Remember back in pre-pandemic days when sales teams conducted lavish SKOs in person, perhaps with an option to dial in? Things are a bit different today. Some organizations are returning to in-person sales kickoffs, some are holding exclusively virtual events, and others turning to some form of hybrid event. Either way, the same challenge remains:
How can you deliver an engaging SKO that spurs reps on into the new fiscal year?
Regardless of format, the best SKOs have a strong theme and plan. They resonate with the audience and simultaneously guide alignment behind business goals and objectives.
So what is it that makes these SKOs successful?
The Golden Rule of SKOs: Know Thy Purpose
For most sales teams, sales kickoffs represent one of the highest-ticket line items in the annual sales budget. To ensure that significant cost translates into a business investment, spend extra time connecting the event’s theme and plan to the objectives you hope to achieve.
You might recognize some of the more common high-level objectives of sales kickoffs:
- Mobilize and motivate sellers before moving into a new phase of business (a new quarter, year, or business orientation)
- Align seller actions to the company’s business goals for the coming year (grow existing accounts, increase new client acquisition, etc.)
- Encourage specific sales behaviors (expand within existing accounts, maintain pipeline health, etc.)
- Teach specific sales skills to improve seller performance
- Celebrate wins among teams and individuals
- Build connection through relationship-building exercises
Though your SKO will likely encompass more than one of these purposes, it’s important to be as clear and specific as possible from the outset.
Keep Sellers Engaged with These 7 Tactics
Even the most thoroughly planned sales kickoffs fall flat if they fail to resonate with sellers and engage the audience. Start with the seven strategies below for a more engaging SKO.
1. Minimize Distractions
Motivated sellers will respond to a good challenge. Start by challenging them to step away from their phones and notifications to focus on the training they’ll need to succeed in the coming year.
2. Invest in Environment
Whether in person or remote, participants will find it difficult to engage with bland, lifeless environments. To the extent possible, choose polished and appealing venues and online interfaces tailored to your company.
3. Choose Hosts, Speakers, and Keynotes with Purpose
Think about the people that your sales team will want to hear from. These might be organizational leaders, such as a CEO or VP of Sales, or interesting people from the outside world. When it comes to expert-led sessions and breakout groups, assign these to facilitators with both the charisma and direct experience needed to drive meaningful conversations.
4. Call Out Participants by Name
Across the board, encourage all hosts, speakers, and keynote presenters to engender an interactive dynamic. A great way to engage the audience is to call out participants by name to keep attention and encourage participation. For example, “Jeanine, I know you had a similar experience recently. Care to share a bit about that with the group?”
5. Complete Knowledge Transfer Before the SKO
Few sellers respond well to hours of being talked at or big blocks of “sit and learn” time. Avoid this outcome by taking care of the critical knowledge transfer of new concepts, ideas, and definitions before the in-person training event. This might come in the form of self-directed lessons, microlearning, or other activities that attendees complete in advance of the SKO.
6. Keep Sessions Short and Sweet
Expecting to maintain participant attention in four-hour chunks, without decent breaks, is setting yourself up for failure. That’s especially true for people attending the SKO online. Instead, design short, consumable sessions with one or two clear takeaways while leaving ample time for discussion and practice.
And don’t forget this important tip from Gartner: be willing to say no to sessions when planning the SKO. In the lead-up to a sales kickoff, many business units will see the event as their one yearly opportunity to capture the eyes and ears of the entire sales organization. Unfortunately, not every session will align with your goals for this specific SKO. Saying yes to every submission will dilute the clarity and impact of the SKO.
7. Prioritize High-Impact Activities
Instead of delivering lengthy training lectures, use the SKO to contextualize knowledge for how it applies to the sellers' world, which will give a significant boost to engagement. As to how to provide and practice real-world context, try:
- Peer-to-peer learning and discussion
- Breakout groups for specific topic areas
- Role playing, real-world exercises, and coaching
- Live polls for both in-person and remote attendees
- Quizzes and tests with live results to reinforce learning
- Live event chat for sharing opinions and questions
Maximize the value of time together by bringing knowledge to life using the ideas above.
Keep the Gears Turning After Everyone Goes Home
In physical exercise, there’s a concept called caloric afterburn. In short, your body will continue to expend energy even after the workout is complete, helping to maximize the effect of each workout. The same concept can be applied to the sales kickoff. The question is, how do organizations ensure their SKOs have lasting effect after sellers sign off and return to their work?
First, the outputs must be made very clear during the SKO. Sellers should walk away with a clear and specific understanding of how the information converts to tangible things that are going to create value for customers and the business. For example, if the goal of the SKO is to help sellers shorten sales cycles, sellers should understand why that will matter (to reduce complexity for buyers and improve close rate, for example).
Also, remember that 77% of learning is forgotten within 6 days if not reinforced. After the event, provide reinforcement of key concepts with online lessons, email sequences, and ongoing coaching. Space out repetition, reinforcement, and accountability checks across the coming weeks and months to improve knowledge retention and skills development.
Build It Right and the Motivation Will Come
There’s one last part of the post-SKO process: don’t forget to put your sales kickoff itself through a rigorous process of continuous improvement. That means evaluating and measuring its impact and using that information to learn exactly what’s working and what needs improvement.
In doing so—and by following the best practices above—you’ll design inspiring, honest, and educational SKOs that truly energize sales reps to go win that next sale.