The ultimate guide to sales kickoffs: Strategies, themes, tips and tactics

By Elay Cohen
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Download SKO guide

While sales teams focus on closing out the year strong, sales leaders are often focusing on strategies and ideas to kick off 2023 with increased momentum and vigor. After all, every year should produce better results than the last, right? So, pepping up your sales team for a winning year, similar to pepping up your football team for the big national championship, is critical to kicking things off in the right direction.

If you’re planning an SKO event for 2023, explore the components for success below, including SKO strategies, themes, tips, and best practices to kick off your event.

What is a Sales Kickoff?

A sales kickoff is an annual meeting where the entire sales team gets together to celebrate last year’s success and learn new strategies to achieve higher goals in the new year. Offering a sales kickoff (SKO) to your whole sales staff once a year is a terrific way to start the new year off right. A SKO’s purpose is to prepare your sales staff for the future year by teaching them the tools they’ll need to achieve company objectives and implement new initiatives. This is accomplished by providing material that is both motivational and informative.

Traditionally sales kickoffs are in the first few weeks of the year and occur in person, in a hybrid format, or entirely online. The goal of any SKO is to align and motivate the sales team to reach their individual targets, based on the goals of the organization.

Sales Kickoff Strategy

Research has shown that in the upcoming years there will be more emphasis on in-person SKO events rather than focusing on a hybrid approach or having the event be fully virtual. Considering how unexpected things have been for field facing teams over the last few years, with the pandemic, SKO provides a refreshing opportunity that allows your teams to get aligned around key areas of focus—new message, sales process, and sales skills.

Virtual Fatigue: The Need for In-Person SKO Events

Businesses have been forced over the last couple of years to introduce a hybrid sales force, or in some cases, go entirely remote with their sales team. It’s a new way of working, and while some organizations have mastered the cadence of remote sales there will always be a benefit to face-to-face sessions with your sales team. We will see organizations begin to trend more toward in-person sales kickoff sessions for this very reason. The component itself of an in-person structure will provide energy and enthusiasm behind 2023 efforts, but it will also solve and strengthen other areas of the sales organizations.

For instance, many sales teams need to reunite the team’s individuals and emphasize the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Sellers have learned and adapted to become more independent while working remotely and excelled in problem-solving. It’s time to teach them how to be a part of a team again.

With businesses having gone entirely remote or starting to use hybrid working, re-energizing your team and getting them to function as cohesive units once again is crucial for your SKO event. This event being in person will assist with delivering your SKO message more effectively, but it will also provide your sales reps the chance to role-play scenarios, participate in Q&As, and gain better insight for the future.

Even though conducting an SKO in person is desirable, there may be instances where using a hybrid option is necessary due to your sales agents’ remote working arrangements. These salespeople can use the breakout spaces to hone their pitches and share field-related experiences with other team members. Regardless of the structure you choose, the themes and the tips below will still help your event excel for the new year.

Creating A Sales Kickoff Agenda

The fear of pulling your entire sales team out of the field for hours or even days of training feels risky to most sales leaders. Afterall, that’s time they could be working towards their goals for the year. However, the advantages and value of having all of your sellers working toward the same objectives as soon as the year kickoffs can be far more valuable than leaving them in the field and skipping training. An SKO is more than just a sales training event. It’s the one time a year when sales leaders equip their entire team with the tools and resources they’ll need to kick the year off right.

Some might not think that an SKO offers more value than keeping the sales team in the field, which is where the sales kickoff agenda comes in. The sales kickoff agenda helps create buy-in from team members and other leaders. Creating a focused agenda, aligned with the company’s goals and strategy, helps leaders and team members understand the value of the SKO. And, the benefits of spending just a few days at the SKO sets the sellers—and the company—up for the next year of success.

Inclusion of Other Departments

Yes, a sales kickoff is for your sales team. However, the success of the company relies on unity between your sales team and other departments. Take into consideration including other departments in your SKO and help build relationships between your sellers and those departments.

If you invite members from other departments to your sales kickoff, they may demonstrate how they will collaborate with sales to generate revenue. One issue that many companies have is a lack of communication between sales and other departments, which can lead to the salespeople believing that other departments aren’t providing them with quality leads. Your sales kickoff will go a long way toward easing the tension and opening better communication between the departments if you include them in it.

Sales Kickoff Themes and Ideas

One way to ensure your sales kickoff is engaging whether in person, hybrid, or remotely, and that your sellers look forward to it instead of dreading it is to theme it based on your objectives for the following year. Your SKO theme must portray what you want to accomplish and get all your reps excited about all the upcoming events. Unity, togetherness, and strength are the top themes that were found, and below we discuss some of the main themes for 2023.


Recognize the challenges because they exist and are hard. Your sales team will value your honesty in this, but make sure to also provide them with the tools they need to overcome these obstacles and accomplish their objectives. Ignite the passion that your reps had when they first started.

10x Sales

Grow it by 10x. Show your sales reps to take small components of their sales process and look to build each of them 10x. Remind them not to work on all of them at once. Ask them if they would like to perform a few things really well rather than many things mediocrely. Have them choose one, master it, and then go on to the next.

Game Changers

Everyone knows who the game changers are, but we’ll still explain to paint a clear picture. The players who change the game are the ones that go out and make things happen rather than waiting for something to come to them. Create this motivation for your sales teams and tell them that everyone has the potential to change the game, but it’s up to them to seize the chances.

Better Together/One Team

The past few years have been isolating, people have been working remotely or hybrid and have not been able to work collaboratively. It’s essential to reestablish teams and unity, getting everyone to work together and become one team, instead of being individuals. A win for one is a win for everyone.

Smarter. Stronger. Faster.

The reason this theme takes off is that it has proven to be effective. This theme allows for the opportunity for you and your team to start a discussion about ways to improve and reinvent different aspects of your sales.

Best In Class

Champions are trained, not born. Create a few sales training courses that representatives can use to sharpen their abilities. Consider imitating the training scenes from your favorite underdog to become hero movies.

Plan. Execute. Win.

Square your shoulders and show your teeth. With this sports sales kickoff theme, you can quickly boost energy and determination. Simplify the sales process for your teams, and have them practice their quick pitches with this theme.

Soaring Higher

If the business is booming, it’s time to go beyond increasing leads and conversions. Focusing on increased sales, which everyone understands is better, is pointless. Instead, consider developing a plan for surprising your customers with extras. Make it enjoyable and invite ideas from all of your representatives.


Bring things up a notch, or 10, if your salesforce’s morale is down. Showing your team that, even though you’re not sitting on the ground, you still need to acquire some altitude is the main goal of this sales kickoff theme. It puts things in perspective and offers encouragement to a squad with poor morale. Allow them to remember that bigger is better.

Look to the future

Is the business growing? Are there any recent mergers or partnerships? Enlighten your sales team on the larger picture and the future of their world. Show them the overall picture that can come to life, if they look far enough.

Sales Kickoff Tips

Turn your sales kickoff into a high-impact, culture-building, and revenue-generating event with the tips below.

Sales Kickoff Tip 1. Be real about what an SKO is and what an SKO is not.

Alignment, motivation, and culture are at the heart of SKO. Instead of focusing on sales training, the emphasis should be on creating a cohesive team culture. In order to get your sales staff on the same page with your annual goals and initiatives, your SKO event will serve as an excellent platform. It’s an effective strategy for coordinating your company’s marketing and sales efforts. It’s an efficient technique for releasing and introducing brand-new items to the market.

Sales Kickoff Tip 2: Celebrate.

When was the last time you had your entire sales team in one room? The occurrence is probably rare. That’s why it’s crucial to use your SKO to celebrate the year’s accomplishments, honor the efforts of the team’s top performers, and build togetherness via team-building games and other activities. After all, an SKO’s purpose is to inspire your sales staff as much as it is to teach them. While happy hours and team meals are common forms of celebration, go outside the box by inviting motivational speakers or comedians to speak, or host activities like improv courses or wine tasting.

Sales Kickoff Tip 3: Ice Breakers.

You’re bringing your reps together from around the world, make sure you leave time for reps to meet each other and network. It’s important to allow time for all the attendees to mingle and get to know one another. Everyone knows about ice breakers and it’s an easy way for people to connect and learn facts about one another.

Sales Kickoff Tip 4: Colleague Inspiration.

One of the best SKO items that you can do for your team is to have one of your veteran sales representatives get on stage and share some of their stories. I promise you everyone will be attentive and take notes when their peers are sharing how they won their deals. Inspiration from other sales reps that have been in the recipients’ shoes can dig deeper and speak more directly than listening to an ordinary motivational speaker.

Sales Kickoff Tip 5: Engagement.

Engage your sales teams. Don’t create a death by PowerPoint SKO experience, provide opportunities for crowd participation and socialization, whether in person or remotely. Make sure that your SKO is not a lecture, let everyone get up and out of their seats and do more than listen. Encourage them to participate in activities and work together as teams. Your reps will retain more useful information from activities and role-playing than sitting for hours and listening to one person present. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Have your reps record their elevator pitches as pre-work and then use a peer-scored leaderboard in a competitive, gamified way to celebrate successes and winning sales pitches.
  • Create competitive storytelling contests in your event where your reps tell a customer story and compete for a coveted best “storyteller” award.
  • Use technology to push out questions and interact with your sales teams during your keynotes.
  • Develop a team-based deal/account simulation and have your reps generate winning presentations for a real-life case study.

Sales Kickoff Tip 6: Breakouts.

If your event is hybrid focused, shift the energy of your event from keynotes to breakouts creating a flow where your reps are consuming content and also engaging with each other. Breakout rooms are beneficial for your sales reps that are unable to be in person, this allows them to still feel included, retain the SKO objectives and build relationships with their colleagues.

Sales Kickoff Tip 7: Before. During. After.

Always keep your teams involved before, during, and after your SKO event for the best results. Provide them with event-specific preparation tasks so that everyone can start contributing right away, and then give them time during the event to practice those tasks in small groups through role-playing or improv. After the conference, send your sales team out with resources they could use in their daily job.

Execute a Winning Sales Kickoff Framework

Years ago, while I was leading Enablement at Salesforce, Marc Benioff helped me learn an important lesson about designing sales kickoff programs. We were planning our annual in-person SKO and were invited into Marc’s office to share our plans. We were organized. We had a vision. We shared our kickoff goals, theme, keynotes, speakers, sessions, training, workshops, etc. We thought we had it right.

Marc listened to our strategy and then said to me: “This is all wrong. You’re thinking of kickoffs incorrectly. Every kickoff experience has three parts – before, during and after. It’s your job to train our teams before the event and then certify them after the event. I [Marc] own the kickoff event and it’s our job as a leadership team to motivate, inspire, and align our teams during the actual sales kickoff event.”

What a great lesson. From that moment on, it became crystal clear to me that to ensure success, every kickoff experience must have a pre, during and post.

Sales Kickoff Phase 1: Pre-Sales SKO

A few weeks before the kickoff starts is a good time to get the pre-kickoff communications and training happening. It’s a good idea to start dripping new information to begin the process of getting your teams aligned and on-message. Why not start as early as you can? The more touches we do with our teams and the more likely they are to master your training and messaging.

Here are some ideas of what makes sense to roll out as pre-work to your teams:

  1. Sales pitch video practice: Have teams record a short elevator sales pitch before your kickoff event.
  2. Win stories video capture: Have teams record win stories from 2022
  3. Product training with testing

What’s powerful about implementing a kickoff strategy with pre-work is that you can begin the slow drip of information to your teams. The forgetting learning curve is real and having your teams learn and practice before an event, then come together to reinforce and discuss in person, accelerates mastery of your content and messaging.

Another benefit is that if you are capturing “user generated content” (which you should), you’ll be able to use and repurpose the content in your keynotes and in-person program. For example, if you capture win stories, then you’ll be able to share some of the win stories highlights on your center stage. What a great way to drive bottom up inclusiveness of people and ideas. Your people will feel heard and truly part of the program when they see their faces and hear their words during your kickoff event.

Sales Kickoff Phase 2: During SKO

A good SKO vibe is one that inspires creativity, projects confidence, and celebrates success. Think fun. Every story and activity should be action-oriented and tied back to revenue. If you can capture this energy in your event vibe, revenue will follow.

Your actual sales kickoff event is about confidence, motivation, and culture. It’s less about training and more about culture-building. Your kickoff event is a great way to align your revenue teams with top priorities, product announcements and go-to-market strategies. It’s a motivational event. Celebrate wins. Motivate your teams to think bigger.

You can’t do this with a parade of executives reading PowerPoint slides that are rich with statistics and have no relevance on how a seller is going to crush their quota. Some tips for the actual sales kickoff include:

  1. Don’t try to do too much
  2. Leave room for networking (formal and informal)
  3. Create opportunities for structured collaboration
  4. Use music and video to jazz up the event
  5. Keep people moving
  6. Offer light and healthy food
  7. Make it fun.
  8. Showcase top performers.
  9. Make your program and agenda inclusive of all roles and geographies
  10. Use a carrot vs. stick to hold people accountable for attending.

Sales Kickoff Phase 3: Post-SKO

Once the kickoff event ends, the real work begins. It’s time to reinforce what was shared and learned in the previous two phases. Remember, the “forgetting curve” is real. We recommend creating certifications for products, messaging, and selling skills. Go a step further and create coaching huddles for managers to drive reinforcement in their team meetings and one-on-ones.

It’s a great idea to celebrate the ongoing application of the learning to real life scenarios and deals. The post-event training and certification can last anywhere from a week to a month or even a quarter.

Following the pre, during and post event SKO framework will enable you to compress the learning and accelerate time to revenue. Since a lot of the enablement will happen asynchronously and using technology, you will also be able to correlate activity to sales performance data.

Key 2024 SKO Planning Takeaways

The start of a new year should fill you with hope and optimism, and that’s how your SKO should feel, too. If you follow the advice in this article, your sales force will leave the event feeling motivated, inspired, and ready to take on whatever 2024 brings.

Here are ten ways to make your sales kickoff amazing:

  1. Come Up With An Energizing Theme
  2. Set Clear and Attainable Goals for 2024
  3. Align All Go-To-Market Teams
  4. Create A Multi-Week Extended Sales Kickoff Calendar
  5. Establish A Micro-Learning Schedule
  6. Reinforce with Coaching Huddles By Managers
  7. Engage Teams With Pitch Challenges
  8. Record Personal Video Stories For Virtual Networking
  9. Celebrate Success and Key Wins
  10. Correlate Data to Measure Outcomes and Impact

At SalesHood one of our core values is to enable teams to generate more revenue by working collaboratively with one another. Our sales enablement platform can help you execute the best sales kickoff event and experience for your revenue teams.

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