August 31, 2018
Updated: January 7, 2020

6 Tips for an SKO Agenda that Won’t Bore Your Reps

Your sales kickoff (SKO) is not just another sales meeting; it’s a time to gather all your reps at the start of the year to review the past 12 months and motivate them as the next 12 ramp up. The agenda can make or break the effectiveness of the event, and therefore the overall team performance as you move forward through 2019. Follow these tips to guarantee your sales reps stay focused and on track and carry that with them post-SKO.

1. Set Goals

It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many organizations jump into putting together sporadic learning sessions without first establishing goals for their SKO. By first setting objectives and what you would like to see as a result of the kickoff meeting, the content of the agenda should be easier to determine. So what should your goals be? Most businesses want to increase sales and revenue year over year, but think about what specifically needs to be done this year. If you cover the same topics and information as years past, attention and retention will drop. Focus on timely subjects that will force reps to listen and hold themselves accountable.

SKO objectives should reflect the goals of your wider organization. Consider what is happening in the next year that will affect how your sales team runs day to day. This will allow you to set more definite goals that will inform the content you produce, not just for the kickoff but moving forward. Once those goals are set, how you organize the agenda and what presentations you choose to include should become a bit clearer.

As you finalize your goals you should also be thinking about how you will measure them on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. Put some metrics for success in place to give yourself a simple and definite picture of whether things are on track on an individual and team level.

2. Content is Key

Without clear messaging throughout your SKO, goals and expectations may be unclear for reps when they leave the meeting. After you determine what your goals are, you must think about what presentation topics are necessary to inform and empower your sellers.

For example, if you are acquiring another company, your sales team may be reorganized, internal processes may be altered, and customers may have questions about how the acquisition will affect them. Therefore, goals may include reps mastering the new processes or technologies and overcoming client objections to carry them through the buyer’s’ journey. Presentation content within your SKO should then address these goals and what steps must be taken to reach them. Training before, during and after the initial kickoff helps to teach, assess and reinforce knowledge. Research shows that within 90 days, over 80 percent of knowledge gained with training is lost without ongoing reinforcement.

Some information can be also done as pre-work: materials to be completed before SKO. Skills that are vital to reps’ performance but could take away from the main messaging in the agenda can be taught to sellers beforehand via mobile or video training materials. Your sales team can then take quizzes or certifications that confirm they have completed the requirements prior to attending the kickoff meeting. The privilege of attending the SKO can be used as an incentive to finish the pre-work; if it isn’t done, then that rep cannot attend and their performance for the remainder of the year will suffer as a result.

Learning content is great, but mastery of client-facing materials is essential. With changes happening in your company come new pitch decks, call scripts and other sales collateral with which every salesperson should familiarize themselves. Involving the marketing team in your SKO and having them present this new information gives your sales team context and allows them to ask questions so they don’t enter meetings or calls blindly. Marketing participation also helps bridge the gap and inspires co-functioning between the two departments.

3. Keep Customers Top of Mind

Your own business goals are incredibly important for how you set up your SKO, but if you don’t take your customers into account your goals may be impossible to achieve. After all, without customers your organization will not last. The agenda of your kickoff should naturally fit into your goals, but it must also relate back to your customers. Consider how different aspects of your business affect your customers, how you solve their problems and what objections they may have. This way your reps can prepare to answer those questions and respond to objections, focusing on your particular competitive advantage and how your product or service meets their needs. Don’t forget your current customers! Talking through how to negotiate and navigate certain aspects of the client conversation should also include upselling and cross-selling to those who have already committed to your business.

HubSpot survey found that over 50% of salespeople turn to their peers for sales advice. Leverage your top performing sellers to share success stories from the last year, giving specific examples from interactions with leads who became customers. They can share the backstory of the prospect and their pain points, what and how many conversations they had with the contacts within the business, what content was used, and what finally sealed the deal. Discussing a real-life selling scenario helps other reps understand best practices, what has and has not worked in the past, and ultimately what needs to be done to win over potential customers.

No one can better explain your sales process from the point of view of the buyers than the buyers themselves. In order for your sellers to truly understand what your clients, both prospective and existing, think about your customer service, get one of your newer clients from the past year to come to your SKO and speak directly to sales. They can discuss how they first heard about your organization, what content they have seen, how their conversations with reps went and what finally converted them into a customer. They can give insights into their experience from support, to marketing, to implementation and to where things stand now. Salespeople can then ask questions, determine future talking points, and ultimately learn your company’s value from the eyes of your potential buyers.

4. Use Various Session Formats

Salespeople are not known for enjoying sitting and listening for long periods of time. They are talkers and would generally rather connect and converse with others. With this in mind, think about interactive and collaborative sessions, contests or games you can sprinkle into the agenda between PowerPoint presentations or keynote speeches. By doing so, you make your sales team feel like more than just passive participants in the SKO and help them better grasp the material. A study by the University of Colorado discovered that games improve skill learning and increased retention rates by nine percent.

Depending on the size of your sales team, you may have sub-teams that are split up by region, industry or other identifier, and people within those teams may be remote and have little correspondence with their peers. Make sure your agenda includes a sizable chunk of time for these groups to meet, share individual experiences and brainstorm solutions for problems they are facing with certain clients or on a broader level.

Another vital agenda item that is often overlooked is time in the office to meet and/or work with employees from other departments. This is especially beneficial for larger organizations with many field reps when they hold their SKO in the same city in which their corporate office is located.

Finally, don’t forget to schedule 15- to 30-minute breaks every couple of hours in the agenda to allow reps to use the restroom, refill on refreshments, chat amongst themselves freely and stretch their legs. Breaking things up gives everyone the opportunity to reset and recharge so they are focused for forthcoming sessions.

5. Select One Person to be in Charge

While organizing your SKO is a team effort with many involved in the planning and execution, it will be difficult to make sure things are going as planned if no one is given the role of doing so. One person — not a sales leader or rep, as their focus should be on the content — should be deemed in charge of keeping things according to the agenda. Who you choose is up to you; another department head or outside sales trainer are always good options.

Prior to the event, the person in charge should collect and review all presentation materials submitted by speakers to make sure everything is clear, consistent and cohesive. During the event, he or she should intervene if discussion veers off message or if certain sessions are clocking in over time. However, if a productive discussion is taking place that is going over time or is not necessarily related to the current session, the so-called emcee should have the authority to decide whether it should continue.

6. Don’t Forget the Fun

The purpose of your sales kickoff is to educate and inform sellers of the current state of the business and what plans are for the upcoming year. Secondary, but still important, is gathering sales reps who may not always be together in the office to get to know one another on a professional and personal level. They need to understand the importance of hitting your 2019 goals, but also need time to cut loose and feel appreciated by the organization they work so hard for. A friendly, happy sales team is a more successful one.

Therefore, your agenda needs to include some time outside of the regular learning sessions to get to know one another beyond their sales experience and quarterly performance. It can be as simple as a group happy hour or dinner at the end of the day, or can be a more active outing like bowling, an escape room or sports game. If you have traveled for the SKO, the activity can relate to the location. Whatever you choose, make sure it encourages communication between sales reps and allows them to have some fun.

Your SKO agenda should reflect the goals you have set for each rep on your team, but also your high-level business objectives. With a clear message of what skills you want your team to learn and practice, what is expected of them throughout the remainder of the year, and what will happen if they aren’t measuring up, you avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding on an organizational level.

Check out our free Guide to Planning a Sales Kick-Off with Lasting Impact now and start 2019 off with a bang!