What is a sales kickoff?

In the enablement world, there’s one event that stands out from any other — the sales kickoff (SKO).

A sales kickoff is an annual event for your entire go-to-market (GTM) team. The event should coincide with the start of your organization’s new fiscal calendar, so it usually takes place in January, February, or mid-year. While the main objective of a SKO is to motivate your sellers and lay the groundwork for the new sales year, it’s also the perfect time to:

  1. Celebrate team and individual seller success.
  2. Deliver product and service enablement.
  3. Energize teams for the year ahead.
  4. Outline goals and roadmaps. 
  5. Align the entire GTM organization.

Whether your GTM organization has a small number of reps or consists of thousands of sellers, a sales kickoff is one of the most impactful ways to drive future business growth and success. 

Features of a great sales kickoff meeting

There are a number of different factors that go into a successful sales kickoff, but every event should feature the following:

Enablement

Enablement is crucial for any SKO, so take advantage of this time by delivering essential enablement and training. Be sure to keep your audience in mind and focus on enablement content and sessions that are tailored to specific roles. 

Inspiration

A SKO should also inspire your attendees for the year ahead. Many organizations share product roadmaps, new tools or strategies, and other business updates during this time. This information should be clearly communicated so attendees understand why it’s important for your organization. And, if shared effectively, your team will leave the event excited and inspired for the year ahead.

Collaboration

If your organization is remote or dispersed across multiple locations, this may be one of the few times that your entire team will be together at once. Take advantage of this opportunity by giving everyone the chance to meet and collaborate with their peers. This can be done through team building exercises, breakout sessions based on roles, and networking breaks.

Celebration

A sales kickoff is a great time to celebrate company, team, and individual success. Celebrations can take place throughout the event or during a few dedicated sessions. For instance, some organizations may want to recognize top performers during a dedicated awards ceremony while others will plan a special dinner or happy hour.

Planning your sales kickoff event

A lot of preparation goes into every great sales kickoff. Because there is so much planning involved, we don’t suggest waiting until the last minute to get everything ready. As a best practice, we recommend that small and midsize businesses (SMBs) start the planning process three months in advance. For larger and global enterprises, the entire process will take approximately four months to complete. Regardless of your company’s size, here are some important steps to take for planning your sales kickoff event. 

  1. Align with key stakeholders: It’s important to sync with your executive and leadership teams before planning gets underway. This will help you align on top priorities and ensure that everyone agrees on what needs to be accomplished and addressed during the event. 
  2. Create a sales kickoff committee: Once you have a list of priorities, it’s time to form a cross-functional sales kickoff committee. A great sales kickoff event needs the coordination and collaboration of your marketing, sales, and enablement teams. 
  3. Define goals and objectives: Does your organization need to focus on new product offerings or tool enablement? Once you identify what your goals are, you’ll need to identify key metrics that you’ll review in order to determine success.
  4. Decide on a format: Prior to the pandemic, many organizations hosted in-person sales kickoffs. But now, you may find it more efficient to hold your SKO as a virtual or hybrid event. Regardless of the format you choose, it’s an important decision that needs to be made early on in order to help inform the rest of the planning process. 
  5. Determine your budget: Determining your budget goes hand-in-hand with choosing your format. If your company is working with a smaller budget this year, it’s appropriate to focus on a hybrid event. But, if your budget allows for travel, venue space, and on-site meals, you may be able to move forward with an in-person or hybrid event. 
  6. Identify a theme:. A theme ensures that your sessions and messaging are consistent throughout the event. It also adds an element of fun and entertainment. Remember, your sales kickoff theme should be unique to your company and the current state of your business. For example, Seismic’s 2021 SKO theme was “One team. One mission.” which reinforced our commitment to our customers and their enablement goals. Once you identify your theme, work with your marketing team to create fun assets and collateral for the event.
  7. Find energetic sales kickoff speakers: Your event should also include speakers from your company and beyond. Look for ways to invite engaging keynote speakers who fit with your event’s theme who will deliver engaging content that leaves your attendees energized and motivated. It’s also a good idea to spotlight some of your customers and partners throughout the event.
  8. Outline your agenda: Choosing the right sales kickoff agenda can make or break the event. While your agenda will likely change throughout the planning process, it’s best to create a rough outline to help you identify the time frame, number of speakers, session types, and more. 
  9. Remember the logistics: There are a number of logistic considerations that you should expect during the planning process. For in-person events you’ll need to think through lodging, transportation, meals, and event spaces, while virtual and hybrid events will require additional technology logistics. 
  10. Pitch the event: Once you’ve determined when and where your sales kickoff will be, share that with the rest of your GTM organization. Send a save the date placeholder for their calendars, and share information as early as possible in order to encourage participation. 

Delivering engaging and compelling SKO content

Content is the cornerstone of every great event. Here’s how you can effectively deliver content leading up to the event, at the meeting itself, and after it concludes.

Before

  • Prep your sales playbook: Your SKO should have a dedicated sales playbook that provides all of the information your team needs to know. This will act as a single source of truth and go-to resource for what they need to do in order to prepare for the event.
  • Provide pre-work: A sales kickoff shouldn’t overload attendees with information during the event itself. Instead, determine what content warrants a live session and what content should be reviewed ahead of time. Then, create pre-work that provides foundational knowledge that you plan on covering in greater detail during the event. This content should be organized and stored on your organization’s content management system so everyone can quickly and easily access it.
  • Track completion and comprehension: We also suggest creating training lessons for any pre-work content. This will help you keep track of who completes any required pre-work assignments. You can also include knowledge checks and quizzes to assess how well everyone comprehends the information. By reviewing this data, you’ll be able to better tailor your sessions and content during the event.

During

  • Keep things interactive: Whether your SKO is an in-person, hybrid, or virtual event, interactivity is key. Look for ways to mix up each session format so that attendees aren’t sitting and listening to presentations for hours at a time. Breakout sessions are a great way to encourage Q&A and in-depth discussions among teammates. It’s also a good idea to incorporate fun games or contests to encourage interactivity.
  • Feature hands-on learning: We believe that the best sales teams practice. So, look for ways to leverage practice scenarios and peer-to-peer feedback during your sales kickoff. For example, if you have a new product or service launching, ask reps to practice pitching a demo with a small group of their peers. Then, ask teammates to vote on the best pitch until a winner is identified.

After

  • Keep the momentum going: A great SKO sets your team up for the upcoming year, so it’s a good idea to keep the energy and momentum going after it ends. Build an enablement plan that reinforces and expands on information that was covered. For example, if you record sessions or share materials during the event, add them to your SKO content hub so everyone has access on an ongoing basis.
  • Provide ongoing training and coaching: Learning shouldn’t stop once your event is over. Create follow-up training lessons that give everyone the opportunity to review knowledge as much as they need to. It’s also helpful to schedule follow-up coaching sessions to ensure that your seller’s skills are where they need to be after attending the event
  • Gather attendee feedback: A SKO is only as good as the results, so take the time to get feedback from your attendees. Send a survey that asks them to rate the quality of content delivery, speakers, and specific sessions. It’s also a good idea to provide a free response area where attendees can share more specific feedback that will come in handy when it’s time to plan your next SKO.

Virtual sales kickoff ideas

Over the last few years, we’ve helped sales teams across the globe plan and execute their virtual and hybrid sales kickoffs. Here are some tips and best practices to keep in mind if you’re holding this type of event. 

  • Surprise and delight: Look for ways to make this event feel special. For example, send employees swag and snacks, play music in-between sessions, or find a fun emcee to kick-off and introduce each session. 
  • Keep things short and sweet: First things first: your virtual SKO should not take the entire day. If you feel like you have a lot of ground to cover, break the event up over the course of a few days. Additionally, sessions shouldn’t be longer than 30-45 minutes. 
  • Leverage technology for a blended approach: We highly recommend taking a blended approach to learning based on the topics and content in your agenda. Consider what content should be delivered before, during, and after an event in order to maximize your time. Then, use sales enablement software to provide on-demand access to relevant content and lessons that employees can review when they need to.

If you’re looking for even more tips, check out this post which features 20 of our best sales kickoff ideas for virtual events! 

Make your next SKO one to remember

These sales kickoff ideas are just the beginning of what it takes to hold a great event. If you’re looking for a partner who can help you maximize your sales kickoff and deliver content to your entire GTM organization, Seismic can help. Teams use Seismic’s platform to organize and store SKO content and deliver ongoing training that’s useful before, during, and after the event. Get a demo to see how. Or, if you’re a current Seismic customer, contact your Customer Success or Account Manager to learn more about our expert advisory SKO support.