The ins and out of hosting a sales kickoff event: when to do them, why to do them, and how to do them great with Emarsys’ Meganne Brezina

Collin Stewart, CEO

03 October 2019

Sales kickoff events can be awesome – a couple of days each year when you and your colleagues get together, catch up with leadership, digest new processes and initiatives, and welcome a new year to crush your goals.

Oh, and have a bit of fun as well…how could we forget that?

Of course, not all sales kickoff events are created equal – for every killer event that inspires a team, there’s one that discourages a sales org. To ensure your sales kickoff event lands in the former camp (and stays as far away from the latter as possible), we caught up with Meganne Brezina, Senior Manager of Sales Enablement at Emarsys, on this week’s edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.  

According to Brezina, sales kickoffs are Emarsys are rooted in a few fundamental principles:

  • Providing a morale boost
  • To network internally (they have 16 offices around the world so people can finally meet each other at kickoffs)
  • To deliver org-wide changes (new messaging, new product strategy, etc.)
  • To celebrate their successes and set the tone for the year to come

“There is a significant investment involved in putting on a sales kickoff,” says Brezina.

“But, the energy and morale boost – you can really feel when you have people all in the same room. You can feel the excitement.”

How big does your company have to be to host a sales kickoff?

Of course, the scale and scope of your sales kickoff event should correspond with the size of your company. If you’re a 25 person company, for instance, a sales kickoff could be a day off with the team having food and drinks in the park while discussing the year’s upcoming strategy.

If you’re an international company like Emarsys, on the other hand, you can book a hotel with a conference room in a different country each year. 

Regardless of where you host your event and how many people attend, however, Brezina says there are a few non-negotiables for every kickoff: don’t do it in the office, and make sure leadership is invested in the event, both from a planning perspective as well as participation.

“There is no magic number about how many people you need in your company to host a sales kickoff. Rather, the events becomes necessary when you need to rally people around a single goal like establishing a new initiative, or new department. Oh, and you need a budget. It is not cheap – there is opportunity cost involved as well. So, how much can you invest without losing your shirt?” says Brezina.

“We think of them as multi-million dollar events. But, it can be done much cheaper. Companies do remote kickoffs, leaders travel to different offices.

“The key: take your people out of their day to day. Get out, and have fun. Go to a park and have a picnic, even. Creative juices start flowing when you take people out of their norm.”

(Editor’s note: we had Robby Allen on the pod a while back to talk about how to scale a sales team, and what is needed from sales leadership as a company grows. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the whole in-depth interview here)

What aspects do you absolutely need to nail at these events?

A sales kickoff is also a dynamic event, typically full of keynote speeches, breakout sessions, and workshops. Again, depending on the size and scope of your event, the agenda will vary.

But to put on a successful kickoff event, Brezina again stresses the need for leadership investment, and an element of surprise for attendees.

“Leadership support, is always first and foremost – from the c-suite to the frontline managers. If you don’t have buy in from these people, your event will not be a success,” says Brezina.

“And have an element of surprise in your agenda. We have found that this works well – that could be releasing location of the kickoff, creative swag, or surprise awards. Having that element of the unknown can really infuse energy in the event.”

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Designing an agenda 

At Emarsys, sales kickoff events have, typically, lasted about two-and-a-half days, with each day focusing on a different theme with different speakers.

For example, an Emarysys kickoff usually breaks down like this:

  • Day 1 – tons of energy, with lots on the main stage that day, including talks from members of the C-Suite. This day is to get people excited about what is to come.
  • Day 1, evening – attendees do something local, that reflects the culture of the country they are hosting the event in (the company hosted organized scavenger hunts and boat cruises, for example).
  • Day 2 – the breakout sessions. This is where the kickoff gets more tactical. Attendees work closely with their core disciplines and reflect on the high-level themes discussed during the first day.
  • Day 3 – any last minute business updates happen on the last day, as well as a wrap up with the C-suite. 

There is a good balance between fun and work, Brezina adds. Attendees have to digest the in formation planned and each year, as well as spend time with their colleagues from around the world to collaborate, swap ideas, and get excited. But, there should be time for fun – just don’t make your sales kickoff a chance for the team to drink the whole time.

“There are different perspectives on what a sales kickoff should be. You can’t have both work hard and play hard. We do work hard – play a little. That’s our decision making,” says Brezina.

“So, make a decison, and plan your events accordingly. And ensure your managers are to set expectations that it is a work event, and that attendees are expected to rise above.”

Finally, the theme of the sales kickoff can vary year to year, but Brezina says whatever the focus, an effective kickoff event should always be the foundation for that year’s sales focus. The only trick is: keeping that focus alive and exciting throughout the year.

“I’m very passionate about this. First and foremost – determine the theme for the kickoff, and have that as the theme for the entire year. We have had great success using a mobile app during the kickoff, so attendees and speakers con contribute worthwhile content they want others to see. But, we should use it throughout the year! We should celebrate all of our successes in such an app throughout the year,” says Brezina.

“We can also keep the themes alive during monthly enablement calls. This can be done with a hashtag, or arming your managers with a stat or report that is kickoff related that they can drop into team meetings.”

For more on Brezina’s tips designing and hosting a great sales kickoff – including her thoughts on how to ensure a sales kickoff has immediate impact and who throughout the company should be invited – check out the rest of her interview on The predictable Revenue Podcast.