Maximize the impact of your sales kickoff

7 Steps to a Highly Successful Sales Kickoff (SKO)

The annual sales meeting or sales kickoff (SKO) is a highly anticipated tradition for many organizations. It’s the perfect time to bring your team together, celebrate success and set goals for the coming year.

It’s also an opportunity to equip your sales reps with the training they need to crush those quotas. But for many organizations, the annual sales kickoff is like climbing a mountain. Your team spends a few days bonding, learning new techniques and being inspired. Then they return to the office and leave the “mountaintop experience” behind.

Soon they’ve forgotten most of what they learned, and they’re back to the same old habits.

While the sales kickoff is still a great opportunity for your team to reconnect, celebrate and learn, the most important part of it is what happens afterward. That’s why you need to rethink your approach to planning your sales kickoff for maximum impact and retention.

Identify The Objective Of Your Annual Sales Meeting

As a veteran sales professional, you know there’s an art to setting ambitious-yet-attainable objectives. Before you move forward in the planning process, ask yourself what you want the annual sales meeting to achieve.

Typically, there are three reasons to gather your team together:

To Celebrate
An SKO can be the perfect opportunity to share success stories and recognize key players. But instead of lingering on wins of the past, this celebration will focus on how you can maintain the momentum and repeat your success.

To Provoke
If your team fell short the previous year, or your organization is in the midst of a transformation, you may need to use the SKO to usher in a substantial change. The start of the year is an excellent time to inspire teams to buy into new ideas and see change as an opportunity.

To Inform Or Review
Annual events are a great time to train teams on new products, processes or techniques — and focus on skill-building in general. This is especially true if you have remote reps or teams spread out across different regions or countries.

Whatever your goal, make sure you’re not trying to cram too much into your annual sales meeting agenda, especially if you’re introducing new information.

Professional development matters

In the most recent LinkedIn Workplace Learning Development Report, 94% of employees said they would stay at their company longer if their employer invested in their career. The annual sales meeting is the perfect opportunity to invest in your sales team.

Select a Meaningful Sales Kickoff Theme

Centering your SKO around one theme and maintaining a consistent narrative throughout the event helps make the experience more memorable. After all, our brains are hard-wired to remember stories better and longer than hard facts and stats.

But just because you have a theme doesn’t mean it has to be cheesy or gimmicky, nor does it have to be concrete.

For example, the theme for Unleash 2019 was “Three Steps To Invincible: An Exact Roadmap For Achieving The Impossible.” Conference sessions revolved around meeting your full potential, even in challenging circumstances and with an ever-changing technology stack.

Similarly, the theme of Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2018 was “Staying Connected in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” and much of the conference revolved around immersive and disruptive technology, such as VR, AI and robotics.

Choose a Captivating Sales Keynote Speaker

In addition to lining up the usual cast of speakers (like the CEO, CRO and VP of Sales), you may want to consider bringing in a special sales keynote speaker.

While bringing in speakers from within your organization is more cost-effective, a professional keynote speaker can bring a unique perspective and added excitement.


If you go this route, here are a few things you’ll want to consider:

How familiar are they with your industry and process?

The sales cycle for expensive medical equipment or software is much longer and more complex than selling most products directly to consumers. Make sure the speaker you choose has specific expertise that will resonate with your sales reps.

How will they customize their presentation?

Giving presentations is part of your sales team’s job, so they can spot a canned speech within seconds. Make sure your speaker tailors the presentation to specific organizational pain points.

How engaging are they?

The best sales keynote speakers know how to hold their audience’s attention in a distracted world. They use powerful storytelling, humor and charisma to convey an important message in a memorable way. Established keynote speakers should have videos of past performances and reviews from others.

Do they have substance?

While delivery is critical, there’s no use hiring an engaging speaker unless they also have substance. An effective sales keynote speaker will have unique insights and thought-provoking ideas to share.

Do they provide reinforcement?

You want your sales reps to remember the message long after the speaker is done talking. Does your keynote speaker offer supporting materials, such as a book or online training courses your team can take later?

If you do decide to hire a speaker outside your organization, share your agenda and theme as far ahead of time as possible. This way, you can make sure their message aligns with your objective.

Plan Breakout Sessions According to Sales Training Needs

Breakout sessions allow your reps to take a deep dive into concepts shared during the keynote and throughout the annual sales meeting.


Here are three things you should do to ensure each breakout session hits its intended target:

Identify your biggest sales need

Where can your reps benefit from improving most? Start by determining the top area of opportunity (i.e., prospecting, qualification, cold calling, closing deals).

Review real-life scenarios and applications

Whether it’s listening to an exceptional call or hearing the story behind a notable win, find ways to show sales reps what success looks like “in the wild.”

Include opportunities for sales reps to practice

Give reps a chance to exercise their new skills before they leave their session. Split them into pairs or small groups where they can role play and provide each other with valuable feedback.

Make Time for Fun

All work and no play makes for a mentally exhausting experience. By interspersing intense sessions with fun, stress-relieving activities, you can help foster stronger relationships. This also gives reps a chance to discuss new concepts they’ve learned in a more relaxed environment.

Here are a few examples of memorable and enjoyable SKO team-building activities:

  • Happy hour
  • Team dinner
  • Escape room
  • Murder mystery game
  • Sporting event
  • Hiking
  • Boating trip
  • Cooking class
  • Karaoke
  • Bowling
  • Laser tag
  • Arcade night
  • Wellness activities
    (massages, yoga, meditation)

The best activities for your event will depend on the structure and style of your SKO.

Prepare Memorable Closing Remarks (with a Call-to-Action)

Your closing remarks can be one of the most vital elements of your entire sales kickoff event, so don’t make it an after-thought. Be intentional in how you wrap up the event. Summarize key highlights, and most importantly, end with a call-to-action.

Reinforce Sales Training Post-Kickoff

Make sure you create a post SKO follow-up plan to keep the momentum going throughout the year. Schedule sales training refreshers to reinforce information and bring non-attendees up to speed.

Online sales training courses are ideal for this because your team can take them anywhere at their own pace. The best online sales training courses include a mix of reading materials, videos, real live sales call recordings and practical application your team can use outside the platform.

They share bits of information that’s easy to digest in 20- to 30-minute increments over several weeks, rather than hours-long cram sessions. Each session should give your sales reps an exercise they can practice that same day, such as writing a strong sales prospecting email or asking better open-ended questions.

Finally, be sure to engage front-line managers and the senior leadership team regularly. It may be hard to believe, but most sales leaders don’t receive any formal training. Executives promote top-performing sales reps and hope for the best only to realize much later that those reps lack critical leadership skills. They don’t know how to motivate and engage their teams, hold them accountable or coach them to improve performance.

Ensure your sales leaders are doing their part by enrolling them in sales coaching programs that will equip them to empower their teams.

A powerful SKO sets the tone for the entire year. While many teams look forward to reconnecting after the holidays and celebrating success, the most important part of an annual sales meeting is what happens afterward.


Invest in sales training that sticks.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can maximize the impact of your sales kickoff.
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