Rock Your Sales Kickoff: 8 Ways to Make it Awesome

When you think of “sales kickoffs”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Excitement? Camaraderie? Or boring presentations?

When the whole team is assembled, it can be tempting to use that time to push out lots of training on the latest and greatest your company has to offer, all at once. But successful sales managers know that doing so would squander a golden opportunity to understand the needs of the team, define and set goals, and activate the reps for a killer quarter and year.

Filling the schedule with training seminars works at cross purposes with these goals for success. Here are three major pitfalls that many sales trainers fall into when planning a sales kickoff that will be prove to be ineffective and, for lack of a better word, lame:

Too much information: Your sales team is unlikely to remember the nuances of the training when you blast them with it for several hours a day. In fact, studies have shown that we retain very little of what we hear just a few days after we learn it.

Outdated information: Your industry is not static, and that’s why your training tools can’t be either. All the preparation in the world won’t prevent Finance from changing the price at the last minute or a competitor from coming out with a new product two days before your kickoff. Having up-to-date training materials that can be customized for changing industries, climates, and client needs are key to keeping your sales team informed with just-in-time data.

Shrinking attention spans: Admit it. When an activity is not fully engaging you, you are tempted to grab that smartphone. And so are your sales people when confronted with a long training lab. This distraction is not just anecdotal: Microsoft has released a study showing our attention span is shrinking and is now shorter than that of a goldfish.

And yet, sales training is still crucial to success. You need your team armed with the most comprehensive data-but that data shouldn’t be crammed into a few days’ worth of seminars, especially when that time can be better used for role-playing, goal setting and collaborating.

Today’s mobile-first customers don’t just expect just-in-time data, they demand it. Instead of cramming all of that data into reps’ heads in the course of the kickoff, you’ll want to  provide them with that information on-demand and on their phones.  Instead, the kickoff can focus on big ideas and goals, providing inspiration to last the rest of the year. The Sales Kickoff should hold your team’s attention and build excitement and enthusiasm for future successes. Take advantage of that opportunity with these eight best practices guaranteed to build engagement.

#1. Involve your team in planning.

Today’s employees, especially if they are millennials, appreciate being consulted. Instead of guessing what might be most interesting to your reps, why don’t you just ask them? Do they want a theme, or is that overdone? What is the optimum length? What topics are of the most interest to them? The best way to make your sales kickoff meet their needs is to have attendees identify those needs.

#2. Invite everyone.

You might assume you should limit your attendance (and thus your costs) by only including the sales team, but a better option may be to invite the entire company – from the appointment scheduler to the accounting staff.

Here’s why: teams perform better when they know each other. Zach in sales might be your top salesperson but is having some issues with process, which annoys Brittany in accounting – and rightly so. But once they’ve met, you might find that some of these issues magically smooth over. Maybe they discuss a new process where Zach sets a daily reminder because he now knows how his tardiness negatively impacts her work flow.

Of course, it might not be practical to involve a whole company in the sales kickoff, so look for other ways to prompt engagement and involvement. For example, maybe everyone can join the CEO’s kickoff keynote or join a special happy hour. Whatever the compromise, the facetime will be worth it.

#3. Develop an ice breaker.

Sometimes it can be hard to get the troops to mix and mingle, and you might find entire departments sitting together. But that defeats one of the main purposes of a successful sales kickoff – the camaraderie that can help your team perform. If your team doesn’t know each other well, consider a short ice breaker game, even something as simple as “Two Truths and a Lie” or “People Bingo.” It might be cheesy, but it works! Leave the trust falls at summer camp, though. There’s a fine line between “lame” and “fun and effective” here.

#4. Enlist a speaker.

Sure, your CEO and sales lead are probably going to speak. But many successful sales kickoffs also incorporate an outside guru who can offer solid fundamental knowledge on a professional development topic. Consider including someone who can share best practices in networking, business etiquette, or social media, for example. Your team will have felt their time was well spent when they come away with actionable advice that can improve their career success.

#5. Make it personal.

Professional skills enhancement is important, but so is hearing your own team successes. You might consider having your top salespeople share their success stories and accumulated wisdom or asking a newbie to share something that worked for them in another company or role. One of your sessions could be a panel format where the sales team role plays sales calls and common objections. This might be a good place to integrate a training component, by demonstrating how mobile sales content can come to the rescue before or during a sales call.

#6. Reward and incentivize.

There’s nothing like the power of an award to inspire others to want to attain success. Salespeople by nature are competitive, and when you ignite that spark in a positive way, you can reap the benefits of a workforce that is ready to build their own business. The sales kickoff is also an excellent opportunity to announce an upcoming sales contest. Consider making it something that’s based on incremental improvement, rather than straight sales, to help even the playing field if you have a team with varying levels of established accounts and experience.

#7. Seek feedback.

Whew! The exhilaration of a successful sales kickoff in the books. But, not so fast. While the session is fresh in your attendees’ minds, seek feedback on what they liked, what was most useful and what could be improved. That will help provide a template for your next successful kickoff.

#8. Follow up.

Your team is going to be eager to jump right back in when they return to the field, but you don’t want the kickoff to become a distant memory. Consider sending a wrap-up email a few days later. Include a summary of the upcoming year’s goals or theme, a photo gallery to help remind them of the energy that was in the room, and links to training materials that they can review as needed.

While sales training and sales enablement are crucial to success, they shouldn’t necessarily be the main focus of a sales kickoff. Rather, you should utilize that precious time to inspire and empower your sales teams, and then use a more effective and efficient means of delivering learning content throughout the year.

Bonus: Want some more resources for planning your sales kickoff? Here are a few links to some great ideas that will help you implement your next meeting: