Usually once a year the entire sales team gets together face-to-face for the annual Sales Kickoff (SKO) meeting.

Meeting attendees include sales, sales operations, sales enablement, marketing, finance, legal, products, support, service, success, IT and HR as well as a handful of management team members.

And herein lies the first problem: each attendee comes with a different perspective and idea of what they want to tell sales people. Let me explain.

SKO Disaster – Agenda vs Business Outcome

Typically a relatively arbitrary decision will be made about whether SKO can be a day or multiple days. Next there is the usual political jockeying to be a presenter and how long each presentation will be. And each presenter communicates the topics they want to talk about versus what is most relevant to the sales team.

RECOMMENDATION: Determine specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound objectives that can be quantitatively measured for each session and correlated back to productivity or revenue.

SKO Disaster – Wrong Length

Pulling the entire sales team out of the field is expensive, i.e. the cost of flights, hotels, food, beverages, etc. However, it’s obviously more expensive to pull the entire sales organization together a second or third time because it was deemed more important to save 15% by reducing the number of days of the first SKO.

RECOMMENDATION: Test drive AKO presentations with a small group of salespeople to see how long it takes to cover and retain the vast majority of the material. Also, educate the sales team on where and how to access the content so that they can refresh whatever was forgotten or fuzzy). Then, let the test drive determine the duration of the presentation and/or go back and modify the SMART objectives – don’t just “squeeze it into the time slot.”

SKO Disaster – Set the Baseline

It’s important for all attendees to have the same backdrop. This means the company’s financial performance, the company’s relative position in the market, an overview of technology and your organization’s edge, an update on the competition, customer success stories and the current and future state of the offering need to be honestly and realistically summarized so everyone is on the same page.

RECOMMENDATION: Prepare a “state of the union” and cover the relevant information which provides the big picture and framework and how the objectives of SKO tie into the company’s overall success in the market.

SKO Disaster – Transfer Knowledge

The goal of SKO should be to transfer knowledge so sales people are more productive, resulting in an increased ability to meet or exceed quota. Remember that not everyone learns from a speech, especially when there are anywhere from 8-12 speakers per day with varying degrees of presentation experience — and very few with a background of how to most effectively transfer knowledge.

RECOMMENDATION: Use a combination of slides, images, captivating headlines, motivating narration, video, stories and interactive exercises to transfer knowledge.

SKO Disaster – Geographically Undesirable

When selecting a venue, refrain from delegating the task to a meeting planner and follow these tips:

  • First, determine the physical location of the attendees on a map to see their geographical dispersion.
  • Second, look at the major metropolitan airports (based on the above map of attendees) and the availability of nonstop flights.
  • Third, limit the number of distractions. Las Vegas is fun but it’s called sin city for a reason and it tends to distort spatial relationships, directly affecting a sales person’s ability to be fresh for an 8AM start time.
  • Fourth, think about the time of year. Sales people have lives outside of work: holidays, graduations and summer vacations to mention a few.

RECOMMENDATION: Choose a location convenient for the attendees that minimizes travel time and not because the hotel offered a discount on food and beverage.

SKO Disaster – Poor Meeting Facility

Again, inexperienced meeting planners will not do on-site visits which opens up a whole can of worms. Be sure to ask basic questions that include:

  • Is there construction going on at the property?
  • Is there a strong internet signal in the location being offered?
  • Are the ceilings really low in the room or auditorium?
  • Does the AC or heat work well throughout the space?
  • Is the room well-lit for video?
  • Does the PA system work well (front and back of the room)?
  • Is the food onsite reasonable or can you cater in?
  • Are there restaurants onsite or do you need to shuttle to restaurants each evening?
  • How far is the property from the airport?

RECOMMENDATION: If 200 people are attending SKO, a rule of thumb is to request space for 1.5 times the number of attendees – unless of course you enjoy using fold-up chairs pushed against one another so that you can’t cross your legs.

SKO Disaster – Acknowledge Key Contributors Based on Merit, Not Quotas

Sales people are usually motivated by money or acknowledgement – usually in that order — and that is pretty true for most employees. It’s important to recognize people who deserve recognition for what they have accomplished in the year or for what they sacrificed. If that means the same people year in and year out are recognized, so be it. Resist the temptation to recognize new faces if they do not deserve it in an attempt “to spread the wealth around or meet quotas”.

RECOMMENDATION: Sales people need to be recognized for accomplishments and sacrifices but need rewards they truly value – not everyone wants a watch. Also, there are a lot of people behind the scenes that make sales people successful and they should be recognized as well – one idea is to have sales people vote on people (based on categories of the selling process) who were most crucial to selling.

SKO Disaster – Summary

The purpose of an SKO should include transferring knowledge and setting sales people up to meet or exceed quota. However, there are so many details and so many people involved it is easy for an organization to lose focus. Plan your SKO and work your plan. Follow the above insights to help avoid a disaster (unless SKO is measure on whether or not the party and band were good). Also, download the sales pipeline planning model below to build plans to help salespeople succeed.


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