What If Marketing Owned and Rocked Your January Sales Kickoff?

Tony Compton, Managing Director

I visualize the countless Vice Presidents of Sales who have just read this post’s headline and are cursing their computer and smartphone screens. To them, that suggested shift in power from sales to marketing with control over their meeting is laughable and will never happen.

I also imagine countless CMOs who would agree with those same sales leaders, acquiescing to possessive personal requirements that an outdated sales kickoff model remain in place, for ever and for all-time. And they’ll gladly accept marketing’s allotted, one-off, 60-minute session on Day Three of the mid-January agenda with a smile on their face.

But I can also walk over to the window and let two things in: the rapidly-declining temperatures of the wintry Chicago air mixed with the unleashed cries of a rapidly-growing group of revenue-driven global marketers and their business development colleagues who have been quietly and covertly talking about upcoming, but disconnected, sales kickoff meetings.

It’s 2016, time to recognize which way the sales and marketing wind is blowing, and fill the kickoff agenda with activity that excites the troops, fires up the team, and gets results.

Kickoffs Are Supposed to be Exciting

In 1983, I saw The Police kickoff their Synchronicity Tour at Comiskey Park in Chicago. As a fan of the band and of the baseball team that called Comiskey home, that was exciting. The kickoff to the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl in February will also be exciting. Pictures will be taken throughout the stadium, with the flashes of thousands of smartphones and cameras lighting up the stands in Santa Clara, California. Marketing campaign kickoffs are also exciting, as are the starts of political campaigns. Many fundraising kickoffs are also considered exciting, while some are even jazzed about the kickoff of roadway construction season when the Spring weather warms the Midwestern United States.

But I struggle to recall a sales kickoff that I’ve attended that I would classify as truly exciting. Informative, yes. Exciting, no. Please understand, I’ve worked with some outstanding sales people – and I take responsibility for my marketing contributions to various forms of corporate kickoffs and sales meetings over the years – but I’ve often wondered why a sales kickoff didn’t do more to actually increase the personal abilities of the sales team to do a better job at selling! 

Reviewing The Paint-by-Number Sales Kickoff Format

I’ve already bored you enough with that subheading, but I’ll venture a guess. You’ve got a January sales kickoff meeting scheduled to start the New Year. A three-day event set for the middle of the month. The Sales VP will talk. So will the CEO. Along the way, you may be joined by a product person, a sales ops manager, somebody in customer service or client retention, and a rep from a partner company. Of course marketing will get its moment to address the group, but it may be cramming a year’s worth of content in an abbreviated amount of time because prior sessions ran long and another extended coffee break is next. And let’s be sure to include exciting hours-long sessions labeled as “Account Review” and “Demo Presentations” to round out the festivities.

Sales VPs and CEOs will say that the outcome they desire from a sales kickoff would be to prepare their sales teams to hit individual and team revenue goals in the year ahead. There may be ancillary, but important, language about the exercise of a kickoff to include a prior year’s retrospective, team building activities, goal setting, usage of sales and marketing supporting technologies, forecasting, reporting, and negotiation conversations, debates on pursuit techniques, and adherence to departmental processes. Among countless other topics which (supposedly) must be covered during a kickoff.

All necessary, worthwhile aspects to the sales cause, but…

What (Fearless, Sales-Driven and Creative) Marketing Would Do Differently

Or better yet, this section should be called “What I would do differently…”

Strategically, I suggest doing three things:

1. Get sales and marketing to work together as a team on the kickoff. (Sales howls that marketing’s not involved in revenue-generating activities. This will change that.)

2. Intensely work on the personal sales communication skills of all business developers during the kickoff.

3. Inject passion into, and use select portions of the mountain of overlooked marketing content that has already been created, while producing new material.

Cover paper-pushing sales administration material another time. Yes, it’s crucial that sales people understand their numbers and compensation structure, and how to forecast, upload data, use the CRM system, and turn in timely expense reports. But most of that can be covered on quickly conference calls, internal webinars, and one-on-one phone calls early in January. There’s little need to gather salespeople to sit in a meeting room to review mundane administrative tasks. All of the above naturally falls under the domain of sales management, with support from other areas of the enterprise, of course, but when it comes to planning a creative sales kickoff, try turning over the reigns to marketing to produce a unique internal event.

Kickoff January 2016: How Salespeople Should Spend Marketing-Driven 72 Hours

Some January specifics. Salespeople should be practicing their craft, not sitting watching PowerPoint slides. However, I’ll compromise. If the CEO, VP of Sales, Product Management, and Client Retention Manager must address the group, so be it. Everybody gets 30 minutes – and not a second more. That part of the kickoff would be complete by Noon on the first day.

Next, go to the movies. Yes, you read that correctly. Go to a local theater and see The Big Short. Not to learn about the American housing crisis of the past decade, but to get thousands of dollars in presentation training and storytelling coaching for the cheap price of a movie ticket. Learn how to break down and communicate overly complicated topics to a general audience by watching how Ryan Gosling, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez (with Dr. Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago) explain complex housing and mortgage-related economic subjects as they respectively use Jenga, fish stew, and casino blackjack to make their points.

You don’t have to be an actor to understand how just three scenes in The Big Short apply to sales communication and presentation coaching, and how the clear messaging format of those scenes crush flimsy messaging frameworks, storytelling attempts, and weak content marketing efforts.

(Note: I didn’t include Margot Robbie’s bubble bath “explainer” scene because it’s not constructed the same way as the three scenes I mention. Moreover, neither Paramount Pictures nor anybody having anything to do with the film is providing me with any form of compensation.)

Immediately Address Two Dominant Sales and Marketing Topics

I dare you to turn on your computer without seeing yet another timely article which describes the pressing importance of 2016 business storytelling, and how video has quickly now become the new channel of choice for audience interaction in the New Year. It’s in your best interest to work with your sales team to immediately upgrade their writing skills. And presentation capabilities, both on and off-camera.


Instead of watching several days of internal presentations, work with your team to create and deliver complex product offerings and challenging customer stories with simplicity and passion. Instead of sitting in an office or hotel conference room, get into a professional recording studio and get your team on microphones to work on the power of their individual voices. Find a soundstage and have your people stand and deliver presentations – without slides. Locate a television studio, put your people on camera, and practice relating to audiences via video.

Even if you did a fraction of the above, the marketing-driven 72 hour sales kickoff will feel more like 72 seconds. You’ll want and need more time. Your sales team will demand more communication coaching and practice. Your audience will love what they’re seeing. Your stakeholders will devour the superior results.

What Additional Training?

There are those who say they’ll stay the course with a traditional, overly administrative three-day sales kickoff. They’ll say that the company provides sales communication and presentation training at alternate times throughout the year. Or that a spending a group afternoon reviewing how to give a product demo will suffice. Again, so be it. Some do provide comprehensive coaching, while others provide generic, ill-timed, and ineffective courses offered by distant and oblivious Human Resources departments. Far too many companies offer nothing.

But all demand sales results, including the CEO who I envision sitting at a snow-covered airport gate on a return trip back after the holiday break. The company missed its 2015 revenue mark by millions, and reality will hit on December 31. Meanwhile, somewhere there’s an investor who didn’t go on vacation, waiting for the complete 2015 results. Naturally, the investor will want to know about the January sales kickoff, and how a well-worn format is going to do anything differently this time around to help sales exceed expectations in 2016.