged. This helps with retention of the information—and eventual application back in the field.” 

3. Make it stick

According to The Brevet Group, 63% of attendees remember stories after a presentation, while only 5% remember statistics. The takeaway? Tell more stories. Storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques we have to communicate and motivate. 

Business management guru Peter Drucker is often credited with saying, “What can’t be measured, can’t be improved.” So find a way to encourage team members to take measurable actions based on lessons learned during your kickoff. 

One way to do this is by making a worksheet and time available during your event for attendees to identify their top three personal takeaways, along with practical ways they can apply them in the twelve months ahead. Then keep your reps accountable by regularly measuring and discussing their results.

How to run a virtual kickoff

While in-person events are ideal, a virtual sales kickoff is entirely doable and is sometimes necessary when circumstances dictate that team members work remotely. There are even benefits to running your sales event virtually.

  • It’s more cost-effective than an in-person kickoff since you won’t be paying for a conference room, hotel, transportation or meals
  • It’s more time-effective since sales reps and other team members won’t have to lose valuable selling days or productivity hours to travel or multi-day attendance
  • Your presentations can be recorded, re-viewed and added to after the event

If a virtual sales kickoff is your preferred or only option, make sure you create an agenda that moves faster and includes more interactive elements than a live version would. That will help you offset the distractions and shortened attention spans often experienced by remote attendees.

Here are a few more things to consider when planning and running a virtual sales kickoff.

  • Logistics: Find a video conference application you and your team are comfortable with (Zoom, which can be integrated with Pipedrive, is a popular choice)
  • Timing: Consider dates and start and end times carefully—especially if participants are in different time zones. Using a visual platform like Miro will make it easier for your team to collaborate live from anywhere.
  • Priming: Send out appealing, relevant content in advance (get your marketing department to help) to energize and prepare your team members. Google Docs (which you can sync with Pipedrive) is a great way to both share and communicate around pre-work or event takeaways.
  • Scheduling: Keep session times short to avoid exhausting viewers who will be sitting at their computers for the better part of a day. A simple meeting agenda app like Soapbox or Fellow can help you create, share and stick to a schedule.
  • Engagement: Inject games, riddles, quizzes or opinion polls intermittently throughout your agenda to help participants stay entertained and engaged. Kahoot’s game-based learning platform, for example, is specifically designed to ramp up engagement.
  • Breaks: Schedule breaks more frequently than you would during a live event, punctuating them with picturesque screenshots, relaxing music and a countdown timer to the next session. try tracking down one of the many free countdown timers available online and displaying it in Zoom using a simple video screen share.

You can also take advantage of your video platform’s chat option—or a team messaging app like Slack—to enable Q&A sessions, reinforce event messaging after each presentation and encourage participants to interact with one another during games, quizzes and breaks.

Putting it all together

Now that you know how to put a sales kickoff together, remember that careful planning, engaging execution and meaningful follow-up are key components of a successful event. The best way to start your new year with a bang is by ensuring your kickoff incorporates all three.

You may be able to plan a more effective get-together, for example, by sending out a survey or holding a team meeting to get input from your sales reps about specific challenges they’ve faced over the past year.

Then, instead of focusing on the same old basics, you can ring in the new year by:

  • Finding information about the latest and greatest sales tools, strategies and trends
  • Booking a presenter with relevant sales expertise
  • Sourcing or creating visually stimulating instructional content or webinars

Finally, make sure you follow up on your event by getting feedback from participants, monitoring post-work sales outcomes and finding ways to incorporate your sales kickoff message throughout the new fiscal year.

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