Sales is the engine driving every business enterprise. Without paying customers, most companies will be forced to shut shop and go home. So, doing everything possible to help sales be more effective in their role is not just sensible but non-negotiable.
Sales kickoffs are sales enablement events that ensure sales teams are motivated, rewarded, and trained regularly. The specific goals for a sales kickoff are based on the overall business goals of the organization. While sales kickoffs have traditionally been in-person events, today, they are a combination of virtual and in-person sessions. These sessions serve as a platform for sales teams to learn, keep abreast of current trends, network, have fun, and interact with other teams.
Regardless of the format you choose, it's critical to get your sales kickoff right to set the right tone for the rest of the year for your sales organization. Our comprehensive sales kickoff checklist will help you plan, budget, and organize an excellent sales kickoff event by keeping you focused on what matters.
Building an engaging sales kickoff agenda
Since sales kickoffs typically occur annually, they must be organized to provide sales teams with the information and support required to succeed in the new year.
Here are some non-negotiable sales kickoff agenda items to get the most out of the event.
Team building activities
Coordination and cooperation among different teams is imperative for success. Sales kickoffs can be a medium to reiterate the importance of working together cohesively instead of in silos.
Team building activities can be effective in breaking the ice and ensuring interaction. These need to be designed to work in both in-person and virtual settings and can range from trivia contests to scavenger hunts.
At sales kickoffs, the management typically presents and communicates how the company is faring, what has worked and what hasn’t, the expectations and targets for the next year, and how they can support the sales teams to achieve their targets.
Sales kickoffs are an excellent way for the leadership to interact with the entire sales organization. This allows them to discuss and convey organizational goals, address concerns, provide clarity over the specifics, deliver detailed action plans, etc. When sales teams leave a sales kickoff, they need to have a clear goal, precise objectives, and the tools required to help them.
Providing this information will help improve trust and will leave sales teams motivated. Top management directly engaging with the sales team and listening to their concerns and suggestions will help make them enthusiastic about their goals.
Sales personnel need to be up-to-date on the products available. Organizations can use sales kickoff events to communicate with attendees regarding new products and features, impart training, etc. Companies can also use breakout sessions effectively and disseminate this information to the relevant group of sales personnel.
Simply talking about which product has launched an update isn’t going to cut. Providing tactical content with actionable ideas on leveraging the new features, add-ons, and offerings is crucial.
A sales kickoff is the best place to disseminate information on potential changes to sales strategies. This includes the reasoning behind the change, potential benefits, etc. This will allow for a new method to be adopted by the sales team with less resistance, especially if the top management addresses any reservations, doubts, or issues with the latest sales strategy.
Taking sales managers and leaders into confidence is a great way to ensure sales reps implement the new strategy, it is necessary to take. A few sessions with sales managers and leadership on the strategy and how to implement it will make it easy for the reps.
The keynote address is one of the main attractions at any sales kickoff event. It is usually delivered by someone well-known and respected in the industry who can provide attendees with valuable insights. This could include current trends, best practices, new tools, etc., which can help reps improve their performance.
Apart from keynote speakers, sessions from top reps, sales experts, external trainers, and even panel discussions can be organized to create an exciting line-up of events. An impressive and eclectic mix of sessions featuring speakers with distinct perspectives will appeal to a wide range of sales reps.
Highlighting, acknowledging, and rewarding the top performers is a great way to motivate and energize the entire sales organization. Having top performers share their success stories is a terrific way for other reps to learn a few tricks of the trade from their peers.
Instead of singular sessions, it could also be organized as a panel discussion covering topics such as their biggest deals — how they initiated the pitch, the process, the obstacles they faced, and how they got past them, etc. These sessions will allow reps to ask questions and be interactive.
sales kickoffs make it simple to keep the entire sales organization abreast of the latest developments in the field, ranging from best practices to the tools available. Sessions that cover best practices, product updates, customer stories, etc, can be organized.
This is also an excellent opportunity to train teams through team-building exercises, group discussions, role-play training, sessions by external trainers, coaches on specific topics, etc. Hearing from experts in the field and top reps about their perspectives, experiences, and insights will be a rewarding and learning experience for the entire sales organization.
The above is an illustrative list of elements of a sales kickoff checklist that should form part of any sales kickoff event. However, the planning committee can customize these activities to suit the needs of the organization and its overall business objectives.
Sales kickoff best practices
Planning a successful sales kickoff is a tall task requiring meticulous thought and preparation. Here are some of the best practices to ensure your next sales kickoff is a success:
Prioritize interactive sessions
Ensure that sessions are interactive, with active participation from the attendees. Sales kickoffs are not meant to be one-way communication or information trickle down from the top management about what they expect from the sales department.
Whether in-person or virtual Q&A sessions, breakout sessions, team building activities, etc., can be used to ensure maximum participation and involvement of the sales teams.
Ensure attendee participation
Virtual sales kickoffs are more common owing to budget constraints, making it easier for reps in different locations to participate. While virtual meetings are becoming the norm, they are slightly trickier to organize and conduct while ensuring participation.
Organizations must ensure that all participants get an equal chance to speak during the sessions. Including a few ice-breakers at the beginning of each session will make for an interactive session, allowing virtual attendees to ask questions or state their opinions.
Bring in engaging speakers
Even if a speaker is engaging, it will only be helpful if the topic is relevant. Communicate in advance to your guest speakers the sales kickoff theme, the sales kickoff agenda, objectives, etc., to give a clear understanding of the entire set-up. Ensure they're motivating and can speak to your sales organization’s specific culture.
While speakers are essential at sales kickoffs, they are even more significant at virtual events. If the speaker is out of touch or unaware of the specific goals, the speech will turn ineffective and won’t result in any positive outcome. Work with your stakeholders and organizers to select engaging speakers (top reps from within the organization or external speakers if budget is available) who can share interesting stories, anecdotes, or unique perspectives that the audience would find valuable.
Reward top performers
Appreciating and rewarding the past year's top performers is essential to making your employees feel valued and respected. Further, the involvement of the top management will leave the sales team feeling essential and will be the necessary boost to propel sales personnel in the right direction for the following year.
Don't forget to include breaks
Having one session after another for several hours is mind-numbing. This isn’t fair to the participants or the speaker because neither gets the best out of this situation.
Adding small breaks between sessions, whether through tea breaks or networking events, will allow participants to relax and interact with each other. Another way to do this is by organizing fun activities or trivia contests during breaks with enticing rewards.
Keep it short
Long, winding speeches or sessions are an instant dampener. Ensuring the sessions are short, engaging, and interactive allows everyone to gain the maximum out of the sales kickoff event.
Diligently planning each session is the best way to avoid lengthy monologues that make the audience yearn for a vacation.
Be creative and fun
Engaging in a few creative team-building activities is a great ice-breaker while interacting with other teams. This is an excellent opportunity to have fun, build trust among team members, foster a feeling of belonging, and bring remote teams closer together.
With most teams and companies going virtual, the focus needs to be on building relationships based on mutual respect. This acts as a foundation to establish a continuing professional relationship with other teams and team members after the sales kickoff.
Pitfalls to avoid
A successful sales kickoff is as much about what to do as what not to do. So, what are the most common pitfalls one should be aware of?
Speakers that miss the mark
With the pressure to bring in motivational speakers, organizers often bring in engaging but irrelevant speakers. They may be well-known and an expert in their field, but are they experts in a field relevant to your sales team?
While choosing a speaker for such events, ensure they are experts in a field that resonates with the sales kickoff meeting theme and is up-to-date with the current trends and tools of the trade.
Making the engagement a one-way street
While sales kickoffs provide a terrific opportunity for top management to convey their message and expectations, it is not the time or the place for them to “talk at” the attendees.
While stories from leadership are crucial, the priority should be active participation from the sales team. A sales kickoff shouldn’t be a one-way communication where the attendees just listen to the leadership. One of the best ways to avoid this is having sales leaders pick two or three top reps who can share the strategies with their respective teams.
A sales kickoff is undoubtedly great for reviewing the strategy, technicalities, and product features. However, sessions shouldn’t be saturated with this. Otherwise, the whole event will just be one presentation after another.
Instead, concentrate on the challenges the product is solving and share success stories. Anecdotes and stories are a great way to engage the audience without inundating them with information.
How to plan your next sales kickoff
Here is the complete sales kickoff checklist for an impactful and successful event:
1. Get executive buy-in
As a significant event that will set the tone for the entire year, it is imperative to involve the C-Suite from the planning stage to make it a success. Executive buy-in is paramount for a successful sales kickoff as it allows teams to align with the overall mission and strategy for the upcoming year.
Ideally, the planning committee should identify key stakeholders to ensure cross-functional alignment. This is a great way to brainstorm and determine what to focus on, get executive support, and make the planning more seamless.
A well-rounded planning committee will involve the C-suite, the enablement team, sales managers, managers from marketing and product development, and the IT team (in case the event is hybrid/virtual) for logistical support.
2. Choose a theme
Successful sales kickoffs have a clear theme connecting all the events lined up. Selecting this principal theme that brings together the numerous elements will make clear the messaging, strategy, and expectations for attendees and participants.
The theme depends on organizational priorities and strategies for the next year and reiterates the major takeaways participants should expect. The theme needs to resonate with the audience and generate interest.
The planning committee typically decides on the theme months ahead to get started on the strategy, collaterals, and content. Once the theme is finalized, they can arrange the sessions, speakers, training programs, etc.
3. Define goals
After choosing a theme, it’s time to set the goals. Sales kickoffs encourage, reward, and set the stage for fresh sales methodologies or strategies.
For instance, if one of the primary objectives is to inspire teams, retention or engagement is a great metric to track. Leveraging sales kickoffs to tap into team engagement can also ensure they are comfortable collaborating with other departments. When deciding on the goals, here are some questions to consider:
- What are we seeking to achieve through this event?
- What is the direction or priority for the upcoming year?
- What do we want participants to consider, feel, and experience?
- How will we measure the success of this event?
- How can we sustain the power of the sales kickoff throughout the year?
Once the core team is clear about these answers, they can formulate the objectives for the sales kickoff. For instance, reaching US $5 million in revenue, a 20% increase over the previous year. This will also allow participants to understand what is expected from them.
4. Curate the sales kickoff agenda
Once the theme and goals are set, the next item on the checklist is the sales kickoff agenda. The sales kickoff agenda will provide an overview of the various sessions and what they will entail.
A well-crafted agenda will include the following information:
- Time for bite-sized training
- Keynote speakers and their sessions
- A blend of presentations and breakout sessions with peers
- Product demonstrations
- Rewards and Recognition
- Socialization and Networking
Craft the agenda, keeping in mind the organization’s specific work culture. A successful sales kickoff agenda focuses on various areas of improvement or new developments in products/services. Incorporating the sales kickoff theme throughout the agenda allows for determining the smaller objectives for reps to leave the event with tangible insights.
5. Align sales and marketing teams
Sales and marketing alignment is essential for reaching organizational goals. For instance, lead generation and qualification are common points of conflict. Bridging the gap between them requires having them both on the planning committee for the sales kickoff. This will allow the sales team to understand marketing’s strategies and plans while allowing the latter to ask questions and gain feedback.
6. Assign pre-work
Assigning pre-work to complete before the event will help prepare participants for what to expect. This could include reading materials, doing specific exercises, or coming up with suggestions.
Doing the pre-work will prioritize critical learning and reinforcement prospects during the kickoff while driving a more engaging event. Additionally, it will demonstrate that participants are taking the sales kickoff seriously, are aware of what to expect, and what they hope to take away from the event.
7. Involve the tech team
Whether the sales kickoff is an in-person event, hybrid, or remote, the support of the tech teams is imperative to drive it to success. With more and more companies moving remotely, the tech team will need to be on high alert as participants will need to be connected throughout the event.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Equipment to capture the audio and video, like audio mixer, switcher, and encoder
- Cameras and tripods
- Well-adjusted lighting. If natural sunlight isn’t possible, ring lights are a great alternative
- The right digital platform for streaming live sessions
- Subtitles/Closed captions [CC] are a great way to reach a wider audience. Adding subtitles to all the video events will make it accessible to a global audience
- Adequate privacy and security measures
Having an in-house IT team manage the whole event will be overwhelming. Based on the scale, consider hiring a professional team to handle everything end-to-end, allowing you to focus on the mission-critical tasks sans the technical glitches.
A smart way to prep for the event is to have a trial run of the complete sales kickoff. For instance, play the videos, run the presentations, etc. Additionally, have a few reps participate in the trial to ensure no technical glitches and familiarize them with the event flow.
8. Pick multiple session types
While choosing a sales kickoff meeting theme is necessary, it does not mean all the sessions should be similar in structure or content. If everything is based on the same topic and delivered similarly, the event will get very dull quickly.
Based on the sales kickoff agenda template, planning different types of sessions will ensure interaction, interest, and engagement. This could include a collection of the following sessions:
- Rewarding top performers, celebrating the company’s successes, and reviewing the past year’s performance.
- Team building sessions for reps to establish bonds with other team members through fun activities and boost morale.
- Motivational speeches by the leadership, external speakers, and experts
- Networking and socializing
- Learning about new strategies, product updates, and current market trends from keynote speakers, top reps, external speakers, etc.
- Training sales teams on new products, features, strategies, tools, and processes
- Communicating company-wide updates about policy changes, recent launches, fresh features, new strategies, goals for the next year, etc.
- Customer interviews where sales reps can interact with customers and gain critical insights about the products, their expectations, current challenges, etc.
9. Invite other departments
Sales teams cannot work in isolation. Reaching the target requires contribution and collaboration from other teams. Leadership needs to ensure all the connected departments are on the same page.
Sales kickoff events are a great place to emphasize the importance of working together by inviting participants from marketing, product development, customer service, etc, for a healthy exchange of ideas.
10. Provide follow-ups
A well-crafted and executed sales kickoff will lead to a motivated, energized, and focused sales force. Enablement teams need to have a plan to reinforce key messages throughout the year. Provide a forum for pursuing the conversation throughout the year, whether in-person, through an internal platform, or via video calls.
The theme chosen isn’t just for the duration of the sales kickoff but for it to trickle down to the reps through the year. Find ways to weave the theme into the routine. For instance, continue using the collaterals, include the tagline in ongoing conversations, and ensure leadership and frontline managers reinforce the messaging periodically.
Holding reps accountable is a great way to get them to implement what they learned. The organizers can accomplish this by including a template in the materials that asks participants to pinpoint their top three learnings and how they will apply them moving forward.
To sustain the sales kickoff tempo, it is vital to provide follow-up opportunities to continue the conversation. For instance, holding periodic meetings or creating an earmarked Slack channel can ensure that the effects of sales kickoff are enjoyed throughout the year.
11. Gather feedback
A common mistake organizations make is not riding the wave of a sales kickoff meeting. Getting participant feedback will help measure the success and efficacy of the sales kickoff event while providing ideas for next year’s event. Organizers should obtain feedback regarding the quality of the training sessions, keynote speeches, and overall experience through a survey or a rating system.
It is essential to record the feedback, incorporate it, and add agenda items based on their recommendations. This will also convey that their experiences matter and their voices are substantial in shaping future events.
12. Create a video library
With interactions becoming increasingly digital, having an online library of the entire event will ensure continued access. Further, training imparted during the event can get lost if not properly reinforced.
With teams scattered across the globe, a video library of the sessions will allow reps to go back and refer when required. Providing access to the video recordings on the internal platform will go a long way in increasing the efficacy of the sales kickoff.
A sales kickoff meeting is a fantastic opportunity to bring your team together, align on strategy, cultivate enthusiasm, and foster partnerships for the months ahead. Amidst the competitive landscape today, it’s critical to build connections.
Whether your organization can host an in-person or a virtual event, make the most of this opportunity to get your teams on the same page. The companies that thrive and grow consistently invest in their people. A thoughtful, well-organized sales kickoff event is one way to show your team you have their back.
Sample SKO meeting agenda template
Whatever the format or duration, whether in-person, virtual, or hybrid, the main objective is to energize and motivate participants and convey what is expected of them in the forthcoming months. Achieving this requires planning the sessions, programs, and activities in a manner that will keep the participants engaged throughout this event.
Here is a sample sales kickoff agenda template for a two-day SKO event.
Day 1 of Sales Kickoff
Bringing in different departments like marketing, customer support, and product research will provide an informal setting for a free exchange of ideas and understanding each other’s concerns.
Breakfast and introduction
With participants coming in excited and full of energy, the best thing to do is to channel this energy during breakfast to make new connections and get to know each other.
Ensure that each of the participants gets a chance to introduce themselves. This is a great time to provide a general schedule for the first day and discuss the sales kickoff theme and the different sessions.
Invite an external or in-house expert to deliver a keynote address that resonates with the sales kickoff theme and can set the tone for the remainder of the event.
With the keynote address one of the prime attractions of a sales kickoff, it is vital to brief the speaker in advance and brief them on what is expected from the session.
Reviewing the last year and awards
Start with last year’s performance and mention the company's high points over the previous year. Discuss last year's numbers, the challenges, major industry-wide changes, and product developments.
The next thing to do is to recognize top performers and teams who have achieved or exceeded their targets. Finish the session with the formal awards.
Have your reps get into small groups for skill-based training. This can be based on the pre-work assignments, so reps build on well-known information and concepts.
This is an excellent opportunity to network and socialize.
One of the top reps could run through a call with a prospect. This will allow other reps to take notes, understand how to handle specific questions and make the sales kickoff more memorable.
The Enablement team can delve into the major competitors, where they shine, and where they fall short. You could make this session more interactive by getting different reps to play different competitors.
With the enthusiasm high after the keynote address, it is a great time for team-building activities to break the ice. This allows for building new professional relationships through friendly competition. It will lay the foundation for participants to work with other members and show their creative and competitive side.
Dinner and networking
Finish the day with dinner and an informal gathering where participants can socialize and network. Plan some ice-breakers, if needed, to create an environment where people share anecdotes and connect.
Day 2 of Sales Kickoff
There can be some fatigue on the second day. Ensure that the participants stay motivated for the upcoming events by scheduling fewer activities for the second day.
This session should go over fast and allow participants to mingle and exchange ideas freely.
You can organize sessions on the latest products and features, training, fresh marketing strategies, etc. These sessions need to be brief, to the point, informative, and end with actionable inputs or what is expected from the sales teams. Brevity is your friend in technical sessions.
Instead of scheduling back-to-back technical sessions, intersperse them with breakout sessions. This is a great way to reinforce what the reps learned by dividing them into small groups and completing training and role-playing exercises.
The organizers can arrange lunch at a popular local restaurant if this is an in-person event. This is a great way to continue the discussions in an informal setting.
Plan for the next quarter and year
The last session could address the company’s plan for the upcoming period, the targets for each team and provide tools and strategies to help reps achieve their targets.
Finish the session with a high-performing rep or an external speaker coming in to motivate your reps. Brief them about your company culture and ensure they can end on a high note.
Use the happy hour to send the participants off on a high and positive note. Plan some fun and unstructured activities to have an informal and relaxed atmosphere.
Sales kickoffs are critical in ensuring the sales team, and stakeholders are informed and aligned on current projects and priorities and are given actionable practices to reach their goals. The after-effect of a sales kickoff should be self-evident in your reps and how they close deals. Your teams should walk out of a sales kickoff with a power boost that carries them through the year. The last thing you want to hear from your reps is that they’d rather use this time for customer calls and selling instead of attending the sales kickoff. But, if you follow the tips mentioned above, you will have a triumphant sales kickoff in your hands.