14 Best Practices for Making Sales Kickoff a Success

Your sales kickoff is one of your most important initiatives, with the potential to motivate your reps to achieve phenomenal success this year. How do you inspire, educate, motivate and celebrate your sales team in a way that helps them not only achieve but exceed their revenue targets for the year? Some of the most successful minds in the business share their secrets to a successful sales kickoff.

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1. Align sales kickoff content with company goals

To achieve your revenue targets, your sales team needs to align with the overall goals of your organization. A great way to do this according to Cara Hogan of Insight Squared is by the Executive level talking about business strategy, “This kind of open and transparent discussion of company strategy helps the sales team see the bigger picture so they understand that they’re working toward a larger goal.”

Going further, Joe Wilburn, Director of Sales for Brooks Group says, “People need a purpose (other than just commission), so each and every member of your team should know exactly how their work positively contributes to the company’s mission. Aligning individual efforts with your organization’s purpose will keep everyone motivated to hit their own goals throughout the year—doing their part to add to the success of the team. Lay out the strategy and exactly how each player will be expected to contribute so your salespeople can clearly see where the company is going and their role within it.”

2. Choose a theme for your event

Choosing a theme will help set the tone and agenda for your sales kickoff. Tom Snyder, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of VorsightBP says, “Too often we see sales kickoffs without a theme or with a theme that is lackluster. If success [to you]  is about motivation then you want a theme that you will recognize as motivating.”

3. Set the agenda carefully

After the theme, comes an agenda that must meet your objectives. But as David Freeman, VP Corporate Sales of Nutanix points out, what you put into the agenda is just as important as what you leave out.

“We have a lot of execs who want to talk about their area. We have to limit the airtime for people who just want to get up there. We have to focus on what the participants need for this session in a face-to-face session. We may give them another opportunity to address the team, but we’re not giving people airtime just because they ask for it. We also don’t do topics that can be covered by webinars anymore. If it’s just updated on product releases or informative one-way sessions, we’ll schedule webinars or other sessions.”

Mohit Garg, Co-Founder and CRO of Mindtickle suggest, “Before you settle on an agenda, talk to your reps and crowdsource ideas, obtain feedback, and help direct the sessions. Their suggestions, as well as some quick quizzes, may help you highlight knowledge gaps that you can focus on, rather than guessing what the reps need.”

It’s also important to ensure that the agenda remains flexible. Freeman comments, “It can’t be one size fits all. Let people choose their own adventure. It’s important to let people figure out what they need at this point in their career, based on their role, their tenure, and their specialization. Allow them to develop the skills they need.”

4. Set pre-work for the sales kickoff

Your sales kickoff is an integral part of your annual sales calendar, so it’s only reasonable to expect your reps to prepare for the big event. As Art Sobczak, Author of “Smart Calling” notes “Just like a comedian has a warm-up act, so too should you, in order for the sales pros to be excited and prepped when they arrive. Assign pre-work, have speakers do videos or webinars “teasing” the material, or even short sessions on the content to be covered.”

5. Create an atmosphere of healthy competition

As part of the pre-work, you can get the reps motivated with a little healthy competition. Mohit Garg suggests, “Have your reps do a pitch competition or complete bite-sized quizzes at the end of every day, and host a leaderboard so each rep can see how they compare against their peers. The competition can continue throughout the kickoff and culminate in an award at the recognition night. Gamified techniques like leaderboards are a great way to create a bit of healthy competition and get everyone excited, before, during, and even after the event.”

6. Provide time for interaction and cross-pollination

Whether it’s a casual dinner or more formal roundtables, providing time for people from different business units to interact and share ideas will be invaluable as the year progresses. David Freeman suggests, “Create opportunities for interaction between execs and reps, reps and reps, engineers and reps. We’ve forced this into our kickoffs sessions that force these. Panels with execs with Q&A, roundtables with salespeople, breakouts with engineers and reps. And time at the bar is just as important as the time in the session. Need to give people time to unwind, have fun, share war stories.”

7. Share success stories

One of the best ways for salespeople to learn how to close a deal is by hearing success stories straight from the horse’s mouth. Steve W. Martin, Author of the “Heavy Hitter” series makes some suggestions on how to present these to the team, “I would recommend that you have your top salespeople be interviewed in a talk show program format by a moderator who has an extensive sales background. I have found these types of panels are the most effective way to relay both the tangible and intangible aspects of winning to the rest of the team.” Mohit Garg adds, “I recommend recording these interviews and making them accessible in an online content library so reps can refer back to them whenever they need to.”

8. Include a variety of sessions

There’s nothing worse than sitting in one PowerPoint presentation after another. To keep people engaged Steve W. Martin suggests, “Break the session into chunks of time no longer than sixty minutes. Also, break up heavy technical chunks with lighter topics, completely different subject matter, or audience participation activities. This way, the attendees will remain mentally fresh and have higher retention.”

9. Don’t forget your customers

When planning the agenda, it’s important to ensure that your customer’s voice is heard. Joshua Meeks, Revenue Growth Consultant suggests conducting customer research, “Conduct at least 5 win and 5 loss interviews. During the interviews ask the customer about the process they went through to come to their decision. Why did they choose to do nothing, go with the competition or select us? What was their opinion of us? It is important to ensure the content covered and the skills developed are in sync with buyer needs.”

Steve W. Martin also suggests using customer interviews to understand the decision-making process of your customers, “it provides a true snapshot of the competition’s strengths and weaknesses according to the person who matters most—the prospective customer.”

10. Celebrate and recognize your top players

“Recognition is critical,” David Freeman says. “Make sure you’re recognizing the top people. One because they deserve recognition and need to be acknowledged, but also it’s great for everyone who’s new or not so successful to see the celebration of those people and give them something to shoot for in the coming year.”

“If you’re giving awards for specific achievements make sure you capture on video a clip of the rep talking about how they achieved their accomplishment. This can be used later as sound-bites or in the online content library,” recommend Mohit Garg.

11. Reinforce concepts

Lori Richardson of Score More Sales suggests reinforcing some of the key concepts during the event, “Games like Jeopardy are great because they can reinforce ideas for the upcoming year while also being fun and they get everyone involved.”

But once the kickoff ends, the hard work really begins. The team at Selling Power recommends, “Whenever you send an email, start a meeting, or get the team on a conference call, take a minute to highlight a recent story that illustrates the messaging from your sales kickoff – and make an explicit connection between the two.”

Mohit Garg also suggests leveraging the content from the kickoff, “Weave sound-bites from the kickoff into follow-up sessions to make sure the messages stay with the team and build a cadence for reinforcement that continues throughout the year.”

12. Pay attention to the details

While it may seem more like administration, David Freeman notes, “The location matters – you want people to have fun and socialize. You get more out of people engaged that way and more motivated when out in the field. Put in extra attention to make sure people are happy with the food. It might seem small but it can increase morale significantly.”

13. Request and act on feedback

We’re all used to filling out forms at the end of a sales kickoff, but there’s more to gain by checking the pulse of the event while it’s still going on. Mohit Garg suggests, “Take a quick poll at the end of each session to find out what’s resonating and get some real-time feedback that you can act on immediately. It’s energizing when people can see that they’re being listened to and taken seriously.”

14. Evaluate the event

Once it’s all done and dusted, it’s important to make sure the kickoff achieved your objectives. Joshua Meeks recommends, “To ensure proper adoption of content and sales skills, survey the sales force. Ascertain if knowledge gaps have been closed and skill sets improve. The best time to survey the field is one month after sales kickoff. If sales reps aren’t using the new content and skills after a month, they never will.”

Mohit Garg also suggests, “You can track who is engaged with the content long after the event by using technology. If materials are accessible online, some platforms allow you to track who has accessed it and how frequently. This is a good indicator of engagement and can indicate adoption of the materials.”