At the beginning of each fiscal year, many organizations hold a sales kick-off meeting (SKO). It typically brings together sales professionals, sales leaders, and their colleagues in areas like marketing and customer success. The SKO, according to Jim Ninivaggi, chief readiness officer at Brainshark, serves as the beginning of the organization’s “overall sales learning and readiness initiatives.”

With all the online learning and communication that happens in organizations now, it’s tempting to think that the SKO is no longer necessary, or that it should happen virtually. But Amy Franko, founder and president of Impact Instruction Group, says she’s found the opposite is true – that since we’re so reliant on technology, people are wanting an in-person experience. However, she says, “those live experiences have to be meaningful – they have to provide opportunities for connection and learning.”

Unfortunately, recent research by Brainshark found that many sales professional don’t find kick-off meetings to be meaningful learning events. The survey of 107 sales representatives, sales managers and other leaders asked about their experiences of SKOs and found that three out of four give their company’s SKOs a grade lower than an A.

Here are some tips to ensure your next SKO makes a better grade.

Before the Meeting

A successful SKO starts well before the meeting, with planning, training and coaching. Franko says it’s important for sales and L&D leaders to determine “a clear vision, theme and goals for a sales kickoff. Those elements will provide a track to run on. For example, if your CEO has a key objective around revenue growth, that can become one of your kickoff pillars. Content and metrics can then be designed to help make progress toward that CEO’s objective.”

According to Brainshark’s survey, 84 percent of companies don’t deliver training before SKOs, and 41 percent of respondents said they wanted just that. As an example, Ninivaggi says, if your company is launching a major initiative or new product, train and certify sales managers before the SKO so that they can facilitate and start coaching during the event. “It takes a while to become a competent coach, which is why it’s so important that companies get managers ready prior to kickoff.”

For the reps, it may be valuable to provide short videos or other content tied to the SKO goals before the event, Franko says. Ninivaggi agrees, saying that new methodologies and skills should be learned ahead of time rather than during the SKO. He adds that part of preparing the managers should be to ensure they hold reps accountable for completing that pre-work. Thorough preparation on the reps’ part will ensure that they spend time at the SKO effectively.

During the Meeting

How should they spend that time, then? Franko says networking and building relationships, learning about the company’s vision and how their sales goals tie to that vision, engaging with leaders, building selling skills, are all important experiences for reps at SKOs. It’s also a time for leaders to recognize top performers.

“Take the perspective that you’re engineering an experience, and that every detail counts,” she says. And don’t forget what you know about adult learning – use that knowledge to facilitate an environment where learning will happen. Stick to topics that you wouldn’t be able to cover online or in another format so that participants don’t feel their time is being wasted, and provide time for networking. To that end, Ninivaggi says that in addition to sales enablement professionals, sales leaders, and product management and marketing personnel, the SKO planning committee should also include event planning personnel and a person he calls an “editor-in-chief” to review content.

Ninivaggi says the SKO is the time for participants to practice and apply what they learned in pre-work. The Brainshark survey also found that over half of respondents wish their SKOs were more interactive (again, remember what you know about what makes training effective!). Inspire your sales professionals – make them excited about what they’re selling, and start the year with high morale.

After the Meeting

As with any training, reinforcement and follow-up is key to sustaining what employees learn during SKOs. According to the Brainshark survey, however, more than seven out of 10 organizations don’t deliver post-work or follow-up training. Record and share presentations or slide decks after the SKO for managers and reps to refer to later, and keep using the SKO theme and messaging throughout the year.

Franko says SKO reinforcement involves “ownership by both the manager and rep to stay accountable to extending what they’ve learned during kick-off, and then consistent practice over time.” She recommends each person identifying three skills or concepts and committing to building habits around them.

Managers will be key to reinforcement, according to Ninivaggi. “The sales manager’s job is to drive mastery among reps. [They] should be providing ongoing and tailored coaching, holding reps accountable to activity metrics, and closely monitoring pipeline and results so that – if necessary – they can intervene early.” Push relevant bite-sized content out to sales reps throughout the year rather than waiting for them to ask for training.

To measure the impact of your SKO, identify metrics ahead of time based on your goals. For example, Ninivaggi says, if your company is introducing a new strategy, methodology or products, evaluate success at these times:

  1. Immediately after the SKO, ask, “Are reps capable of executing this new strategy? Can they have the types of conversations we want them to have?”
  2. One or two months after the SKO, ask, “Are reps actually having the desired conversations and meetings?”
  3. Another month or so later, ask, “Are we seeing opportunities in the pipeline coming from that new product?”
  4. Finally, after about another month, ask, “Do we see revenue closing?”

“It’s a myth that people don’t want live events or to meet in person,” Franko says. In fact, sales professionals often thrive on building relationships with colleagues as well as clients. Leverage that desire for connection in your SKO, and use these tips to ensure that what participants learn is carried through the rest of the year.