For a Great Sales Kickoff, Think Beyond the Meeting

As we head into 2020, many organizations are preparing for their sales kickoff meetings. These meetings are usually the one time of the year when companies can assemble their entire sales organization and get the team energized, engaged and prepared for the year ahead. 

While many companies will focus all of their planning on the meeting itself, it’s what companies do before and after a sales kickoff that can make the difference between “meh”
and great. Unfortunately, many organizations miss this opportunity: Brainshark’s State of Sales Kickoff Meetings survey found that 62% of companies do not deliver pre-work before sales kickoff meetings. And when asked what their companies could do better with sales kickoffs, sales professionals’ top response was “Follow up on kickoff training with ongoing reinforcement” (also cited by 62%).  

This clearly illustrates the need for sales kickoffs to be viewed as an ongoing process, rather than a discrete point in time. The process begins before the meeting, to get people prepared, and continues after the last rep goes home, to make sure everyone remembers – and can master – what they learned. Here are ways companies can embrace and enhance the entire sales kickoff process and deliver greater value – by setting a well-planned agenda, keeping multiple audiences in mind, delivering pre- and post-work, and more. 

Before the Meeting

There are two foundational elements to any successful sales kickoff meeting: the theme and feedback from the previous year’s meeting. The theme should always match the most important focus for the coming year and should be the umbrella under which all kickoff content and training falls. This is also why the executive team, sales leadership and even the board of directors should play an important role in theme selection.

Feedback from the previous year provides a qualitative roadmap into what’s working, and what isn’t, for attendees. Everything from food, to venue, to training, content and entertainment should be included in sales kickoff surveys. 

With the theme and last year’s feedback in place, kickoff program planning can begin. Key steps include:

Setting the agenda: Many meeting organizers make the mistake of setting the agenda based on what they think attendees will want to hear. A far better approach is to ask stakeholders what they want to hear, which means product marketing and product management should play a major role in agenda development, as should the executive team, sales managers and sales reps themselves. This type of 360-degree input greatly increases the likelihood that the sales kickoff will hit the right notes with all stakeholders. 

Addressing all key audiences: It’s also common for companies to forget that sales kickoffs aren’t just about the reps – they also are important for giving managers the tools they need to be better coaches and more successful in their roles. Sessions for sales managers should be built into the agenda. 

Planning content: The agenda ultimately informs the content for the meeting.  When considering content, it is important to determine which topics must be delivered live, and which can be delivered as pre- and post-work. By dividing up content in this manner, companies can avoid the “drinking-from-the-firehose” mentality that plagues many sales kickoff meetings. Instead, content is divided into logical phases – before, during and after  with the goal of maximizing learning retention. 

Delivering pre-work: For pre-work, a best-practice to consider is to deliver a brief, on-demand learning course (for example, the new company elevator pitch), and then ask recipients to create a video showing they’ve internalized the learning. Ideally, the learning course will set the stage for deeper learning at the sales kickoff, so it does not need to be excessively time consuming. The best of the videos can then be shown during the kickoff as an instructional tool and morale booster. 

As part of the pre-work, sales managers need to be involved and informed every step of the way. Ideally, they will deliver the pre-work and evaluate submissions. And, sales enablement pros should make sure managers also receive their own pre-work, so they fully understand their roles and expectations at the kickoff. Some companies will hold a manager-only day before the beginning of the kickoff for this reason.

A common question with pre-work is, “How much pre-work is enough?” You don’t want to overdo it – sales kickoffs are usually after the end of the year, when reps are tired and recharging their batteries for the year ahead. So, keeping pre-work down to a 10-15 minute learning session (often followed by a comprehension check) is a good guideline. Pre-work should be an introduction to the time reps will spend at kickoff, not a replacement for it. 

After the Meeting

Forgetting is part of human nature – and science shows us that people will quickly forget much of what they have learned, unless there is reinforcement of the learning over time. This is where post-work comes into play with sales kickoffs – to reinforce the lessons from the meeting.

Like pre-work, the questions become: when and how much? For post-work, it is a good idea to begin one week after the meeting, and then continue with post-work once a week for a month. Like pre-work, post-work should be concise, and it should always end with the most important message you’re trying to get across. Once you get through a month of post-work, the organization generally has a good understanding of messaging for the year ahead, and it becomes part of the operating rhythm of the sales organization. 

By treating sales kickoffs as a process rather than a moment in time, sales enablement pros can dramatically increase attendee learning retention while also honing the skills of sales management. This puts the sales organization in a strong position to have a successful selling year – which is exactly the rationale for having a sales kickoff in the first place!

Colleen Honan is chief sales officer and Liz Pulice is vice president of sales enablement at Brainshark, a leader in sales enablement and readiness solutions. Brainshark equips businesses with the training, coaching, and content needed to prepare salespeople when, where and how they work.


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