January 4th, 2018 | by

Somewhere between the stuffy boardroom of a local Best Western and a weekend of company-sanctioned debauchery in the woods … is the perfect Sales Kickoff (SKO).

It’s an event that celebrates the successes of the previous year, ignites a new focus for the coming year – and creates a team in the best sense of the word, a group who shares the belief that we fail or succeed together.

How to create a great sales kickoff:A speaker speaks on stage at a DiscoverOrg sales kickoff.

  1. Identify specific goals and a focus of the event.
  2. Intimate, non-corporate environment
  3. Promote sense of community and company culture
  4. Set an agenda with skills that can be used Monday mornin
  5. Ensure content is data driven

As we plan DiscoverOrg’s sixth annual SKO, these five areas of focus have helped make our event one that our sales team looks forward to all year long – and which we carry with us throughout the following year.

1. Identify the goals and focus of the sales kickoff prior to planning

Before we pick a theme or any of the fun stuff, we think about what goals and outcomes we want to get out of the gathering: How do we achieve them? How do we measure them? (… Because of course we measure everything at DiscoverOrg.)

Our objectives always fall into three buckets: 1) Loyalty, morale, bond; 2.) improve our sales team’s knowledge of our product and space; and 3.) improve soft sales skills.

We’re intentional that the event NOT be three days of product training.

Three DiscoverOrg employees smile for the camera at a sales kickoff.

Our Vice President of Sales, Steve Bryerton, says, “We focus on honing our craft and finding new strategies in sales and customer success. We change the content a lot from year to year.

“Two years ago, the Customer Success department came along for the first time. Marketing also joins the sessions, because we all need to be cohesive and go to market the same way.

“We have different people lead sessions; so it’s not just sales leadership, it’s also our CMO, we bring in outside thought leaders, we bring in a customer to come in and talk – to gain insight into how his team uses DiscoverOrg and what change they’re seeing.”

Read it: You’re the New VP of Sales … Now What?

Slide shown at a DiscoverOrg sales kickoff event: "Top challenges that keep a CMO up at night."

We started our “Selling to Marketers” session by training our reps on what that persona cares about

Example: Event Focus (Selling to Marketers)

Bryerton offers this example from our 2017 event: Our focus last year was “Selling to Marketers.” Since Marketing holds an increasing part of a company’s budget (especially for technology investments), we wanted to sell more to Marketing buyers, and we wanted them to be more involved in the deals. Following the event, we had a higher win rate and a higher deal size for marketing buyers, and I think we can credit SKO for that.

[EPISODE 3] Inside Look:Executing an Account-Based Strategy

Find an area of opportunity – say, breaking into a brand-new market; or a new medium, such as social selling – and build out the agenda from there.

While our the event is obviously sales-focused, we invite these other departments for at least part of the 2- to 3-day weekend:

  • Sales (inbound, outbound, development, and account executives)
  • Marketing
  • Customer Success
  • Operations
  • Learning & Development

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2. Intimate, non-corporate environment

DiscoverOrg’s company culture is very important to us, and much of that institutional knowledge is passed down at sales kickoff.

That means no boardrooms. Ours isn’t a button-up affair.

“We all go to an out-of-town retreat,” says Tom Studdert, Vice President of Learning and Development (L&D). “It sends a message that this isn’t a corporate event; it’s for learning and retreat. A physically different space means that it’s a different world. I like that message.

“The cool thing about our SKO,” Studdert says, “is that ours doesn’t feel DiscoverOrg employees posing in formal attire at a sales kickoff.corporate. We don’t go to a corporate hotel, we don’t go to boardrooms. We go to retreats with outdoor time, with evening activities that we plan: we have a campfire, musicians bring guitars, we have a dodgeball night. Everyone is together. We all love it.”

Of course, just because the event is non-corporate doesn’t mean we don’t dress it up.

Our sales kickoff weekend always ends with a black-tie event. Significant others are invited, and we have a gala and awards banquet. “The awards ceremony ensures that stand-out performance is recognized in front of peers and significant others,” Bryerton says. “That’s a very proud moment, a very big moment.”

“We get to see everyone in a different world, dressed up, excited,” Studdert adds. “We’re all thinking, I work at a company that’s not just amazing but supports me in my growth and experience.”

Two similarly dressed DiscoverOrg employees. An example of a casual sales kickoff theme.

Example: Location

With our office in Vancouver, Washington, an outdoor retreat in nearby Bend, Oregon, was a great choice. It’s a few hours’ drive south. The rustic environment is different enough that the team is excited, but out of their comfort zone.

We asked that everyone bring dress clothes for the concluding award ceremony, but other than that, the atmosphere was very casual. It was easy to learn in a relaxed environment, and fun to interact with coworkers on a level that was different from the office grind.

3. Set a specific agenda with skills you can use Monday morning

The weekend is filled with workshops for intensive learning around a specific agenda.

David Sill is DiscoverOrg’s Senior VP of Sales. “We’re not concerned with getting up on a stage and lecturing to a crowd,” he says. “A lot of SKOs do – but at DiscoverOrg, if everyone doesn’t walk away with skills that they can turn around and use Monday morning, we’ve failed. It’s very development-oriented. We have a strict rule: no pontificating to the masses.”

Some examples of specific sales skills we’ve worked on:

  • The Socratic Method: The Art of Selling through Questions
  • Let’s Get a Bigger Share of the Biggest Wallet: Selling to Marketing
  • The Narrative Advantage: How to Leverage Storytelling
  • Selling Value: Using Stories and ROI to Illustrate Value
  • A Day in the Life of a Customer
  • Wait. How Did We Get Here? Mapping the Buyer’s Journey

“We’re really keen on the idea of getting out of one’s comfort zone,” Dave Sill Book title for SKO themes: "The Socratic Method: The Art of Selling through Listening."says, “from our CEO Henry Schuck, right down to the newest employee. If you’re putting on the DiscoverOrg jersey every day, you shouldn’t get too comfortable. No one should be comfortable. Comfort zones are deadly.”

Of course, the swag and prizes that are given out liberally over the course of the weekend don’t hurt.

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We have also worked to develop cross-functional empathy.

“Our Customer Success Managers (CSMs) need to know life of Account Executive, and vice versa,” Sill says. “We paired people into cross-functional groups, and each team had to present on a particular use case that we see; for example, spinning up an SDR team, or executing ABE for the first time. Everyone got to roll up their sleeves together in a practical way, so they all walked away with something they can all use. There’s still work to be done here, let me be very clear. But we’re aiming for practical value in every session.”

Meme of Lenonardo Dicaprio from the Wolves of Wall Street.Example: Specific Agenda

Sill offers an example from two years ago: “We did this exercise; it was ‘cringy,’ as my pre-teen daughters would quickly remind me. Everyone had to do it. Sales, Customer Success, Marketing, everyone had to come into SKO having memorized a a spirited soliloquy from a movie. (Think Braveheart or A Few Good Men … that kind of thing.)

See the DiscoverOrg Sales Kickoff 2017 agenda.

“Our premise was that if you’re on the phone trying to retain business, it’s paramount to express conviction. If you don’t sound like YOU believe, how can you expect the prospect or client to? And still, most people aren’t going nearly far enough verbally to sound like that. Everyone had to perform their soliloquy in front of the entire crowd.

“… But wait, there’s more! We recorded it and played it back. You think you’re pouring it on thick, but the truth is, you can pour it on much thicker. And that’s a great teaching moment when, individually, you listen to yourself and think, Yeah, it’s true, I could have gone a LOT harder there.

“So yes, we force people outside their comfort zone. It’s the only way we can all grow beyond where we are now.”

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4. Promote sense of community and company culture

DiscoverOrg's CEO skateboarding - an example of keeping SKOs casual.

A large part of DiscoverOrg’s identity is the company culture. It was established by our CEO and cofounder Henry Schuck, and continues to evolve organically as the company grows. The handing-down of stories and company history shows our employees what we stand for.

VP of Sales Steve Bryerton defines DiscoverOrg’s culture as collaboratively competitive. “Everyone (who we hire) wants to be the best. At the same time, everyone always has their door open, is happy to offer ideas, best practices, is asking ‘Have you ever thought of X?’ We’re all trying to be #1. We all want new rabbits to chase.”

“There’s a sense of sense of community value and company culture,” Tom Studdert adds. “It reinvigorates the tenured employees and helps the new hires feel like they’re part of the larger family. It goes beyond camaraderie; it’s how we define ourselves.

“When I left SKO last year, I felt so connected to the company that I never wanted to leave. We’re truly a family.”

Example: Company Culture

One story that we love to tell at SKO is how our CEO, Henry Schuck, and his fellow co-founder approached our biggest industry competitor, in our early days. The two broke law school students were hoping to attract a buy-out of the young company … but they were turned down cold and shown the door.

Henry loves to add the detail that his co-founder, Kirk Brown, hustled out of the meeting with sandwiches gripped in each hand, for the road. (The twist to the story is that DiscoverOrg acquired this competitor in 2017.)


It’s these kinds of stories that set a lasting tone for company culture. In our case, that’s grit and determination.

5. Data-driven content

Bryerton is focused on results. “We have clear goals set for everyone for the coming year. We want to walk away with everyone better at certain skills, particular talk tracks. Our L&D department helps retest and redeliver on that content through the year. We circle back in team meetings to refer to it, so that the knowledge isn’t lost. We’ll continue to harken back and build on those things that we learned over the coming year.”

Example: Data-driven content

We implemented a pre- and post test for our event, based on the outcomes we generated, presentations we delivered, and purpose of the entire event. Attendees were tested on their knowledge on Account Based Marketing, Storytelling, the Socratic Method (selling through listening), DiscoverOrg Operations, Value Selling and the Connection to ROI, Pipeline Management, Selling to Marketers, and the Buyer’s Journey.

“We saw a 13% point increase in knowledge gained following the SKO on these topics,” Studdert says.

After all, the intensity of that education, all that knowledge, all the camaraderie, friendships, and good memories – it must be enough to motivate a salesperson for an entire year in the toughest, most rejection-filled profession in America.

So your sales kickoff better be great.

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About the author

Patrick Purvis

As Senior VP of Revenue, Patrick manages sales and customer success at DiscoverOrg, where he is responsible for strategic account growth. Formerly Chief Revenue Officer, Purvis is a graduate of Oregon State University where he studied Economics.