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Top Five Sales Kickoff Meeting Mistakes

Every vice president of sales knows the most important meeting of the year is the annual sales kickoff. It’s usually the only time during the entire fiscal year where the worldwide sales team gets together. Therefore, the success of this meeting is critical.

Perhaps the best way to measure the sales kickoff’s success is whether or not the salespeople leave better educated about their products, enlightened about their company’s future direction, and most importantly, energized to attack and conquer the new year’s sales quota. With these three goals in mind, here’s the “Top Five Sales Kickoff Meeting Mistakes” based upon my participation in more than one hundred sales kickoffs.

#1 It’s Too Long!
Studies have shown that the average person will hear only seven and a half minutes of a one-hour presentation and remember only half of the words he or she hears. Here’s another startling fact based upon a massive study completed by the US Air Force. Within 72 hours of a meeting, attendees forget 95% of what they hear. You should keep these studies in mind if you are planning a three, four, or five day sales meeting (because you are going beyond the point of diminishing returns).

#2 Not Enough Individual Recognition
No one has ever been fired for saying too many compliments or handing out too much recognition. Awards are extremely important to salespeople. As a vice president of sales, I experienced more motivation and a harder work ethic from my sales team by handing out a $45 trophy than would be achieved by increasing the compensation plan by one hundred times that amount. Salespeople enjoy the acclaim and the public identification as a role model within their group. Therefore, compliments to individual salespeople should be given out continuously throughout the sales kickoff and awards should always be done in full view of the entire organization.

#3 Too Many Presenters
More is not always better. I once attended a sales kickoff where there were thirty-four different presenters over the course of a two day meeting. It seemed every departmental manager within the company wanted their fifteen minutes at the podium, regardless if they had anything significant to say. By the end of the kickoff, the audience was completely anesthetized to the president’s closing comments and call to action.

#4 Not Enough Humor
A recent study found that hypertensive men who drink moderately and have one to two drinks a day had a 44 percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack than nondrinkers with high blood pressure. Of course, salespeople have known this for years… Sales is a stressful, high stakes profession. Humor helps release pent-up tensions and reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.

One of the most impressive (and funniest) things I have ever seen at a sales kickoff was a competition between the various sales regions to create a marketing video for a soon-to-be released product. The movies were incredibly creative, totally hilarious, and so well done you would have thought they were made by Hollywood professionals. As the movies were shown, the entire sales organization bonded together through laughter. While you don’t have to stage elaborate competitions, you shouldn’t forget to insert some laughs into your agenda.

#5 Too Much “One Way” Communication
An old adage about military style communication says, “Tell it to them once, tell it to them twice, and then tell it to them again.” Unfortunately, too many sales kickoffs subscribe to this philosophy and forget to involve their salespeople in any aspect of the presentations. I strongly recommend every sales kickoff include panels where top salespeople are interviewed about their major wins and losses. At the very least, key salespeople should be asked to present summary overviews of their most important wins.

Closing Thoughts
What is your company’s greatest asset? Is it its patents, products, or brand name? Technologies will come and go as new products are continually introduced into the market. I doubt you own any record albums, a typewriter, or a Ford Pinto. And while we tend to think of a company’s brand as unique, it is only as valuable as the integrity of its people. Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco were once very respected company names.

In reality, every company’s most important assets are its customers and it is salespeople who are tasked with the vital responsibility of recruiting and keeping them. In this regards, salespeople have the most important job in the company and it’s incumbent that the annual sales kickoff be a resounding success—educating, enlightening, and energizing the team!

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