How to Make a Sales Kickoff Last All Year

Emma Brudner
Emma Brudner




If done right, a sales kickoff is a highly motivating event that rallies sales reps, managers, and leaders around their new mission for the coming year. According to Phil Harrell, chief revenue officer at Firecracker Inc., "Kickoffs are all about excitement. You want to get people to run out of that kickoff and get back on the phone and in front of customers because they're so fired up."

But a kickoff meeting is only one or two days long. What about the other 364 days of the year? As time wears on, the messages from kickoff grow fainter while fatigue sets in. Those who were running to their desks after kickoff will soon be shuffling in with a weary spirit. Where's that motivation when you need it?

It doesn't have to be this way. Just like holiday spirit, the motivation and strategic perspective salespeople have after kickoff can be sustained year-round -- if sales leaders make a concerted effort to keep it going. Here are some tips from sales leaders on how to do just that.

1) Establish expectations.

A kickoff might be a one-time event, but the strategy discussed in the meeting needs to extend the entire year. Tim Bertrand, worldwide sales senior vice president at Acquia, suggested making this crystal clear to attendees to set expectations. "We made it a point to note multiple times at the kickoff that a 'kickoff' is just that -- the beginning of an ongoing, continuous development and learning process," he said.   

2) Coach and train. 

"Everyone’s running so fast during the year, it's easy to have the strategy fall away," Harrell said. So what can sales leaders do to prevent action items from going in one ear and out the other?

Zorian Rotenberg, advisor at InsightSquared, was unequivocal about the solution. "It's all about ongoing coaching, coaching, and coaching," he said. "The sales leader needs to make sure his reps know and repeatedly practice all the key knowledge or skills they learned at the kickoff."

Bertrand cemented the takeaways from Acquia's kickoff even before the meeting began. "We rolled out a new set of courses, and mandated that every person coming to the kickoff -- regardless of role -- had to take and pass them," he said.

Training also factored into Joe Sullivan's kickoff reinforcement plan. "Accountability starts with clear vision, a theme that resonates, providing training and resources, and simple methods of measuring results," the division vice president of sales at ADP said.

3) Hold mini kickoffs. 

A kickoff is a large, expensive event, which is generally why there's only one a year. But who's to say if the price and scale are shrunk a bit how many mini kickoffs a sales organization could have?

"On a quarterly or mid-year basis, hold a mini kickoff that outlines the sales targets you put forth in the start of year kickoff and review progress," Harrell suggested. "This maintains excitement."

4) Use a theme.

A sales kickoff theme isn't mandatory, but according to these sales leaders, it helps keep momentum and excitement going long after the event ends. 

"At InsightSquared's kickoff, we talked about how the Patriots are all about practice and execution, and carried that message throughout the year," Rotenberg said. "We had t-shirts with Bill Belichick's quote 'Do your job' on them that all the sales reps on the team got. We would wear those near quarter ends."

Acquia also connected the sales kickoff with a local sports team. "A kickoff theme needs to be something that everyone can get behind -- that has factual backing and relevance, and is motivational enough where it makes people want to really kick it into high gear," Bertrand said. "This year we used the 49ers' 'Who's got it better than us?' A lot of my kickoff talk was around all the things the company does to support us in sales, stats, and amazing accomplishments we have driven as a team." 

However, bearing in mind that themes can easily cross into "cheesy" territory, Rotenberg offered some advice.

"I've seen all kinds of kickoff themes but the ones that stick out were about teamwork with videos and t-shirts," he said. "They were executed well, in a way that was interesting and inspirational rather than cliche and boring."

5) Celebrate success in real time.

There's nothing like recognition to reinforce desired behaviors.

"Throughout the year, celebrate as the team meets goals," Harrell said. "Make sure you’re reviewing on a periodic basis and highlighting success and celebrating people doing the things you want them to do." 

Bertrand sprinkles in motivational events for his team throughout the year to this effect.

"We have a top performer dinner for our local sales team members. The event has become 'legend' -- everyone strives to make it to that dinner. For the field, we do quarterly territory reviews at offsites in nice locations while we plan for the next quarter," he said. "Don't forget [that] fun is a great way to keep people motivated and loyal."  

6) Get Marketing and other departments involved.

Marketing generally plays a role in sales kickoffs, whether slight or significant. At Acquia, Bertrand said that Marketing along with Sales Enablement planned much of the competition and product content for the event. 

But getting leaders from different divisions of the company up on stage has an added bonus -- boosting the sales team's perception of and trust in other departments.

"Cross functional leaders -- don’t underestimate what a great opportunity it is to present to the team who's going to push your product and increase your credibility," Harrell said. "I think it's really important at sales kickoffs that the sales team feels like the other departments have things buttoned up." And if Sales trusts and respects Marketing, they don't want to let them down by failing to execute. 

Sales leaders should also secure commitments from Marketing and other functions during the kickoff that they check in on regularly. Harrell suggested holding a monthly meeting between sales and marketing leadership to check how each is executing on the targets put in place at the beginning of the year. 

7) Reflect on the past. 

Higher quota can be a tough pill to swallow if leadership hasn't even thanked their team for their efforts in the previous year. Failing to reflect on and recognize the accomplishments of the last year at kickoff is a recipe for resentment. According to Harrell, proper recognition at kickoff is the first step to year-round motivation. 

"Don’t overlook how important it is to properly thank the overachievers and put them on a mantle because you want other people striving to do what those people have done," Harrell said. "Make your team feel good about last year before you ask them to crush another one."

With the vision in salespeople's heads of being called up on the stage next year, the motivational fire will burn long after kickoff is over.

Do you have any tips on how to sustain sales kickoff motivation and messaging? Share in the comments.

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Topics: Sales Training

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