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How to Select a Sales Kickoff Meeting Theme

When I was a vice president of sales, one of my key responsibilities was to ensure that our sales kickoff was a complete success. Because it was the only annual gathering of the entire worldwide sales force, I wanted everyone to leave the meeting trained on our new products, well-versed about the competition, and most importantly, re-energized to get back into the field and sell.

After participating in more than one-hundred sales kickoffs as a keynoter speaker, I can now attest that the first step toward conducting a successful sales kickoff starts with choosing the right theme. With this goal in mind, here are five factors to consider when selecting your sales kickoff theme.

1. Sales Force Morale
One of the most important factors to keep in mind as you chose your theme is the level of the sales force’s morale. All sales forces go through periods of high and low morale. When morale is high, you can be more creative and take bigger risks with the theme you choose. For example, one of the best sales kickoffs I ever attended was based upon the theme of “A night at the Oscars.” In advance of the meeting, each of the sales regions created their own video about the average day in the life of a salesperson. The videos were exceptionally well-done, full of side-splitting humor, and their ingenuity was inspirational. Everyone loved watching them and a judging panel of company executives awarded Oscars to the best.

Conversely, I wouldn’t recommend such an over-the-top theme during tough times. In this situation the theme should be more commonsensical like “Better, Stronger, Faster,” which provides a platform that meeting presenters can use to talk about changes and upcoming improvements. If you are in the midst of a merger, pick a theme like “Winning Together” that promotes teamwork, or something like “The Power of Synergy” that emphasizes how the companies combined are greater than if they were separate.

2. What is the Sales Mantra?
The leader of every sales organization will typically have a clearly defined area of sales force improvement for the new year. It might be to close more seven figure deals, sell more of a certain product line, increase customer satisfaction, or to get the reps to consistently make their quarterly quotas. Obviously, it makes sense to make this mantra the underpinnings of your sales kickoff theme.

For example, one company wanted to focus their sales team on closing bigger deals. They selected a theme centered around baseball and used the tagline, “Swing for the Fences!” Throughout the meeting they showed movie clips of the greatest home run hitters of all time. At their awards dinner the vice president of sales presented inscribed baseball bats to the top sales performers.

3. Should the Theme Focus on Your Arch-Rival?
Every company has enemies, and every sales force has an arch-rival that is truly despised. If you really want to rally the troops and concentrate the meeting’s focus, use a competitive theme that directly targets your arch-rival. For example, instead of an ambigous theme like “In it to win it,” use the name of your competitor in the sales kickoff them like “BEAT ACME!” Remember, sometimes the most straight-forward theme is the best.

4. Can the Presenters Dovetail to the Theme?
The theme’s tagline is critical because it provides the centerpiece idea from which the meeting presenters can embellish upon. Recently, I attended a meeting where the theme was “Reach for the Stars” with an accompanying graphic of a rocket heading into space. Although it’s not necessarily a bad theme, it proved difficult for the presenters from the marketing, engineering, and customer support departments to incorporate into their presentations. A better space-related theme would have been “All Systems Go!” This would have enabled the presenters to delineate all the new products and improvement programs that were being launched in their area of the organization.

5. Consider the Meeting Takeaways
It’s very important that sales kickoff attendees are provided three types of meeting takeaways. First, all of the presentations and meeting information should be available online over the internet. Don’t fall into the trap of associating the success of your meeting to the thickness of the materials you hand out. Second, you should provide some type of sales skills self-improvement takeaway (a copy of book on advance sales strategies for example). Finally, always give company-logo’d chatska (T-shirts, hats, pens, mouse pads, etc.).

Ideally, you would like your takeaways to tie into your meeting theme. For example, “Swing for the Fences!” meeting attendees were given different colored company baseball hats and jerseys that designated which group they were part of for team-building exercises. Be sure not to skimp on the takeaways, because your annual sales kickoff is the most important sales meeting of the year.

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