How To Run a Sales Kickoff

Since we’re wrapping up what has been a simply amazing Host Analytics 2016 sales kickoff, I thought I’d share some of the rules I’ve developed, learned, appropriated, discovered, et cetera during my career.

Rule 1:  for salespeople, your signed compensation plan is your admission ticket to kickoff.  This is incredibly important because comp plans define what you want your sales people to do and too many companies don’t get them finalized early enough in the quarter, leaving sales in a directionless limbo for weeks or months.

Rule 2:  the purpose of the kickoff is to send salesreps home from the event fired up and having everything they need to be successful in the new year.  When they get on the plane home, they should know their territory, their compensation plan, all the new messaging, all the latest competitive information, the new pricing, and have all the new kit required for their success.

Rule 3:  be inclusive.   At the companies I’ve run, we follow a simple philosophy: the event is a sales kickoff to which the whole company is invited.  So don’t complain if the content is too rah-rah or too salesy because it can’t be — it’s a sales kickoff.  But invite everyone so they can benefit both from the communications of plans, goals, and changes for the new year, and also from the contagious enthusiasm of hanging out with the sales force at a rah-rah event.

Rule 4:  mix it up.  Don’t run all day on a single-track, keynote-only format.  Yes, do some keynotes.  But have track sessions as well.  Mix in some panel discussions.  A game or contest is always fun — particularly if you take the trouble to ensure it’s on-message.  Ideally, let people choose freely about which track sessions they attend and which they don’t.

Rule 5:  invite some customers.  There’s nothing like a customer panel to communicate the reality of the product-market back to the organization.  They’re usually honored to come and their comments make a big impact.

Rule 6:  remember EMDI as the four major things to do at a kickoff.  Educate / Motivate / Decorate / Inebriate.  For “decoration,” have an awards dinner where you recognize achievement across the organization.   On “inebriation,” remind employees to do so within bounds.  At almost every kickoff I’ve been too, there’s been at least one person who takes it far — my favorite story was a salesrep who urinated on a roulette table at a Vegas kickoff and who, subsequently barred from the casino, was unable to traverse it to gain access to the ballroom and fired for non-attendance at the general session.

Rule 7:  Have an open-mic executive Q&A.  These can be awkward and some CEOs hate doing them, but in a healthy organization you should be able to put the exec team in front of the company to answer questions.

Rule 8:  Invite analysts as speakers.  You get a double win when you do this — you get to hear what the analyze has to say and the analysts get to see all the many happy smiling faces in your company — and how much it has grown since the last time they were by.

Rule 9:  Have some silly time.  Do things to break down hierarchical barriers and make the CEO and execs more approachable.  Costumes, videos, et cetera can go a long way in this department.

Rule 10:  Make it better every year.  This is hard, but we did successfully both at MarkLogic and at Host Analytics.  Always add some new twist, some new event, some new thing, some increased production values, a better guest speaker, something every year.

Bonus Rule 11:  Work with a top-quality events person and a top quality production company to execute it.  This means zero time gets wasted on production-related problems and all your energy can be focused on your people and your content.

8 responses to “How To Run a Sales Kickoff

  1. Kinda surprised I didn’t get a mention in here. All those videos! Crab lunch. There are so many choices… :)

  2. Angel S. Viloria III

    Best SKO yet and that’s without factoring in guest speaker Mike Abrashoff http://www.mikeabrashoff.com

    The inclusiveness is noticed and appreciated.

  3. You should also have a kickass band made up of employee volunteers. Then, turn the volume up to 11.

  4. Hi Dave – would look forward to your view on quota / president’s club – do you invite non-sales reps to that event? Thanks.

    • Yes, somewhat non-traditionally I try to run a club on the inclusive side. Reps, sales mgrs, SEs, a sales-voted MVP, 1-2 marketers, 1-2 consultants, 1-2 other execs (e.g., CMO) — all in the spirit of who fairly directly helped sales. #ittakesavillage

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