Top 5 Tips For a Successful “Sales Kickoff”

It’s time for your annual Sales Kickoff meeting. You budgeted for it, selected the location, chose the annual theme, scheduled the fancy group dinner, maybe even hired a speaker too. Your objective was to achieve sales pipeline alignment, educate your team, and motivate them to drive results next year.  But the sales kickoff is an expensive event, especially when your sales team is tied up and not selling. Now you are wondering if it will be a success.  So here are 5 tips to make sure that your sales kickoff is the most productive yet and has the highest ROI:

1. Prepare To Run The Sales Kickoff By The Numbers

Most companies will have planned a good agenda but many times these events are not grounded in metrics.  While many such kickoffs are focused on being motivational and educational, there is sometimes too little focus on analyzing and presenting past performance so as to create powerful takeaways.  Rarely do CEOs and Sales VPs dive deeper than just sharing the annual sales and high level numbers.  But why aren’t most Sales VP sales bringing in some substantive revenue analytics to the meeting to help educate the sales team and prepare them better for this year?

You can discuss things like bookings trends for each quarter to learn a thing or two about how your sales are trending each month or quarter and what you learn from that to smooth these out and reduce some of the vacillations. Your sales VP should also bring the analysis of your sales pipeline history to educate the sales team on how the pipeline is changing quarter to quarter and how the pipeline breakdown is changing from month to month.  Some of these insights can help your team hit the ground running in January to help make Q1 more successful than the same period last year.

Your Sales VP should also have the sales funnel analysis ready to present to the team and share key takeaways of how they can improve their sales process and move deals faster from one stage to another.

And since you are already in January, the Sales VP should take advantage of the opportunity that the sales organization is in one room to have a high level sales pipeline management meeting by looking at the current state of the sales pipeline and see where the big opportunities may be stuck in January that need to be moved forward in Q1.  Just this analysis alone can produce a lot of great conversations among your sales professionals and this can be a great opportunity for insightful group learning.

Make sure you take lessons from the past year and reflect on them.  Teach the sales team how to improve. Have the Win/Loss ratio for the past year ready to present for your teams. Talk about key sales activities that worked for your best sales reps and how to improve productivity.  Have these activity metrics prepared with key takeaways. Present your pipeline conversion metrics and discuss the key lessons learned from your sales forecasting and pipeline management meetings.  Is there something everyone can learn to improve their game next year? By bringing these reports and metrics to an open forum discussion, the Sales VP will givethe team an opportunity to provide input and feedback on important issues.

2. Share the New Year’s Strategic Focus and Big Corporate Objectives

Communicating strategy and objectives at the sales kickoff is essential to the sales organization’s success this year. One of the key reasons is for alignment–giving your people a clear direction. Another is that sharing your strategy will lead to better execution. As Yogi Berra once said “If you don’t know where you’re going, you ain’t gonna get there.” Your sales team can be more productive and will be more likely to help the company achieve these goals. And the sales team will also feel good about the transparency and that the executive team communicates clearly.

As part of sharing corporate objectives, you should also share your top 3 objectives for the sales organization.  And also share one or two areas of improvements that everyone can work on as a team.  One may be to do more training for new hires or perhaps improving your pipeline management process or aligning more with marketing. Whatever these are, it’s important to make them loud and clear.

Finally the annual sales kickoff is a good time to announce the one big aggressive goal, AKA “the moon shot” or BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal as Jim Collins called it in his book “Built To Last: The Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”).  This will be a stretch goal, but it will be compelling and visionary and—since sales is like a competitive sport—your team should be motivated to show what they can do this year to get the company closer to this goal.

3. Include Training

Make sure you allocate time for sales skills development. Cover your selling methodology or system of choice (i.e. whether you use Sandler, Customer Centric Selling or another system), you just need to repeat the training and reinforce it regularly – there is no better time than the Annual Sales Kickoff.  Let your most successful reps present how they apply your selling methodology to win deals.  What are the key stages in your system and how are those reflected in your stage conversion analysis?  What are the best ways to handle top objections?  Pick your most successful sales reps to go on stage and train the team with personal insights.

You also want to train your sales on any new and fresh practical knowledge to sell against your top competitors. Do you have any recent competitive comparisons that you can present? Here again you can use the Win/Loss analysis to present how you win and lose against your top competitors.  Perhaps you can invite one of your resellers to give a real case study of how you joined hands to win a deal against a formidable competitor. This could be really inspiring. And have the Win/Loss metrics prepared on each competitor to tell a poignant story that will help your sales team succeed this year.

Additionally, you want to make time for product training.  Let your product managers present the product in a simple and memorable way (not too technical).  Most products will require a sales approach that is focused more on promoting the benefits of your product’s features rather than the technical features themselves. You also want the product team to present some of the exciting new planned launches in the coming 6-12 months.  You clearly don’t want to give too many details or you risk your sales team selling “futures” but you do want your reps to be excited about what new product offerings are expected in the near future.

You also want your sales team to get training from marketing about new campaigns and programs planned for next year. And marketing should share the key metrics that show how they are helping drive sales. For example, what are the metrics for campaign ROI to show which campaigns were most successful?  How many Leads and MQLs did marketing generate this year, and what do they plan for next year?  And what is marketing doing to ensure full alignment with sales?

For all of these, make sure that you either have some handouts and materials that your sales team can refer to later or give a link to the central location for others to access the information later.  Lastly, if you can create an on-demand video of the event this would make your Sales Kickoff especially great if you have teams internationally who may not have been able to travel.

4. Inspire, Motivate, and Make it Entertaining

A big part of the sales kickoff is to build morale, inspire and create a memorable experience.  How your team feels after it will have a considerable effect on your productivity during this entire year.  You could bring in a motivational speaker but that could cost a lot of money.  However, you may do better if you invite guest speakers who are your customers or partners and they can make the stories personal about the deals you won together.  Your CEO and VPs should also be able to motivate and inspire.  And they should be not only on the stage but also available during downtime to provide open communication and executive interaction with the sales team (as with marketing, product management and some other teams who should also come to the sales kickoff). They should also be able to make it fun and humorous. In fact, your execs are usually better than a motivational speaker because if they don’t know how to motivate then they are in the wrong role.

Importantly, your executives should be able to give recognition and show appreciation – there is nothing more important than that to inspire the sales team than the feeling of appreciation.  Who were your top performers in 2012 who got into the President’s Club?  Recognize them. Share with everyone again the photos of that Jamaica resort where the winners will be going. Inspire others to achieve the 100%+ quota goals for next year because they also want to go. And do some giveaways – whether it’s t-shirts, books or sport bags (or President Club trips), they are all good to make the event memorable and fun.  And don’t forget to capture the moment – record it, take photos and then store these on the internal central resource at your company so that everyone can remember and review it later.

5. Make Time for Team Building

This is just as important as all the other goals. Your team performs better when they gel well. Your people need to spend some time together and build rapport with each other outside of the office. This is harder to do during the year so the annual sales kickoff  is a perfect time for this. The team should have some downtime for internal networking  but, just as importantly, they will get energized from the informal time spent during a group dinner.  And if they get to know each other better then you will also achieve better communication among your sales, marketing, support and ops teams which in itself can be a competitive advantage.

Most CEOs and VPs of Sales consider the sales kickoff as the one most important meeting of the year when your people get together as a team so it’s important to have a successful one.  If you considered these 5 points above for your sales kickoff then you are well on your way to a very successful new sales year.