January 6, 2020

How to Run an Effective Sales Kickoff (SKO)

It's a new fiscal year for many companies, and that means sales kickoff (SKO) season is upon us. Come January 1st each year, the social feeds of countless marketing and sales professionals suddenly flood with excitement for their companies' upcoming kickoff events. But are SKOs really worth all the hype?

What is a Sales Kickoff, and Why Should We Have One?

A sales kickoff is an annual event that gets your entire team rallied around accomplishing a goal over the course of the year. Sales kickoffs are an important part of syncing everyone up on the priorities for the upcoming year and helping boost the morale and unity of your team.

When organizing a sales kickoff, it’s important to make sure you have a clear goal and set of objectives that you want your team to accomplish. SKOs should be a mixture of informational meetings, team building and training, but actually adding value for your team members and setting the foundation to propel your team towards your goals is essential. You don’t want your salespeople to feel they are wasting time that they could have spent selling.

How to Plan a Sales Kickoff

The big-picture details to consider when planning a sales kickoff are time, location and theme.

SKOs typically happen in January or February of the new year and can range in length. The length of your kickoff should be determined by the size of your company and the number of changes that need to be reviewed. If you have a smaller company and not a lot of new changes, one full day will suffice. If you have a larger team or more content to cover, you could go up to three days, but any longer than that will start to negatively impact how much your team is actually gaining from the meetings.

In terms of location, try not to host your SKO in your office. Getting people in a new environment makes the kickoff the whole focus of the day and minimizes distractions from regular office work. 

When picking a theme for your kickoff, you can go with something fun like a pop culture reference if it fits your company culture, but you could also pick a theme more relevant to your company and its goals for the upcoming year. Your theme could be about growth or unification, or you could have everyone do an activity in preparation for the event and focus your sessions around that.

For example, a few years ago before New Breed’s kickoff, everyone read “The Challenger Sale” and during the kickoff, we went over what type of rep each team member was and how they could become a “Challenger.”

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Why You Should Include Your Marketing Team in Your Sales Kickoff

As indicated by its name, a sales kickoff is for your sales team. However, the inbound methodology relies on unity between your sales and marketing teams. To aid with marketing and sales alignment, consider having your annual kickoff be for both departments — not just sales.

Giving marketing a presence at your sales kickoff will help sales understand how marketing will be working with them and how they’ll all be generating revenue together. One common issue companies face is a disconnect between marketing and sales where the sales team feels that the marketing team isn’t giving them good leads and the marketing team feels that the sales team isn’t doing a good job following up on the incredible leads they’re generating. Involving your marketing team in your sales kickoff is a great step toward correcting that tension and opening up communication between the two departments.

At New Breed, we have a “revenue kickoff” for our entire revenue department which contains both the marketing and sales teams. The marketing team does all the same exercises as the sales team which helps unify the two teams toward a common goal.

Specific Types of Sessions Your Sales Kickoff Should Include

1. Recap of the previous year’s successes and challenges

You can’t establish goals to work toward without understanding the foundation you’ve built. Early on in your kickoff, you should go over the major accomplishments from the previous year to set a baseline for the new year.

2. What’s new and what’s changed

If your company has new product updates, new pricing, new selling strategies or new compensation plans, you should definitely go over them with your team at your kickoff to get everyone excited about the changes.

While going over changes within your company and products, make sure to not only cover what’s new but also explain how the changes will impact your team’s selling efforts.

3. A customer-centric session

Sales is all about generating new customers, so there should be a session focused on your company’s customers. If possible, have one of your customers talk about why they chose your company or software and what their experience working with you has been like.

If you can’t get a customer to call in or present in-person at your kickoff, at the very least go over some case studies and customer feedback from the previous year and discuss how you can improve upon the customer experience.

4. Follow-up on a pre-assigned homework exercise

Assign your some sort of educational content like a book or podcast to read or listen in advance and then follow-up on that content at the kickoff.

That content could be related to a new development in your industry, thought leadership relevant to your jobs or something around organizational structure or teamwork that you think everyone will gain value from.

Doing this enables you to have a group discussion about a topic that your team wouldn’t necessarily make the time for otherwise. Plus, since everyone was assigned the content, your entire team will be able to participate.

5. Personality assessments

Personality assessments like DISC and Myers–Briggs are a great way to help your team understand themselves and how they connect and communicate with other people. They can then apply that knowledge to improve their communication strategy with your buyers.

Similar to the way personas help us understand how to best communicate with our buyers, the personality assessments help us analyze where our communication strategies originate from.

6. Coaching or training from outside your company

If possible, bring in an outside speaker to do some sales coaching or training to introduce an outside perspective and motivate your team. 

There are multiple training companies like Challenger, Hoffman, Somersault Innovation and Sandler Training who can be part of your kickoff and help your team hone their skills.

If you don’t have the time or resources to bring someone else in, have your best salespeople speak to their biggest success from the last year and how it was accomplished.

7. Role-playing

Role-playing is an effective way for your team to observe each other’s sales strategies and selling techniques to practice nurturing clients. You can base the scenarios off actual deals from the previous year or have your team try their hand at talking about new products that are launching in the upcoming year.

8. Role-specific specialty tracks

While your marketing and sales teams need to understand each other’s role, they don’t need to be able to do each other’s job. Thus there are some updates and trainings that won’t be applicable for everyone. 

To maximize the productivity of your kickoff, split your teams up for these role-specific trainings.

9. Fun team-building stuff

While the education and training components are essential to a sales kickoff, motivating your employees and boosting morale are equally important. Schedule fun team-building exercises throughout your kickoff to break up the training or hold fun social activities in the evening.

The Takeaway

At the end of your annual kickoff, your team should feel confident about working toward your company’s goals for the new year. Your kickoff should have not only aligned your marketing and sales teams toward a unified objective but also improved morale and brought your team closer together.

To accomplish that, your kickoff needs to consist of a mix of informational meetings, team building and training sessions. It’s important to have clear goals for what you want the kickoff to accomplish when planning said sessions to make sure it’s productive for your employees.

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This post was originally published January 17, 2019.

Tag(s): Sales Operations

Quinn Kanner

Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.


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