The Six Secrets to Superior Sales Kickoffs

Jim Ninivaggi

Many companies have their annual sales kickoff (SKO) meetings approaching. A good kickoff successfully blends motivational elements, education, team building and fun – setting the tone and momentum for the year ahead. Here are six secrets to make your meetings a hit and not a miss.

Secret 1: Form the right planning committee
It’s easy and tempting to simply repeat the general format and agenda of past meetings. There are no shortcuts to superior SKOs, though. Each year is – and should be treated as – unique, and the planning process should begin by selecting a planning committee.

Be sure to involve a well-rounded group of members with the right expertise to maximize the SKO experience and impact – including, for example, senior sales leaders, along with sales enablement, product management, product marketing and event planning personnel. Then, determine the core working group, who will make day-in and day-out planning decisions, and other company leaders who should be brought in periodically to review important details.
Secret 2: Build the right theme
We’ve all been to kickoffs where the theme was corny or there was no theme at all. Both cases represent a lost opportunity, because a good theme can have benefits that reach far beyond “rallying the troops” (which is how most themes are valued).

A well-constructed theme should serve as the SKO’s center of gravity, and should support the overarching objective of the meeting (e.g., launching a new product). The first step is to decide if the theme will be literal or conceptual. A literal theme is appropriate when there is a clearly defined problem that needs to be attacked – beating a specific competitor, pushing a new product, etc. In other cases, it could be more useful to have a conceptual theme – one that aligns the sales force’s thinking and actions in the year ahead.

Regardless of which approach you take, the theme should play a central role in content development and motivational speaker selection – to ensure consistency and create a cohesive event.

Secret 3: Set the agenda early
The next step should be to assemble a first draft of the agenda. Agendas should focus on four key areas:

  • Communication – It is critical to effectively communicate corporate, sales and product strategy during the meeting. All presentations focusing on these strategies should play into the meeting theme, to ensure consistency and knowledge retention.
  • Readiness – These activities might encompass product and messaging updates and certifications. Be sure to sandwich these kickoff elements with meeting pre-work and follow-up activities. The goal is to ensure the field force is ready to execute the sales strategy for the upcoming year.
  • Team Building – Interactive role-playing and other group activities are valuable in team building. Be creative and engaging – for example, conducting a group project for charity can get people rallied around a cause.
  • Motivation – Celebrate and motivate your sales force by recognizing outstanding achievements from the previous year. Inspirational guest speakers are also a valuable motivational tool. Keep in mind, though, that there is usually an inverse relationship between a speaker’s fame and the amount of time they’ll devote to preparing for your meeting. A relatively unknown speaker with an inspirational story, who’s willing to develop a customized speech, is always superior to high-priced celebrities spouting off canned speeches.

Secret 4: Use Pre-Work to Prepare Attendees
There is only a limited amount of time during an SKO – so why spend any of it performing work that could be completed in advance? For example, if a new product is being launched at kickoff, it is far better to conduct training via pre-SKO work to front-load as much knowledge transfer as possible, and then focus the meeting on practice, certification and peer learning. Pre-SKO work also puts healthy pressure on managers, who want their reps to be stars in the sessions.

Secret 5: The “Three Rs”
No, they aren’t reading, writing and ‘rythmatic, but rather – as they relate to the event – review, rehearse and refine.

Set and stick to deadlines, and designate an “editor-in-chief” to review content for both thematic and stylistic consistency, and to ensure presenters are adept and comfortable. Have presenters rehearse using a video-coaching tool, recording their presentations and distributing them to the appropriate people for feedback. And ideally, secure the services of a presentation coach for those who need help. Finally, get real-time feedback during the event using push notifications and other tools, as well as the usual follow-up surveys. This can uncover valuable feedback that can be used to make the next year’s meeting even better.

Secret 6: Oops…There’s a Fourth R: Reinforce
The SKO should not be viewed as an end in-and-of itself; rather, it is the beginning of a year-long process. Extend the meeting into sellers’ everyday lives by setting individual goals that tie to the theme and the business objectives. Make content, including on-demand videos of the sessions, available through a centralized content-management system. Videos should be edited for brevity and tagged so they are searchable and available to reps in their learning portals.

You can also help learning retention by sending a recap of key points to attendees immediately after the meeting. Ongoing communiques that feature sales successes mapping to the meeting theme can also help extend the kickoff’s benefits throughout the year.

Sales kickoffs adjourn, but these six secrets ensure they never end.

Jim Ninivaggi is chief readiness officer at Brainshark, Inc., a leading sales enablement solutions company. Jim has more than 30 years of experience driving B2B sales productivity and previously led the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNinivaggi.