Reimagining the sales kick-off

At the onset of every New Year, employees of sales organizations always look forward to the sales kick-off. Usually held offsite, everyone is excited – from salespeople to executives to support personnel – to attend this typically annual big event.

Then everyone discovers it’s the same format and content as with previous years – annual objectives, mounds of product training through death-by-PowerPoint, recognition, inspirational talk, blah, blah, blah. Then it becomes a waste of time, money, and effort when salespeople revert to their old ways including methods of selling, resulting again in missed targets.

This danger is real and happening. In fact, according to the Sales Executive Council (SEC), an executive advisory firm working with heads of sales globally, salespeople forget up to 87 percent of the training content they receive just one month after their sales kickoff.

Not only that. The inspirational and motivational talk from a speaker, usually one of the highlights of the sales kick-off, has only a temporary effect. “You wake up the next morning and the inspiration is gone. You’re still the same old you,” said Dr. Jim Taylor of the University of San Francisco in Psychology Today.

Is there a way to reinvent the sales kick-off? In my two-decade-long experience in organizing, running, and participating in sales kick-offs in several multinational and local firms, and witnessing their the impact on employees,

I have come to reimagine how it should be planned and executed.

First and foremost is to focus only on a singular main objective, emphasis, or theme. Most sales kick-offs want to cover many areas which dilutes the message and makes it ineffective. An effective one starts with planning for a laser-sharp focus on one theme or objective to bring a set of messages across and create an impact.

There are three themes or objectives that will dictate the whole tempo of the sales kick-off.

1. Celebration theme. This is when your team got big wins, large deals are closed, and morale is high. The objective is to appreciate the contributions of the employees and celebrate success. Senior executives award performers in front of a bigger audience. A senior executive can likewise talk about how the company is leading the industry and the strategies to gain more market share. Top performers can recreate their success stories through fun video. A keynote speaker, may it be internal or external, can talk about employee behaviors that led to success to reinforce such behaviors.

2. Motivation theme. This is appropriate if the company experienced a lackluster performance and needs some boost. American Meetings Inc. lists possible sub-themes for a motivational kick-off such as “anything is possible”,
“be extraordinary”, “breaking barriers” and so on. Senior executives can share strategies and tactics to jolt everyone to become faster, better, and stronger. But the key message of the keynote speaker should be building ownership and accountability among sales people and other support staff.

3. Strategy theme. This is a broader one with several sub-themes, spanning from high-level strategies to operational tactics on how to compete in the marketplace. It can start with the chief executive officer sharing his or her vision of the future and how the organization is transforming digitally and culturally. Other senior executives can talk about specific tactics such as building deeper connections with customers, attaining operational efficiencies, or launching new product solutions. The keynote speaker may be a strategy expert to share frameworks on how to better compete.

While following one theme will reap the benefits of focus, it’s important to note that the program of the kick-off should be engaging enough ala-technology, entertainment, deisgn (TED) talks to sustain the attention of the audience and retain the information they receive. Moreover, the speakers should not only be motivational, which is half the battle, but also should be sharing tools and frameworks to help salespeople and support staff perform better.

The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm, and Co-Founder of Caucus Inc. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at