by Bill Bauer Director of Product Development
Sales Kick-Off (SKO) events are a familiar part of the professional landscape to most people who have carried quota and are an annual source of acute anxiety to sales leaders. These events typically cost a lot of money, require a ton of preparation, and create plenty of internal friction – and the return on all this investment of time, energy, and money are hard to calculate.
Despite all these drawbacks, Sales Kick-Offs remain an essential part of the sales calendar, a punctuation mark to close out the last sales year and start the new. And for 2023, there’s the added pressure of returning to a physical event after several years of virtual meetings: in some cases, it will be the first time that teams have got together in person.
Ask salespeople what they like about Sales Kick-Offs and they’ll tell you it’s the networking and opportunity to hear directly from senior leadership. Ask them what they don’t like, and they’ll roll their eyes and talk about death by PowerPoint.
This isn’t because salespeople have especially short attention spans. It’s because Sales Kick-Offs often lack clear objectives. We often see a three-way battle for agenda priority between:
This is difficult to resolve because:
✓ Non-sales functions (Marketing, Legal, Product Management) want to use the SKO event as a shortcut to educate the sales team at once.
✓ Senior Leadership have strong views about shortfalls in sales performance and how to fix them.
Our view is that SKO events should be squarely centered on motivating the sales team: all other goals should be subordinate to this. That includes choosing what is celebrated and how, as well as eliminating the 75-slide product presentations from the agenda.
In other words:
✓ The primary objective of the SKO is to improve motivation and confidence, not competence or knowledge.
✓ Salespeople should leave the event filled with energy, feeling that they are doing an important job for a worthwhile organisation that fully supports them.
✓ Motivate first, celebrate second, and educate a distant third.
PLANNING FOR SUCCESS
So… you’ve taken a deep breath and decided to invest the time and money needed for an on-person SKO. You’ve found a (shockingly expensive) hotel near a major airport and you’ve worked out which dates will work.
The key challenge is now to build excitement and engagement with your team. With that in mind you should:
✓ Send out preliminary questionnaires to the sales team to get them engaged and help define what should be on the agenda.
✓ Select a set-up that’s right for the event scale – making sure that you can manage breakouts and live feedback questionnaires/polling.
✓ Structure the agenda on the day so that no slot is longer than 30 minutes, 20 minutes probably better.
✓ Avoid stuffing too much into the agenda: if in doubt, leave it out.
✓ Include your customers – their input helps ground the event in reality
✓ Budget for some follow-up training that reinforces the key messages. Remember that you are not trying to deliver education during the event.
Your SKO will be complex to deliver – and will require plenty of rehearsal to get right. It’s essential that you have a clearly identified programme manager with a well-defined plan. Don’t be tempted to give this as a “development opportunity” to one of your sales leaders: they have to deliver their year-end numbers and will not have the bandwidth.
THEME & AGENDA STRUCTURE
Many organisations like to pick a slogan to act as a theme for the event. It’s tricky to find something that isn’t so bland that it’s cheesy but still has broad relevance to the audience (especially if the team is geographically dispersed). Try not to theme the event around a reality TV show that half the salespeople have never heard of. If in doubt, use the company slogan/strapline as a theme.
Probably more important than picking a theme is agreeing on what the tone of the event should be. While it’s admirable to try to build excitement and motivation with an upbeat kick-off, this tends to grate and have the opposite effect if coming off the back of a challenging final quarter for many people on the team. Be careful of over-egging how well “the business” did last year, if many individuals did not hit quota or struggled. Similarly, if people grafted and just about crossed the line above target, not conveying enough gratitude and instead emphasising “the improvements we’ll all need to make this year to ensure we stay ahead” kills all motivation.
With all that said, what might a successful SKO Agenda look like? This obviously depends on the scale of your business and the critical challenges you face. Here’s a template schedule for a one-and-a-half-day SKO that may be a useful starting point.
Travel to venue
11:30 Arrival & Registration
13:00 Welcome & Introduction.
This should include a summary of inputs received from the sales team, as well as laying out the agenda for the event.
13:15 Review of the Year.
Obviously a focus on the results and big successes (which implicitly gives all the sales team up-to-date case studies) but also updates on important changes both internal and external.
13:35 The Value We Bring our Customers.
This could use a Q&A format with a major customer or a panel of customers.
14:05 Communicating Value Exercise.
5-minute video of a virtual customer call, followed by 10-minute break-out sessions in groups and a moderated feedback session.
14:30 Coffee Break & Networking.
15:00 Inspirational Video/Speaker.
Obvious topics to focus on include resilience and persistence in tough times. Check to be sure that the speaker/video is cross-culturally relevant – and comprehensible – if you have a multi-national team.
15:30 Live Poll.
For example, this could ask everyone to identify the single biggest skill they’re going to develop in 2023, with the main screen showing a real-time word cloud as the results are submitted.
15:45 3 Great Wins.
Have three salespeople present how they won important deals: 1 slide, 10 minutes each. Make sure that this is not just the biggest client/biggest deal, include deals that lots of salespeople can replicate. Check that they articulate the value from the customers’ perspective.
16:15 The Plan for 2023.
Share a clear and credible plan for the year ahead that is neither too complicated nor too simplistic: very high-level plans lacking in detail tend not to land with any impact or give any real guidance, while lots of detail and complexity immediately puts people off. Communicate what’s being prioritised, why and with what resources, as well as what is being deprioritised, mitigated for, or otherwise downplayed.
16:45 Live Poll Feedback on the Day & Wrap-Up.
Summarise the key themes, and set the stage for Day 2. And of course, finish on a high note.
17:00 Networking & Drinks.
Depending on team dynamics and tenure, you may want to run an icebreaking activity to get people to meet colleagues outside their immediate team. This could be a classic like “two truths and a lie” or something that encourages them to find common ground e.g., pairs tasked with finding the two most interesting things they have in common.
18:30 Team Dinner & Live Quiz.
Set the seating plan so that people are in their work teams with senior execs spread evenly throughout. Run a humorous quiz with silly prizes once people are sat down with a drink.
This is classical recognition of high performers. Important that this focuses on activity as well as results – and on teamwork as well as individual performance.
08:45 Welcome & Introduction.
Re-cap Day 1, lay out the agenda for the day, and try to get some energy back in the room.
09:00 New Product Demos x 3.
Live demos or at least videos of them, followed by Q&A with Product Managers on customer use cases Features/Functions/Benefits. No slides allowed!
09:45 Coffee Break.
10:00 3 x Clinics.
Break out the attendees into three groups to run through three parallel clinic sessions, each of 50 minutes. Every attendee should attend all three clinics.
13:45 Sales Leadership Panel.
Have the sales leaders up on stage with a moderator, answering the questions that have been collected before and during the event.
14:15 My Biggest Deal in 2023.
Exercise – break-out groups with sales and supporting functions, brainstorming, senior leadership in each break-out, moderated feedback session.
15:00 Coffee Break.
15:15 Unveiling the 2023 Incentive Trip.
This is a natural sequel to the Biggest Deal exercise and is designed to build excitement.
15:30 Closing Remarks.
A final motivational boost from a senior leader, combining recognition and appreciation with a reminder of the organisation’s mission and purpose. Ideally the CEO in person. A limp-recorded video is probably worse than nothing.
Use different formats for the different slots to eliminate long stretches of one-way presentation. No more than three or four slots between breaks. Make sure that the audience know when they will be able to provide live polling reactions.
Whatever you decide, test each agenda item to be sure that it’s going to keep your audience engaged. The magic formula is Fun, Interactive & Relevant. If it doesn’t tick those boxes, be ruthless!
It’s been a tough few years. Lots of salespeople have missed their targets, and there’s been a ton of organisational churn. Long-standing relationships have frayed, and many “new” joiners have never met their colleagues in person. The economic environment provides plenty of challenges.
And don’t kid yourself that the SKO will compensate for poor sales leadership throughout the year. Creating a culture where you’ve put your people first for the past year means that half the job is done for you. If you have supported their personal development and well-being, they will be feeling positive overall about their relationship with you and the company; you need to have something in the “emotional bank account” or the event will be an uphill struggle from the start.
But the good news is that a well-thought-through Sales Kick-Off can still deliver a great motivational boost. You just need to make sure that it’s engaging, punchy – and well-planned.
Bill Bauer, Director of Product Development
Contact Bill on firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to know more about planning and executing your Sales Kick-Off event. Or call us on +44 (0) 207 653 3740.
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