The annual sales kickoff (SKO) isn’t your average sales meeting or event. It’s a unique opportunity to acknowledge your team’s efforts over the past twelve months and hone in on ways to increase 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 their SKO a “C” grade or lower.
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 to generate excitement among your salespeople and help your entire sales organization align on metrics, strategy and sales processes for the upcoming year.
In this guide, we’ll explore what you need to know to prepare for and structure a successful sales kickoff event. 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.
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 year.
Part inspiration, part education, most kickoff events leverage some combination of speakers, activities and constructive discussions to help:
Boost team morale
Highlight valuable sales and marketing strategies or product updates
Relay key initiatives to be implemented in the new year
Build rapport among the team and department members
If you want to succeed in sales, kick off the year with a meeting that will boost morale and get reps fired up. 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.
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.
To make the most of event presentations or training sessions, you may find it useful to:
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, sales trainers and key sales leaders and decision makers within your own organization who might present informative, inspiring overviews of their major wins and losses from the previous year.
Make sure you have sticky notes, pen, paper and/or worksheets on hand in case participants would prefer to take notes by hand rather than digitally.
For larger events, you may require name tags or ID badges, as well as AV equipment like:
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.
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:
The better the people attached to your organization understand one another’s roles, the more connected they’ll feel to shared goals.
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.
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.
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 share solutions and celebrate their successes together.
Your sales kickoff and sales meeting themes 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 sales meeting themes will make your event meaningful, memorable and entertaining.
Here are a few points to keep in mind when exploring sales kickoff themes.
“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.”
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 sales kickoff theme ideas to help get you started.
Don’t be afraid to get creative where your sales kickoff themes are concerned.
If, for example, the focus of your next sales kickoff 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!
Avoid using vague kickoff themes such as “all in”, “in it to win it” or “unlimited”, as they do not fully convey your key message to your salesforce. The more specific your sales meeting theme, the better. 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.
To ensure your annual meeting works to effectively improve sales, kick off the year right by scheduling any or all of the following into your meeting agenda.
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 breakout sessions, discussion, networking or mingling, so team members can have the opportunity to develop friendships and professional collaborations.
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:
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.
Whether you are planning a sales conference or a single day in-house event, how do you make your annual agenda as impactful as possible? Three experts weigh in with great sales meeting ideas to make your event relevant, engaging and memorable.
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:
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.”
According to the seminal work Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, 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.
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. This has become more pertinent than ever since the start of the pandemic, as a greater number of sales kickoffs have been conducted via virtual meetings.
Besides the stark increase in remote selling due to COVID-19, there are benefits to running your sales event virtually even if you don’t need to:
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.
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.
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:
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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