Does A “Sales Kickoff” Deliver Value?

Next month, Forrester Research will host its inaugural Sales Enablement forum in San Francisco. Sales enablement was a key topic at the ITSMA member’s conference last November as well. With so much interest focused on new technologies aimed at making sales more effective and efficient, I wondered what value the traditional start-of-the-year sales meeting still holds for B2B firms.

It also happens that I’m just a few days past experiencing my first kickoff meeting with Xerox Services, held last week in Orlando. Here’s proof: a candid shot of me running a workshop on “Switching On: How To Boost Growth in Xerox Services” and voting on team brainstorm priorities. Authors Chip and Dan Heath have a new book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard”, that provided the theme for our meeting this year.

I have to admit, returning to the Disney Yacht and Beach Club did give me a bit of “déjà vu” since this venue has been the site for many prior Forrester and other popular high tech conferences. Without giving secrets away, let me just say that it was a very interesting experience to plan, execute, and participate in my first sales meeting in over 15 years. The recent economy, and the advent of new virtual conferencing technology, seems to be taking internal sales meetings down the same road traveled by the Edsel. Or has it?

In talking to colleagues at other large companies like Wells Fargo,, Adobe, and many high tech firms in the valley, I found that sales kickoffs, in various formats, remain common. The key value my friends cite for hosting in person events include:

1) Connect with team members – nothing replaces spending time face-to-face. Many high tech firms tried virtual events during the past couple of years and, while they liked the novelty, most returned to physical events this year.

2) Set the tone for the coming year – rally the troops around a common theme and set of goals.

3) Inspire new thinking and behavior (usually provided by an outside expert or speaker).

4) Reward and recognize the sales community as a whole outside of President Club/Top Performers programs.

5) Streamline mergers/acquisitions by giving people an opportunity to interact in person.

6) Create camaraderie through structured and unstructured social activities – creating fun, silly, and exciting experiences is a common part of the program.

The value here seems a bit vague and intangible, huh? I mean, really, how does any of this lead to revenue growth, greater profitability, and customer loyalty? And there lies the challenge of justifying the expense and trouble of the annual sales meeting and why many firms are rethinking the place kickoff has in sales operations.

At the intersection of “Sales 2.0″ technologies and sales meetings, I think executives (and marketing professionals who support the activity, investment and process around sales enablement) need to remember that sales is ultimately about people and those people create and manage important relationships with your customers. Beyond their comp plans, Sales needs to feel valued, and a source of competitive advantage. Technology investment alone won’t provide that, but investing in ways to increase Sales’ commitment to your business plan, vision, and roadmap will.

2 Responses to “Does A “Sales Kickoff” Deliver Value?”

  1. Hasta Luego, Xerox … And Thanks! « B2B Marketing POSTs by Laura Ramos Says:

    […] Charting the way for industry marketing at Xerox, both for the US Field organization and at […]

  2. Daniel Kuperman Says:

    Laura, this is a very interesting post! And I think you raised some good points.

    I’ve been to some good and a lot of bad sales kick-off meetings. Here are my thoughts:

    – Each company has it’s own culture, so you can’t simply copy someone else’s kick-off style. sales kick-off can be great for them, but just doing the same thing they’ve done won’t guarantee yours will have the same effect.

    – The goal of the sales kick-off needs to be very clear for the organizers so that the whole experience for the sales reps will lead to the realization of the goal. This means preparation well before the event is taking place and also really good content.

    – The kick-off meeting is a great opportunity for turning things around and inspiring change. For many companies is the only time when you have all sales reps in one place (even if virtually) and focused on one thing.

    – In many cases you can set the tone for the rest of the year based on the sales kick-off. Amazing how one event can rally the troops or break their morale.

    – Marketing can learn a lot from participating in sales kick-offs.

    – You won’t know if the kick-off was good/successful until you see deals being closed.

    I think that you sum it up pretty good by saying “increase Sales’ commitment to your business plan, vision, and roadmap” which is a key benefit to having sales kick-off meetings.

    P.S.: I believe that even if you don’t have the meeting at a cruise ship or exotic place you can make it memorable, it’s all about the little things. And sales people will notice.

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