Why 90% of Your Kickoff Content Will Be Ignored (and How To Fix It)


The secret to gaining the greatest ROI from your kickoff content this year.

Your sales kickoff is meant to recognize the achievements of your sales team over the past year, and to get them hyped up around a new initiative for the coming year. This means you are likely either launching a new product, a re-brand and/or messaging transformation, or you are investing in a sales training solution to give your team a skills upgrade. This also means that you are working hard to produce kickoff content that will align with your initiative and empower your sales organization.

Your problem is that, while everyone seems excited about this launch initiative during kickoff, you have no way of knowing if they are going to stay engaged in the months following the event. You know from experience that they likely will not.

Ensuring that your kickoff content will have a lasting impact requires a year-long commitment to reinforcing the initiative launched during the kickoff event. This is critical because, while your sales team can learn about the new product, message, or process, this doesn’t necessarily translate to whether they are using it in the field.

The Problem: Your Kickoff Content Focuses on the Initiative Owner

Most sales kickoff content plans quickly degenerate into a glorified (and very expensive) PowerPoint Parade. Sales reps are subjected to hours of updates and new material—all without giving them the opportunity to interact with it in a way that comes naturally to them. As a result, they sit there idly waiting for the bar to open, politely allowing presenters to speak to a full, yet unengaged room.

If you don’t want your kickoff content to be ignored over the coming year, break the cycle and do something new to give your salespeople the opportunity to work with the content you are presenting to them during the kickoff event. Adult learners will only retain about 5 to 30% of what they see during kickoff presentations. Allowing them to practice the skills themselves increases that retention rate to 75%! Practice can come in the form of interactive workshops or access to a practice and roleplay platform during and after the event.

The Solution: Practical Adult Learning Techniques to Improve Your Kickoff Content

Kickoff Content-Kirkpatrick-Traditional-2Traditional corporate training and development programs focus on the quantitative aspects of a new program. These programs rely heavily on “butts in seats”, show and tell, and quiz or test scores to disseminate information to the sales organization and measure their understanding. This traditional approach is a great knowledge transfer mechanism, but it doesn’t cover the full hierarchy that adults need to learn and internalize new information to change behavior.

While classroom participation is a great first step for large sales transformations that require salespeople to gain information on a new product, message, or process, for example, it should not be what your entire initiative relies on. Your kickoff is meant to develop the skills of your sales team and change their selling behaviors throughout the year (and beyond) to improve performance.

Think about your launch initiative in terms of sales team development through the lens of the Kirkpatrick Model, a popular method of evaluating training effectiveness and provides a clear blueprint to creating training programs.

The Need: Kickoff Content That Sparks Behavior Change

Kickoff Content-Kirkpatrick-Behavior-ResultsIf you don’t want your kickoff content to be forgotten after the confetti settles and the hangovers wear off, it needs to be just a part of a larger behavior-based transformation initiative. All that work to plan and kickoff your initiative will mean basically nothing if your sellers do not transfer the message to the market.

To accomplish this, you need to cross the chasm to the realm of behavior change. The Kirkpatrick Model defines behavior as “The degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job.” Change a seller’s behavior and you will change their results.

Assessing and influencing behavior change in sales organizations is traditionally difficult to do. You need an observational solution, a set of assessment criteria and processes, and you need to be able to use that information to relay feedback to sellers to reinforce kickoff content. How do sales organizations successfully manage this level of sales transformation?

The Secret: Engaging Your Sales Managers In Reinforcing Kickoff Content

If you find it difficult to reinforce and evaluate the behavior changes of your sales team and the results of your kickoff initiative, believe me you are not alone! We’ve worked with dozens of sales organizations who know they need to gain visibility into how their sales team is behaving in the field, but don’t have the mechanism to do so or a solid process in place to assess those behaviors.

The secret to success is to engage your sales managers and leaders in reinforcing kickoff content throughout the year. Most progressive (and successful) sales organizations carve out dedicated time for sales leaders and managers during or before sales kickoff and regional summits for targeted sales manager training and development. During that time, they get managers and leaders to engage with the kickoff content that will be presented to the organization and deploy assessment and coaching assets that will empower frontline managers to become force multipliers for the initiative.

If you would like to learn more about how you can facilitate such a sales manager workshop around or within your upcoming sales kickoff event, contact us. We will be happy to share a proven sales manager workshop agenda that will empower you to spend the best 90 minutes of the year with your sales management team.


Sales Assessments That Will Save Your Sales Kickoff

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Avoid the post-sales kickoff “thud” with observational sales assessments.

Planning sales kickoff and getting all your stakeholders, content, consultants and vendors in line is no small task. Nor is it a small item on the company income statement. You know that your goal is to create lasting impact that will provide a return on investment for your organization by transforming seller and sales manager behavior to produce revenue. What you don’t know is exactly how you are going to do that in the months following the hype and charisma exuded at sales kickoff. Observational sales assessments provide visibility and help ensure initiatives launched during sales kickoff live throughout the year.

Observational Sales Assessments

Sales Assessments-BaselineA sales assessment is the deliberate and systematic assessment of sellers selling in both mock and live environments based on a set of observable attributes which align directly to core selling skills and behaviors.

The reason assessment is so powerful is its ability to expose gaps in seller ability at the skill or behavioral level and accurately measure progress made in developing these skills over time. Without a structured assessment approach, you are relying on the “spray and pray” method to training and development—with sales kickoff being the place where you spray and the balance of the year you pray.

Many enterprise sales training programs today use traditional learning and development practices that disseminate knowledge and test a person’s ability to regurgitate that knowledge, mainly using quizzes. While this may work well in other functional areas of an organization, it is critical that your sales team not only represent that they have internalized the knowledge, but that their selling behavior in a live-call or demo setting have changed as a result.

Observing and assessing sellers selling has traditionally been difficult for organizations to do. Without the proper tools to do so, the main measurement for whether or not your sales launch initiative introduced during kickoff has taken root is to analyze lagging indicators, such as the number of new product units sold in its first quarter and year.

How To Use Observational Sales Assessments

Typically, a sales kickoff is a two-day PowerPoint parade where the heads of various programs present, a sales success story or a few are shared, and perhaps there are some breakout sessions for key skills or functional areas. But nothing is really accomplished. Let me prescribe how you can use sales assessments to not only accomplish behavior change in your sales team but also measure the return on investment of your kickoff initiative throughout the rest of the year—and into the future.

Calibrate and Baseline Sales Assessments to Gain Visibility

Sales Assessments-Team Report-BaselineBegin measuring your sales team’s behavior with baseline sales assessments. Do this by creating custom sales assessment maps for each area within your sales force that makes sense for your organization. For example, different regions, business units, and function often need to be assessed on different criteria.

The assessment map is the most important step in this process—it creates the infrastructure for your ongoing sales assessment system. Therefore, gaining buy-in from sales leaders and managers on the observable attributes that will be assessed is essential. If they suggest changes to the assessment map, it’s an excellent indication of buy-in.

The observable attributes and scoring used in your sales assessment maps help keep individual assessments consistent and unbiased. Use a five-point scale and define what each score means, one through five, to eliminate some subjectivity in the assessment scoring. Instead of asking a manager to assess if their seller conducted a discovery conversation (a sales skill), ask them to score how well the seller used first and second level questions to uncover and confirm a business challenge that the prospect believes is worth solving (an observable attribute). A score of one means no discovery occurred and the seller jumped right into demoing the product. Three means the seller did a sufficient job in asking questions but did not confirm that the business challenge is worth solving. And five indicates a best practice approach to discovery.

The combination of a five-point scale and observable attributes make sure that the assessment information can be easily analyzed and understood by all stakeholders, such as enablement, sales leaders, training vendors, sales managers, and reps. In other words, each stakeholder knows that everyone was assessed based on the same criteria and can make decisions based on the baseline sales assessment report.

Enablement, sales leaders, and training vendors are likely going to be more interested in the aggregate results, so they can understand which specific selling behaviors are most important to focus coaching efforts around in order to get the greatest “bang for their buck.” While sales managers and reps are going to be more interested in individual results, so they understand specifically who needs coaching and what they need to be coached on in order to improve their sales results.

Use Visibility to Coach and Develop More Effectively

Sales Assessments-Coaching MethodologySales assessments alone won’t improve seller behavior. Sellers must next be coached and developed on those areas that need improvement. This means that sales managers must be able to effectively coach and develop their sellers using the information provided to them in baseline sales assessments.

The beauty of using sales assessments to develop your sales team is that they create a sort of choreography to coaching discussions. Armed with sales assessments, busy sales managers become empowered with a prescriptive coaching methodology that integrates ongoing seller development into their daily and weekly meetings and is focused on impacting behavior to influence results in the business.

Progression Sales Assessments

Sales Assessments-Progression

Once your sellers have had the opportunity to go through additional coaching—and, perhaps, more learning and practice—to develop their knowledge and skills, they are ready for another assessment. In this round of assessment, we are looking to determine where progress has been made. Compare baseline sales assessment scores with new scores to determine how well individuals and the team as a whole have picked up the new information and are using it in the field.

Progression sales assessments should be run in the same manner and measure the same observable attributes that were used in the baseline assessment. This ensures that you are comparing apples to apples and are measuring sellers based on those specific behaviors you need to change in order to make your kickoff initiative a success.

Why Are Sales Assessments Important?

When you and your team have invested as much as you do into your sales kickoff, you want to know that your sales force is actually going to use the information to improve their performance. You want to know that you are impacting your company’s revenue goal attainment and make the sales kickoff the beginning of an ongoing development effort that directly impacts selling results as opposed to a jolly event to build camaraderie.

Simply stated, sales assessments provide visibility into the strengths and weaknesses of your team, allowing for more effective and precise development of your sellers. A doctor would not operate on a patient without first conducting a thorough diagnosis to identify what and where needs fixing, right? Then why would you coach and develop your sellers without conducting a similar diagnosis?


Sales Assessments-Kickoff-Sales Transformation Checklist

The #1 Thing Everyone Gets Wrong With Sales Kickoff

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Create a behavior-based sales kickoff reinforcement program that will keep the kickoff energy alive all year.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—when sales kickoff planning shifts into high gear. New products are rolled out. New messaging. New training. And while everyone is concerned with what to do during the event, sales kickoff reinforcement is always treated as an afterthought.

Everyone gets together, the energy is high, emotions are elevated, you’re at the center of a grand ‘ol party and you get to roll out your latest and greatest initiative that is going to change the world…

…And one week later, it’s all but forgotten. Noses are back to the grindstone and salespeople are back to operating exactly the way they were before. Their behavior has not changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I know as much as anybody how important it is to have the right theme, get a great keynote, and create valuable breakout sessions. But if you want your sales team to leave kickoff with more than just a hangover—and have the energy last all year—you also have to be prepared with a behavior-based sales kickoff reinforcement plan.

Planning for Sales Kickoff Reinforcement

sales-kickoff-reinforcement-calendarReinforcement is defined as the process of encouraging or establishing a belief or pattern of behavior, especially by encouragement or reward.

Driving some kind of change, whether it is a new product or message, skills development, or a sales organization transformation is likely at the center of your sales kickoff. You and your team are going to put a ton of work into making it happen, so don’t let all that hard work go to waste. This is your time to shine—use it!

Help your sales force actually retain and use all your great content by putting a post-event reinforcement plan into place. There is no one-size-fits-all sales kickoff reinforcement program, the length and details will vary broadly depending on the size of your sales transformation. At a minimum, it should include three elements:

1. Sales Leader and/or CEO Communications

The more involved the authority figures are in communicating and driving post sales kickoff reinforcement, the better. Plan out and draft communications to come directly from the sales leader, using personalization tags to make the emails look one-to-one as often as possible.

Take a secret from marketing’s playbook and use automated workflows to tag those people who have not completed their work with a note from the boss. Give compliance emails that “I know you’re not doing what you’ve been told” vibe, rather than “If you haven’t done so already…”

Also, include sales managers in your reinforcement initiative early on. They can be your daily and weekly enforcers, as they already meet with their teams consistently. Consider running a contest with sales managers—the team with the highest participation rate each quarter gets a happy hour party or special outing.

2. Make It Relevant

Relevance is so simple in theory, yet surprisingly difficult for many sales enablement teams to pull off. With so much energy going into planning and creating content for the actual sales kickoff event, it’s easy to overlook post-event reinforcement content. But the basics are simple: don’t make the sales team do something that is not going to directly improve their ability to make money.

If you’ve done the important work of making sure your sales kickoff theme and content are relevant to the sales organization and business objectives, you’re halfway there. Make sure the information in your sales kickoff reinforcement curriculum is relevant to what everyone learned during the event, and what you expect them to apply in the field.

What do they absolutely need to know in order to make them as productive as possible? The magnitude of change that your initiative represents impacts how much post-kickoff reinforcement needs to be done. Don’t make people do any more work (or spend any more valuable time) than is absolutely necessary.

3. Make It Interactive

sales-kickoff-reinforcement-interactiveIt’s pretty rare to find a company that has created a comprehensive, behavior-based sales kickoff reinforcement program. There are some real gems that I can think of, but most of the time post-event communications look something like this:

  1. A “required attendance” webinar provides a “PowerPoint Parade” overview of information and highlights from sales kickoff
  2. A pretty boring email campaign, maybe three emails deep, to “remind” people about the new messaging and/or process unveiled during the event

These are good things, but when it comes to working with sales teams, they just don’t stand up on their own. There is nothing here that lets them try the content on for size. They can watch the presentations, go through the eLearning and perhaps answer a few questions on the quiz, but they don’t have the ability to practice and respond in a sales context.

Transformation happens when you can not only deploy your content across your sales team, but also encourage them to practice that content themselves, view and score their peers, and receive feedback. Take it one step further and build this into your event by telling them there will be a highlight reel of the best performers and watch the interaction unfold.

Behavior-Based Sales Kickoff Reinforcement

Prior to and during sales kickoff, your sales force is being presented with information and, hopefully, are practicing new skills while you are all together. But how do you know if they are actually going to take new information and skills back to the field?

This is what I mean by behavior-based sales kickoff reinforcement. The Kirkpatrick Model defines behavior as “The degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job.”

To keep the initiative launched during sales kickoff going throughout the year, you need a behavior-based sales kickoff reinforcement program that actively encourages and measures actual behavior change. In sales teams, the best way to do this is to implement a process and the tools to observe and assess the behaviors salespeople are exhibiting when they are “back on the job” and coach them on how to improve those behaviors based on consistent, relevant observable attributes.

Only through a structured, behavior-based and enabled reinforcement plan will your sales kickoff become a continuing success for your business stakeholders.


Approach Sales Kickoff with a Goal in Mind


What is the value of your sales kickoff?

We recently surveyed a number of our enterprise clients on a topic familiar to every sales leader in the last quarter: Sales Kickoff. The question was simple – what is the value of your Sales Kickoff? The responses fell into three buckets:

  1. Culture: The event drives enthusiasm, cohesion, and employee retention
  2. Recognition: An opportunity to acknowledge those that are contributing to the organization’s success
  3. Learning: Ability to create alignment on the commercial plan from communicating go-to-market strategy to what the team needs to know to win

measure sales kickoff valueIt’s the last bucket that has proven the most elusive. We often look back and take full stock of what Sales Kickoff costs, but rarely question what actually comes out of the experience. What did reps learn? What was actually adopted and used in the marketplace? What was forgotten?

These questions take a process to answer, one that should be pursued after any Sales Kickoff. While the results of Sales Kickoff are in no way the sum of the direct costs, keeping the magnitude of these investments in mind first can help frame the goals that you want to track before and after the event. Some typical costs are:

  1. Travel: The average Sales Kickoff will require all reps of all levels to attend. With an organization of 1000 salespeople, flights can easily pass $400,000.
  2. Location and Lodging: Renting everything from space to hotel rooms make up the largest expense. 1000 hotels rooms, plus space to host it all over three days will come close to $700,000 for that same group. Food, drinks, and other location expenses can double this.
  3. Entertainment: Everyone from speakers to bands will have a cost, and they can add up very quickly. Even just getting one keynote from outside of the company can reach $20,000.
  4. Messaging, Training, and Product: Sales Kickoff for most companies represents the time when new products, messaging, or skills are introduced to the team. The event is the time to ensure that the introduction is fruitful and effectivee. Factor in investments made separately in your kickoff content, such as product, messaging, skills, training, or L&D to get a full picture of what value needs to be delivered.

In this basic example, the event alone costs nearly $1,000,000, plus a share of the investment in messaging, training, and product. How does this number fit into a goal? Simply comparing the cost to the expected improvements to pipeline value or deals closed is not the right way to quantify the “value” of Sales Kickoff. Instead, we suggest that you apply a KPI-based framework to the event – and Certify to Fly.

The first task is to pick 1 or more KPIs that will be measured before, during, and after the event: what are you quantifiably seeking to improve with Sales Kickoff? Keep them crisp and simple – pipeline value, quota attainment per rep, percent of team certified – and have current state data to reference.

Next, apply some framework to the event, based upon the KPIs set before. We recommend the Certify to Fly framework because it not only applies consistency, measurability, and visibility to Sales Kickoff, but also guarantees that your direct costs – flights and lodging – are not in vain. Regardless, having structure at the event that both presents content and gives reps a chance to actually engage with it can be transformative.

To then get at the cost of Sales Kickoff, you have to get at the value. Take your KPIs, and 90-120 days after the event, see how they change. Any improvement above average is due to your new content and how it is introduced – a result of Sales Kickoff. Other direct costs are sunk, making it easier to know exactly how much was spent. Put these to the side – while they may help “sell” your investment internally, exact costs really only matter when Sales Kickoff fails to deliver value.

The idea of a post-certification and survey can help shed some light on the value of loftier metrics like learning and attitude. Rep attitude, sense of teamwork, and engagement can be monitored just by asking. What was actually learned and retained can be tested in a behavioral certification, showing actual percentage adoption rates of the new content.

The value of Sales Kickoff is a function of what you get out of it. If the event is not being approached with a clear goal, a strong framework, it will simply fail to deliver value. What is created is a data-driven approach to an event that historically has been simply executed, not necessarily designed.

Both surveys and certifications will show you the cost that you actually should be worried about after Sales Kickoff. If, 120 days after the event, reps have forgotten 90% of your new product messaging and sales strategy, there is a critical problem. If the opposite is true – behaviors have changed, reps are remembering content and articulating value in the marketplace – growth can be unexpectedly great. The choice is yours.


How to Execute the Quarterly Virtual Kickoff


When the team starts to outgrow one office and spread across the country, it becomes impractical to bring everyone together for in-person training more than once a year. Even doing an annual Sales Kickoff means high travel and hotel costs, not to mention difficulties in quantifying the ROI.

A Kickoff with 100 reps can cost a quarter-million dollars, easily. What we want to start doing is smaller bites and being a bit more virtual”

– Sean Murray, Senior Director NA General Business, Xactly Corporation

Changing the Sales Kickoff equation can help alleviate many of the classic problems with the yearly event. Rather than flying the entire team out only once per year, the idea of the virtual kickoff, powered by web-based communications and video, can offer better impact and a far smaller cost. Even with a standard Kickoff, supplemental quarterly virtual sessions can bring the team back together to realign, encourage new ideas, or re-energize.

Use a hosted video solution to drive sessions

You can still find interaction in a virtual kickoff. Host timed sessions using a service like Webex to bring the team together, with built-in collaboration and sharing features. Any tools that allow your team to not only watch but to also interact, offer good ways to drive engagement.

Rethink the curriculum

Because virtual kickoffs happen more frequently, the curriculum for the entire year no longer has to be presented at once. When tracks are broken apart, reps are not only more likely to remember key points, but will have content and ideas that match their place in the yearly sales cycle. Kickoff becomes an excellent opportunity to upskill by market segment or vertical.


No matter what format you use for kickoff, recording it is vital. Some reps will always miss sessions, and recording offers a great way for the team to review key points and reflect on ideas long after the event. Long term, building a library of kickoff content also means that you can quickly build on past efforts and effectively drive change over time.

Roll out New Products and Messaging

Break goals and plans into quarterly chunks, aligning topics with new products, messaging, or needs for the three month period. With all reps together, including monthly or quarterly new hires, each has a chance to reflect on the last launches and jump-start the newest initiative. The result is a team more capable and ready to adopt a new line of messaging and take it into the field.

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Think Your Sales Kickoff Was Successful? Prove It.


You’re planning your next Sales Kickoff, which requires a herculean amount of time and effort. Besides ensuring everyone has a good time, what are you looking to get out of it? Whether the goal is to introduce new concepts, energize the team, or share tribal knowledge, you have a host of metrics that get you to the result.

But how do we track and progress before, during, and after an event? How do you quantify the success of last year’s effort? Grade each step to find out how effective your last Sales Kickoff was, and to learn what to improve this year. The higher the score, the more successful your event.

Scale: 1 = Not Very Effective; 10 = Very Effective

1. Engagement – ___

How much were reps and managers talking about the event? Create a hashtag on Twitter and encourage a running dialogue. Count Tweets shared, internal messages sent, or any other data that shows engagement. Before the event, this can be a clear sign of engagement. After the event, it shows what worked, and what didn’t.

2. Attendance – ___

Who showed up and who didn’t? That includes not only reps, but also managers, support staff, and top executives.

3. Activity Completion – ___

Did reps attend the breakout sessions? What percentage of reps completed and attended everything that they were supposed to?

4. Training Stickiness – ___

Sales training stickiness is a measure of how much learning “sticks” to a rep after the event. A simple survey post-event can help you gauge what stuck. Did your reps take home the concepts you wanted?

5. Cost per Rep – ___

Sales Kickoff is expensive because it typically requires getting the whole team in one place. Are you getting the right bang for your buck? Break down the cost of the event per rep and monitor year over year. If the cost is trending up, and the results are dubious, then the event needs to be redeveloped.

Score: __/50

What was your score?

5 Ways to Generate Excitement Around Sales Kickoff!


Sales Kickoff, and any sales training event, has a purpose: train and enable reps to hit the number. While it may be useful to bring everyone together, reps often fail to see the benefit of taking a week away from their pipeline. By building the right excitement, engagement, and commitment, reps are more likely to get something out of their time away.

So how do you do build the excitement? Here are 5 tactics:

1. Create buzz leading up to the event

Barack Obama wouldn’t show up on election day having done nothing and expect to win. There was a lot of work that went into setting up for success on that all-important day. Create a drip marketing campaign leading up to the kickoff that releases a little more information each week. Get senior leaders involved with different communications to create variety and enthusiasm. Get reps talking.

2. Assign bite-size pre-work

Creating a shared experience before everyone shows up at the sales kickoff will set a far different tone. Create a small assignment that’s every reps ticket into the event. Use the first few minutes of the sales kickoff to talk about the results and give reps a way to get involved early. This sets a very different tone for the event itself and offers a compelling reason to pay attention.

3. Make peer participation core

Few reps want to learn solely from those who aren’t in the field – it simply feels like work! The Sales Leadership Council notes a 2% increase in sales training stickiness when peers do the teaching. “Social proof” is at play here, with reps observing how their fellow sellers succeed, practicing, and adapting these behaviors. All managers need to do at kickoff is direct and organize – let teams do the work themselves.

Peer-based training produces a 2% increase in training stickiness (via SEC)

4. Make it actionable

What do reps want out of sales kickoff? A clear road to success.

To get them engaged, create working session focused on how to engineer to the number. Every rep should leave the event with a clear vision of what they need to do to be successful.

5. Location, location, location

The tried and true practice is to hold kickoff in a resort or off-site, creating an atmosphere of exclusivity and retreat. And it works. However, even more important in this formula is separating work and kickoff. Make the event live outside of normal work functions, so that the focus and energy is exclusively on training. Without normal job distractions and with a clear sense of purpose and achievement, reps will be more engaged and energized. The goal is to have reps go back to the office cheering for the new year, not drained from pulling double duty.