It’s never too early to start planning — especially when it comes to your sales kickoff. Sales kickoffs, or SKOs, live at the intersection of education and celebration: the goal of any SKO is to prepare and reenergize sales professionals as they enter the new year.
But each new year brings new challenges, prompting sales leaders to rethink what a great SKO looks like in today’s world of work.
How can you ensure your SKO sets up sellers for success? We’ll break down the key elements of any successful sales kickoff including:
- What Is a Sales Kickoff?
- The Three Elements of a Successful Sales Kickoff
- How to Plan for Your 2024 Sales Kickoff Meeting
- Hybrid and Virtual Sales Kickoff Best Practices
- Sales Kickoff Checklist
- 60+ Inspiring 2024 Sales Kickoff Themes
Let’s dive in.
What Is a Sales Kickoff?
A sales kickoff, or SKO, is a yearly event offered to your entire sales team. The goal of an SKO is to share goals for the coming year, initiatives across departments, and train your sales reps on the skills they need to succeed. This is done through a mix of inspirational and educational content. Annual sales kickoffs typically take place within the first few weeks of the fiscal year and are often in-person but may be hybrid or virtual, too.
The Three Elements of a Successful Sales Kickoff
Every successful sales kickoff event focuses on landing three main elements: inspiration, education, and celebration.
Inspirational elements help align your team around upcoming company goals and sales goals. Most companies use SKOs to introduce major organizational changes — whether that’s a new piece of technology, a new sales organizational structure, new product updates, new sales strategies, or something else. Inspirational components should communicate the importance of these changes while emphasizing their benefits to the company. Typically, this is done via a keynote speaker presentation from company leaders, like the CEO or VP of Sales. But other companies may even add on games or other interactive breakout sessions to inspire their teams and get buy-in.
Educational sessions are paramount to any SKO. While it may be tempting to throw as much sales training content as you can at reps, it’s important that you make the most of this time by focusing training sessions on the most important things reps need to succeed right now. That means tailoring content for reps based on regions, roles, or customer segments, and even getting hyper-specific in sessions. For instance, if you deployed a new sales enablement tool, instead of teaching reps everything they need to know about it, perhaps just focus on one new feature or functionality, like how to pitch content from within the platform. This ensures that the material you do teach reps is consumable, relevant, and engaging.
Celebration is the final piece of your SKO puzzle. How often do you get to gather your entire sales organization in one place? Chances are that it doesn’t happen frequently. That makes your SKO an important time for recognizing big wins and top performers from the previous year, incorporating team-building activities, and fun. After all, the goal of an SKO is to energize as much as it is to educate your sales team members. Celebrations often take the form of happy hours or team dinners, but don’t shy away from unconventional approaches: hiring motivational guest speakers or comedians to perform or offering fun activities like improv classes or wine tasting can bring new life to your SKO.
How to Plan for Your 2024 Sales Kickoff Meeting
Before Your Sales Kickoff
- Align with stakeholders: SKOs typically require a big investment. By aligning your sales kickoff agenda to your leadership’s top priorities, you’ll maximize your ROI. Tight alignment requires knowing what pain points salespeople are experiencing, and the specific sales skills or product training you’ll offer at SKO to help them overcome said challenges.
- Prep your SKO play: Leverage the sales play format to help your sales reps get up to speed on all things SKO. Build a single source of truth that tells them what to know, say, show, and do in preparation for the event.
- Engage sales reps with pre-work: Avoid a multi-day lecture by assigning SKO attendees pre-work before the event. Pre-work builds foundational knowledge so you can focus your live event on practice and peer-to-peer learning. We recommend using your sales enablement platform to manage pre-work assignments.
- Incentive participation: Make sure your salespeople are bought in before your event. Take time to “pitch” your SKO to your team — emphasize what’s in it for them and clearly outline the benefits they will receive by attending. Offer fun participation prizes or unique events to build hype.
During Your Sales Kickoff
SKOs have a reputation for being long days of endless lectures. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, a great SKO should keep your sales force engaged from the moment they arrive to the second they depart. This can be achieved through simple techniques like the ones below:
- Flipped classroom: In a flipped classroom, reps prepare with pre-read content. Sessions are then used for discussion and Q&A, rather than lectures. Topics may include what worked and what didn’t last year or ideas to improve sales processes for the upcoming year.
- Let learners teach: One of the best ways to reinforce knowledge is to teach it to someone else. Here, let reps who have mastered best practices share their knowledge and success stories with other learners.
- Practice live: Don’t just tell learners what they need to know — let them demonstrate understanding by role-playing sessions or utilizing other in-person practice techniques.
- Keep it moving: Nobody likes sitting in a chair for eight hours straight. Simple changes to your environment, like moving a session outside if the weather is nice or discussing a new technique at a restaurant, are great ways to keep energy high.
- Ask the team: Finally, don’t forget to ask both sales managers and reps what they want from their SKO experience. Tailoring your event to their needs and expectations will ensure they are excited to attend — and stay engaged for its duration.
After Your Sales Kickoff
- Buy tools your team needs to succeed: Ensure your team has a good CRM system, workflow automation process, and sales enablement tool to smash quotas and meet next year’s goals.
- Provide follow-up training: Reinforce skills with ongoing sales training and coaching, ideally delivered via your sales enablement platform. Here, it is also essential that you prepare sales managers with specific guidelines on how to inspect and coach against new skills.
- Offer just-in-time learning: Not everything your reps learn will be used all the time. To ensure that knowledge isn’t lost, offer just-in-time learning via your enablement platform so reps can access training when they need it.
Hybrid and Virtual Sales Kickoff Best Practices
Have you been experimenting with new sales meeting formats since the pandemic? There has never been a better time to get creative. Keep in mind, however, that although technology makes it easier to connect remotely and virtually, you run the risk of a virtual SKO that feels like a Zoom lecture or a hybrid event that leaves remote workers out to dry. Here’s how to get hybrid and virtual events right.
Make virtual sessions interactive
If reps complete pre-work beforehand, you’re safe to abandon the lecture format in favor of something more interactive. Try a Socratic seminar or virtual breakout rooms to let reps share takeaways and learn from each other –– mimicking more of a face-to-face exchange.
Call attendees in
Virtual attendees can easily get buried under a few loud voices. So whether your event is all remote or hybrid, lean into calling on people to engage them in learning. But remember that your goal is not to punish anyone for being quiet; rather it’s to give them an opportunity to speak up and participate.
Keep it short
Digital attendees necessitate shorter sessions –– you don’t want virtual sales reps burning out due to Zoom fatigue. Keep content short and digestible; break longer sessions into bite-sized chunks and build numerous breaks into your schedule. A good goal is to keep sessions under twenty minutes.
Lean into satellite offices
If you’re going hybrid, remember that that doesn’t mean all remote attendees have to join virtually. Leverage regional centers of gravity to bring people together more locally. This way, attendees get all the networking opportunities and learning benefits of an in-person event without the hassle of travel.
Team-building looks different online
It’s important to update bonding activities for virtual and hybrid environments. Virtual happy hour? Unless you’ve got slick breakout rooms and lots of icebreaker questions, it probably won’t be that fun. Here, think outside the book – like paying for a hybrid trivia event, a cooking class, or something else that can organically drive conversation, interaction, and teamwork.
Sales Kickoff Checklist
Outlined below are the Do’s and Don’ts to ensuring a successful SKO for the coming year:
Sales Kickoff Do’s
- Balance optimism with realism. 2024 will bring a host of new challenges for sales teams across many industries, and your reps will appreciate your honesty regarding what those challenges might look like. Take extra care as you craft your messaging and opening statements for the event, so that you set the appropriate tone.
- Prep your reps. Leading up to SKO, make sure to assign pre-work and other preparatory materials to your team so that they are prepared with foundational knowledge. Then, during your SKO, build on this foundation with practical exercise and role-playing scenarios.
- Align with your leadership’s SKO vision. Do you know what your revenue leaders want out of your SKO? If not, go ask them. Otherwise, you run the risk of planning an event that fails to ladder up to the initiatives leadership has prioritized.
- Make it clear why this year is different. Be honest with your reps, and allow them to ask questions or voice concerns about the state of the business or economy. While SKO is a time for fun and celebration, it should also be a time for establishing trust and building communication.
- Leverage peer-to-peer learning. This is a great way to build relationships on your sales team and help new behaviors and strategies stick. Utilize role-play and teach-back moments in small groups, and encourage more seasoned reps to help coach those who would benefit from their experience.
Sales Kickoff Don’ts
- Recycle last year’s materials. Reps will notice if everything sounds familiar, and they’ll take the entire event less seriously. Take some time to personalize this year’s SKO strategy to reflect real challenges your reps have been facing lately.
- Let celebration and other fun activities get in the way of effecting meaningful change. Your SKO should be fun, but it should also help reps master the specific behaviors that will help them be successful in the new year.
- Forget to ask for feedback. Check in with your team after SKO and gather their comments and critiques. That way, you can better plan next year’s event, and your reps will appreciate knowing their voices were heard and their concerns taken seriously.
- Let the remote experience suffer. Ensure that people joining from all locations feel included by being mindful of time zones and giving people around the world ample opportunity to connect and celebrate.
60+ Inspiring 2024 Sales Kickoff Themes
- A Whole New World
- Above and Beyond
- All in this Together
- Amp Up
- Breaking New Ground
- Carpe Diem
- Discover the Difference
- Envision the Future
- Fired up
- Gaining the Edge
- Great Expectations
- Home Run
- In It to Win It
- Infinity and Beyond
- Journey to the Top
- Leading the Pack
- Make Your Mark
- Maximum Velocity
- Mission: (Your 2021 Strategy)
- Moving to Mastery
- New Frontiers
- No Limits
- Onwards and Upwards
- Portraits of Success
- Power On
- Power Up
- Raising the Bar
- Rally Up
- Ramp Up
- Ready, Set, Sell
- Shoot for the Stars
- Stop Selling, Start Closing
- The (Your Company) Experience
- The Future Is Now
- Think Big
- Together Towards Tomorrow
- Win As One
- [Your Company Name] On Fire
Kickstart 2024 With a Stellar Sales Kickoff
The new year is always a time of promise and anticipation — and your SKO should be as well. Using the tips provided here, you are sure to deliver an event that leaves your sales team energized, inspired, and equipped to tackle anything 2024 throws at them. Get started with our 2024 SKO success kit. Download your kit today and access templates, planning guides, and more.