Learning From Success: 5 Strategies to Level Up Your SKOs

A sales kickoff (SKO) sets the tone for big projects, campaigns, or annual strategies. However, SKOs can come with a high price tag of approximately $2,500 to $5,500 per attendee as of 2021. That makes it even more important to provide as much value as possible during every minute of the SKO. 

But this doesn’t mean packing the entire event with lots of calls, meetings, speeches, and happy hours, with a combination of in-person and virtual segments. Instead, it means carefully selecting events for the itinerary, clearly identifying what shouldn’t be part of the SKO, and leaving moderately structured time for icebreakers and team-building activities. 

If you’re not sure what your next SKO should look like, don’t learn from trial and error. Instead, see what leading sales experts find works for their organizations. Piece together your event strategies and schedules from lived experiences so you can avoid making costly mistakes that cause attendees to zone out, lose momentum, or never gain alignment with your big plans for 2024. That will set the stage for better sales and performance for the rest of the year.

Proven Strategies for Your Next SKO—From the Experts

Approach your next SKO by zeroing in on activities that make the most difference. Bringing everyone together for a busy, in-person event is a big undertaking, and every second is precious. Maximize the ROI—and the energy—by adding these tips to your planning process.

Strategy #1: Have a Clear Sense of Purpose to Align All Activities

What is the real goal of this specific SKO? Camille Crandall, former sales leader at Seismic and Marketo, emphasizes the importance of alignment around a core, unique driving force. Go beyond simply wanting high sales goals. She advises:

“Of course, the goal is always crush the year, get everyone killing their numbers—so what is the driving force this year to do so?”

Adopt a theme or goal that underlines the approach or a specific focus you want salespeople to return to throughout the year. That might be:

  • A new methodology rollout, which warrants strategy sessions, reflection on the results, new sales enablement resources and tactics that embrace the new approach, and so on
  • A focus on business maturity and customer experience, which is all about crafting a unique customer experience that’s as particular as your brand and messaging
  • A change of market direction that you want new salespeople—and their customers—to be excited about.

Related: 5 Predictions: The Impact of Generative AI on Sales in 2024

Once you’ve determined the core message for the year, make sure every single event and activity at the SKO ties to it. Keep the energy high and the focus clear. Everything should be about getting buy-in and excitement about the new objective, and that excitement should carry the resolve to reach sales goals.

Key Benefits:

  • Differentiation from past years
  • Clarity regarding the mission for the year
  • Buy-in from sales reps that might otherwise be bored or passive
  • Clear direction for business partners and clients who also want to see where your business is headed

Strategy #2: Set Up an Internal ‘Trade Show’

Don’t let your SKO be boring, even for a single moment. Boredom sets in when either the structure or the information is insufficiently engaging. While one approach is to trim down the information you share to the essential points, this tactic focuses more on the structure. 

Jerry Pharr, Owner of Sales Excellence Advisors, Founding Member of Sales Enablement Society, and Advisor to Regie.ai, OneView, Playboox, and more, advises creating an engaging trade-show-style experience.

Devote a portion of your total SKO itinerary to this type of event, such as a couple of hours each day. Individual department representatives at the event can set up booths, and salespeople can travel around to the ones that are most relevant to them. 

Salespeople with key accounts that lead to custom vendor contracts may veer toward legal presentations while others may care more about which training and sales enablement resources are going to be available for learning tracks. By providing self-directed learning opportunities, you can better ensure attendees are engaged and walk away with vital information and personalized insight.

Key Benefits:

  • Salespeople with different areas of focus or client types can get answers and information that matter to them but still tie into the overall SKO mission.
  • The ‘choose your own adventure’ interactivity can break up the potential monotony of long periods of sitting and listening.
  • Cross-departmental relationships are formed without being forced—in industries with remote and hybrid work, putting a face to a name really makes a difference in breaking down silos.

Strategy #3: Skip Remote Speakers and Solitary Audience Experiences

Knowing what to trim matters just as much (or even more) than knowing what to add. Pharr also advises companies to skip remote guest speaker slots. There’s a lot of value in having guest speakers, whether they have star power or unique insight. However, if they can’t make it to the big event, it’s best to book them for a different event or skip them altogether. Mostly, Pharr advises, it’s about the logistics.

“But there are too many things that can go wrong to risk doing the presentation remotely over Zoom or whatever. Power outages. Internet disruptions. Broken cameras. Broken speakers.”

There are other reasons to skip the virtual lecture too, namely that it’s not dynamic enough for an in-person SKO. Even the biggest personality can’t capture attention through a screen the same way an in-person guest can.

Kevin Williams, Chief Revenue Officer of Lytho, echoes this advice with a clear-cut rule: “Only do things you CANNOT do on Zoom.” When you have the opportunity to gather all your salespeople together in one space, put away the screens and do dynamic activities that are impossible any other time. This includes listening to guest lectures, sharing sales stories, and obligatory updates. Instead, focus on activities like:

  • Your internal tradeshow
  • 4x4x4 brainstorm activities
  • Interactive ice breakers
  • High-energy presentations

Key Benefits:

  • 4x4x4 brainstorming exercises foster collaboration and alignment—which can stop a competitive environment from getting toxic.
  • Sessions are less likely to feel like a waste of time, and attendees are less likely to zone out or forget information.
  • The SKO is more enjoyable, which can impact overall retention.

The benefits of skipping Zoom and going for dynamic activities are clear. The engagement is higher, the information is more memorable, and the connections last longer. 

Strategy #4: Work in SPIFFs

Ultimately, sales is a pursuit about money. Just as SKOs energize the sales team so your company can reach revenue and profit goals, each attendee has their own financial goals in mind. Eventually, the excitement from the event will wear off, and there should be financial incentives in place. 

Related: How Sales Leaders Are Incorporating Quickly Evolving AI Sales Tools into Their Toolkit

That’s where SPIFFs come in. SPIFFs, or Sales Performance Incentive Funds, are short-term financial incentives to meet sales objectives. Crandall recommends them to make sure participants immediately get on board with the new mission. You might set up SPIFFs to power transitions to new software, orient salespeople to client types, or incentivize other new behaviors. The job of a SPIFF is to bridge the transition from old goals and behaviors to new ones.

Key Benefits

Some of the benefits of well-managed SPIFFs are:

  • They get attention for changes and objectives that might otherwise be ignored.
  • You get faster engagement and adoption.
  • Because they’re short-term, one-off funds, organizations can easily calculate the expenses and measure the ROI.

Strategy #5: Keep Your Execs Present and Participating Throughout the Whole Event

Finally, make sure your attending executives play a very active role throughout the entire event. This advice from Williams is all about removing the perfunctory: obligatory updates from execs that don’t provide substantive value to salespeople, pro forma appearances for appearance’s sake… Get rid of them. 

“I’ve seen SKOs where the CEO/CRO gives an opening and then disappears until happy hour. That’s a fail. Highest level there should be fully engaged.”

This doesn’t mean whittling down the number of executive attendees. Instead, it means everyone there should be there. Put executives in icebreaker sessions, give them a role in the internal tradeshow, and keep them in the rooms with salespeople. Not only does this carve out new connections, but it keeps everyone focused and shows that leadership is just as invested in the new objectives as everyone else.

Key Benefits

  • There’s a better feeling of momentum and importance when executives are continually participating.
  • Less time is spent on perfunctory updates and presentations that are best reserved for video calls and emails.
  • Your leadership team becomes more approachable to salespeople.

SKOs Are for Group Alignment; Sales Training Is for Individual Growth

Every scheduled event in your next SKO should tie directly to the mission. Not only does this mean that every activity should be trimmed down to make it as meaningful and compact as possible, but it means a lot of talks, presentations, and activities simply won’t make the cut. And that’s a good thing—SKOs are a valuable window of time for collaboration and engagement, where the only things on the agenda should be things you’ll never have another opportunity to do. 

The actual sales training—tutorials on new methodologies, skills training, drills, and platform tutorials—don’t make the cut. It’s not because they’re unimportant. It’s because the technology is available anytime to do them one-on-one through virtual training sequences. At Quantified, we provide cutting-edge AI-powered training and enablement resources that salespeople can engage with on their own. Reach out to see how our sales training resources can supplement your 2024 mission and align with your goals.