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8 Essentials for a Successful Sales Kickoff Agenda (SKO)

Motivate your sales team with these kickoff agenda tips that can help make or break your year.

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I’m just going to say it: last year was hard. 2020 upended every aspect of life as we know it, including rewriting what it means to be successful in sales. That’s why sales kickoff agendas (SKO) remain critical to starting the new year off right. They’re the premiere training event — a time when teams celebrate the previous year’s wins, share goals for the upcoming year, and align on key initiatives.

As many of us continue to work from home, don’t just take your standard in-person kickoff and move it online. Consider the following must-haves to crafting an ideal virtual sales kickoff agenda.

(Looking for even more tools to plan your SKO? Check out our guide on how to plan the ultimate virtual sales kickoff.)

Sales kickoff agenda basics

Setting the agenda is the most important part of planning your SKO. You can invite the right people and plan the perfect party – virtual or otherwise – but if no one takes away anything valuable, what was the point?

When sales leaders at Salesforce plan a SKO agenda, we focus on achieving four things:

  • Staying true to our goals (see our previous post on kickoff planning)
  • Creating a balance between product enablement, selling skills, and customer acumen
  • Inspiring with energy and motivation
  • Encouraging participation and peer networking

Start by brainstorming what you need sales teams to remember weeks and months after the event, and go from there. 

Next, let’s get into eight agenda items for a successful sales kickoff.

1. Engage your sales team with an inspirational keynote

Every sales kickoff worth its salt starts with an inspirational keynote. Use this first session to get everyone pumped to be a part of the team and the company. When everyone’s motivated to sell together, aspirational goals feel much more attainable. Lean into that excitement on day one with a dynamic speaker (or two).

Don’t be afraid to bring in an outside speaker. At Salesforce, we’ve found fresh perspectives can have a big impact. Our recently held virtual sales summit, Going for Growth: Success in the Future of Sales, featured football legend Peyton Manning as the keynote speaker.

2. Schedule engaging breakout sessions

Breakout sessions often comprise the majority of your sales kickoff content. In SKOs I’ve attended, I’ve noticed sessions tend to be 30-50 minutes long. You can consider shorter sessions (think TED Talk-style) if you want to present higher-level topics quickly. For more robust content, you’ll want more time.

These breakouts should focus on your company’s big bets, how to deal with challenges, and actionable tips from your sales rockstars. 

To keep breakouts engaging, you can host a real-time hackathon, practice learning in role plays with live feedback, create real or fictional case studies, and encourage a competitive spirit with gamification and prizes. 

If you have a mixed audience from different departments or regions, arrange certain breakouts along those lines. You want attendees to leave sessions thinking, “This was relevant – and I learned something I can apply to my job.”

3. Showcase your customers

We’ve learned from our previous SKOs that customer speakers are a perennial favorite. Ask a few of them why they chose your company, what’s top of mind in their industry, and how they’d recommend you engage with similar customers in the future. 

Those stories can serve as the basis for case studies throughout your kickoff. You can even invite customers to share their perspective during a breakout session or join virtual focus groups for real-time feedback.

4. Celebrate and hand out awards

Let’s be honest, the award celebration is what sales reps are most eagerly anticipating. Celebrate this time-honored tradition by recognizing salespeople and big wins from the previous year.

Have fun with the awards – and create some categories that are sure to inspire laughter among your team. Prizes can include gadgets like fancy headphones, gift cards, and engraved gifts.

5. Put leadership meetings on the calendar

If you’re like most sales teams, your calendars are overflowing with meetings, and you’re perpetually on the go. Use this time – when everyone is focused on the same goals – to facilitate conversations with key leaders and discuss everyone’s vision for the year.

You may find the best time for leadership meetings is the day before or after the main event.

6. Focus on equality-focused events

A memorable sales kickoff connects everyone around one shared goal. So there’s no better event to rally everyone around the goal of building a more inclusive culture.

During your SKO, consider having an affinity or equality group host a session on being better allies, and plan more inclusive team bonding activities that don’t revolve around happy hour. For example, random conversation pair-ups over video calls will allow members of the team to learn about the perspectives of less-familiar colleagues.

7. Create networking opportunities

Don’t let this once-a-year internal networking opportunity pass everyone by. Create ways for employees and leaders from different teams to step outside their circles and make valuable connections. Virtual icebreaker games, speed dating-inspired coffee chats, and leadership-hosted meet and greets will help folks engage outside their immediate circles.

8. Build in community fun and volunteer opportunities

Include some time into the agenda for teams to informally connect. That could be through virtual activities like cooking sessions, a murder mystery or escape room, or volunteering. We like to incorporate volunteer activities, such as creating greeting cards for hospitalized children, into our kickoffs so team members can have fun while giving back to our communities.

These agenda items are just the beginning. We’ve collected more advice on hosting the ultimate SKO in our guide, Virtual Sales Kickoffs: A Playbook.

Keri Brooke is the senior vice president of Sales Cloud Marketing at Salesforce. She has more than 20 years of experience in the enterprise software and cloud technology sector as a strategic thinker and leader. She came to Salesforce from a series of startups. During her time at Salesforce, she's led multiple product marketing teams, including Einstein Analytics and Quip.

More by Keri

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