Why You Need to Approach Sales Kickoff Differently This Year

December 05, 2016 | Mike Kunkle
Why You Need to Approach Sales Kickoff Differently This Year

Why You Need to Approach Sales Kickoff Differently This Year

It’s time to stop the insanity that is a poorly organized sales kickoff.

Whatever the size of your organization, a SKO typically represents a relatively significant investment, due to travel expenses, meeting expenses, opportunity loss for the sales team, productivity loss for other attendees, or some combination of all of those. It’s important to make your SKO not only an event that attendees enjoy, but one that’s impactful.  

As we barrel toward January, this is the time to ask yourself, seriously, whether your SKO is simply an event, or whether it’s the beginning of a well-honed strategic effort that will continue to propel your sales organization to achieve your objectives for the year?  In short:

Is your sales kickoff really adding value for your overall sales strategy?

If your honest answer is no, maybe, or I’m not sure, let’s step off the insanity treadmill and approach SKO differently this year.

Plan your SKO to deliver real strategic value

Alignment is the key. Think of alignment as a needle and thread that weaves through each element and links them.  If you want to maximize the value of your SKO meeting, you can do it by:

  • Aligning Your Strategy – what you need to achieve and why
  • With The Tactics Needed – what to continue, start, or stop doing to achieve the strategy
  • And Addressing Skills Gaps – the “how to” stuff that closes any required skill gaps and allows your sales force to execute the tactics

It’s important that each element build on and support the previous one. To make it even more impactful, the Tactics and Skills required should lead to an informal assessment of your current sales force (including frontline sales managers), especially what they do and how they do it, to determine the gaps that you need to close. This “gap closing” can then start at the SKO, but should continue throughout Q1 and as long as needed to develop a sales management team and sales force that can deliver the results and objectives set forth in your strategy.

Lastly, you need an execution plan for your SKO to ensure it’s not just a static event.

Your SKO Execution Plan: Strategy, Tactics, Skills

Here’s some advice about how to make this happen, to deliver the most effective SKO you’ve ever had.

Start by sharing your strategy for the year

This includes:

  • What the strategy is – where you are headed and the objectives/outcomes you need to achieve.
  • Why you are headed there – this especially important if it’s a departure from the norm or previous year. You might include “Why Now” to explain the urgency of the objectives and outcomes or rationalize the need for a change in tactics.
  • When you expect to arrive and the milestones in the journey – whether it’s a simple monthly quota, a radical change of some sort, or a ramp-up of increasing intensity, understanding the timeline and expectations is critically important.

Whenever possible, especially when talking about market conditions or your buyers, customers, and problems you solve, incorporate real customers to insert the Voice of the Customer (VOC) into your strategy and help validate it.

Share the tactics that support your strategy

This is where you share the tactics that support the strategy and will lead you to the desired outcomes.

Is a change in prospecting required to gain new logos? Do you need better-qualified opportunities to unclog your pipeline and forecast more effectively? Or is a new approach like insight selling required to take a new product to market or increase the effectiveness of your current methodology?

Whatever is required to execute the strategy, this is the time to highlight it, clearly. The tactics are the “how,” meaning what to continue, stop, or start doing, to achieve the strategy, meet the objectives, and deliver the outcomes.

Whatever the tactics may be, you should be prepared to measure lead or lag indicators and report on them, and be clear about what’s being measured and reported, to the team.

Kick Start the Process of Skill Development

This is something you start at SKO, but will need to continue over time. Use your SKO to kick-start the process of skill development, specifically the skills that are needed to execute the tactics.

To do this well, you should be clear upfront about the sales competencies (mindsets and skill sets) that are required to meet your objectives, compared to your sales force’s current capabilities, relative to what is needed.  Then you can use the time at SKO to start closing the most critical skill gaps first.  Consider this the “How To” session – addressing the critical skills needed, and considering where most reps need to improve (based on the assessments done prior to SKO).

This is an opportunity to train for the critical skills first, with:

  • Prework to prepare reps for the very active, skills-based classroom practice sessions
  • A flipped classroom approach, using very active training methods including demonstrations, role plays, feedback from experts and a chance to apply the expert feedback and re-run the role plays.

Prework and an active focus on skills is ideal for SKOs, where participants are known to be a little bleary-eyed and time is often short. Doing it this way allows you to engage participants and focus them on the critical skills first, in the shortest time possible, while offering an effective start toward the needed behavior changes. Using sales managers and sales enablement or training staff and other internal experts to provide feedback is usually far more effective than having reps give each other feedback.

Whenever possible, the sessions should culminate in an activity where reps prepare to transfer the honed skills and apply them in an upcoming sales situation with a real buyer or customer.

Execution Beyond SKO

Obviously, if your sales force requires some retooling to transform your sales results and support your new strategic direction or objectives, one meeting isn’t going to make the difference. You need a change management plan or an effective learning system in place to reinforce, sustain, and transfer skills, with coaching from sales managers, over time, to guide your reps to mastery.

Related Post: Support your SKO plan with the Before | During | After framework that we’ve written about previously here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can use Brainshark to both develop, assign and track course completion for any prework, or to continue training afterward with Brainshark elearning combined with virtual coaching challenges to validate and improve rep skill levels.

Don’t forget your sales managers

One final note, because it’s so critical. When I was young, I saw a sign on a wall in my dentist’s office that read, “There is nothing the dentist can do, that the patient cannot undo.”  For some reason, even as a kid, that stuck with me.  The same is true for your sales managers.

  • Without sales manager buy-in, what you teach reps will be lost, due to lack of belief and support.
  • Without managers’ deep understanding of what was taught, they won’t be able to reinforce it with their reps and sustain the knowledge and skills gained.
  • Without the ability to analyze reports and results to diagnose problems and hypothesize solutions, managers won’t be able to identify where to spend their time coaching to get the biggest returns.
  • And without the ability to lead effective, developmental sales coaching sessions, managers will not be able to coach their reps to mastery.

Remember that training, enabling and supporting your sales manager team is just as critical, if not more so, than enabling your sales reps.

I wish you the best of success applying this Strategy, Tactic, Skills, Execution framework to your SKO.  For those of you who try it, I’d enjoy hearing about your success with this method, after your SKO and over time, as it unfolds.  


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