An annual sales conference is a major investment of time and money. You’ve got venue costs, accommodation, and travel and entertainment expenses. Add in speaker and trainer fees, and planning and preparation time, and the list can start to get out of control. Don’t forget that you’re also losing productive selling time by pulling your reps out of the field. A 2011 Sales Benchmark Index article said sales kickoff meetings cost organizations at least 2% of their 2012 revenue targets. Despite the cost and complexities involved, annual sales kickoff meetings are valuable. They set the stage for the company’s growth for the coming year.
A well-designed sales kickoff energizes and motivates sales reps. It’s also an opportunity to present new marketing content, sales models, and product developments. Your can review the past year’s performance, and plan how you’ll overcome new and existing challenges.
When a sales kickoff meeting is poorly executed, though, it becomes just another money pit. To make the most out of your investment, here are a few tips for designing a successful sales kickoff meeting.
Ask the participants what they want to learn
An annual sales kickoff meeting is an ideal time for reps to step back from the hectic day-to-day. Your reps are on the frontline of the sales process, which can be thankless. Turn the event into a platform that recognizes their accomplishments. Be sure to hear their voices and deal with their concerns.
Discover their common frustrations beforehand. Structure the agenda to address those challenges. During breakout sessions, form smaller groups to discuss the various issues raised. One sales thought leader interviewed a hundred salespeople and discovered a few subjects that resonated with them best. He recommends covering the latest and greatest sales techniques, mental motivation, and success stories.
Select a theme or pick an area of focus
Your meeting should concentrate on a specific annual goal. Over the course of the meeting, sketch out a roadmap that’ll help you reach that endpoint. Do you want to beat your top competitor? Do you want to beat last year or last quarter’s performance by a certain amount? Create a tangible goal and keep your sights set on it. And don’t try to cover too much. For example, “The Changing Workplace” is an especially ambiguous theme or topic. Focus more narrowly on what’s changing, and how it affects your salesforce. Run a session on marketing and sales automation, for example. That might highlight your organization’s balance of human talent and modern tools to get things done.
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Educate and motivate
The keynote speaker that opens the meeting sets the tone of your event. Speaker selection should be carried out meticulously to ensure they can teach and inspire the attendees at the same time. Select the right person in your organization to deliver the keynote. If you have the budget, work with different speakers bureaus to select the best outside speaker for your annual sales kickoff meeting. Among these are the National Speakers Association, All American Speakers Bureau, and Premiere Speakers Bureau.
If you’re hiring an outside speaker, do background research. Read reviews of their previous speaking engagements. Interview them before the event to help them understand your market, product, salesforce, and your budget. Non-celebrity speakers in general charge around $1,500 to $30,000 for an event. Accomplished authors and celebrities charge $50,000 or more.
Schedule panel discussions with your top salespeople, moderated by a sales expert or your Chief Marketing Officer. Invite top performers to share actual, practical tips based on their experience. If you’d rather not hire another speaker to close the event, end it on a high note by sharing success stories. Better yet, discuss incentives and rewards to pump up your sales team.
Foster camaraderie and competition through group activities
Do not bore your attendees with hour-long PowerPoint presentations. The last thing you want your meeting to be is dull.
Schedule workshop sessions where participants stand on their feet and have group competitions. A scavenger hunt, for example, is a great icebreaker. Send your reps searching for the words that make up the year’s theme. Or have them complete a picture puzzle that echoes the company’s sales goal for the year.
Share and distribute learning materials digitally
Make resource materials available through a shared network. It’s more convenient, and saves you time and money. Plus, briefcases brimming with folders and thick paper reports can drag down an otherwise exciting event.
Keep the files in a mobile-accessible shared drive. That way they’ll be available to field personnel for reference even after the sales kickoff meeting ends.
Don’t forget to have fun
Ask the meeting participants to come in at least 10 to 15 minutes ahead of the discussion. That will give them time to chat and get warmed up. Ending the day a few minutes ahead of schedule is also a good idea. That way, attendees will have time to engage in other personal activities, decompress, and prepare for the next day.
Annual sales kickoff meetings serve as launch pads to gain a leading edge. Remember, though, that your success is not dependent on a single event. People are likely to forget up to 90% of training content after a week, according to the learning curve. Make sure you follow up and reinforce what they learned through coaching and ongoing training.