Around this time every year, sales leaders begin to dream up ways to motivate their sales teams and supercharge their revenue targets. Typically, these efforts take the form of formal “sales kickoff” events — team-wide rallies (often off-site) that are designed to inspire and energize reps to blow out their sales goals. Speakers are sometimes hired for these events, and copious amounts of high-end food and drinks are typically served.

While that might sound like one big party, the truth is that sales kickoffs can actually be highly effective team-building, expectation-setting events. Done right, these forums offer reps, managers, and senior executives the opportunity to step away from the daily grind, learn from peers and experts, establish actionable goals, and create a plan for more effective execution.

And all of that is true for chief marketing officers and their marketing organizations, as well.

Yes, sales kickoffs aren’t just for sales teams. In fact, these events often provide a critical opportunity for CMOs and their teams to build better relationships with individual sales reps, illustrate the impact marketing can have (and is having) on the bottom line, and ultimately, to advance the CMO’s key strategic themes for the year.

Maybe it’s the free food and drinks or casual nature of sales kickoffs, but the disarming environment of these events also seems to tear down the metaphorical walls that often divide sales and marketing. With the freedom and opportunity to widen their focus, sales reps are generally more receptive to understanding what marketing does, why they do it, and how those activities directly impact their bank account.

A simple framework for opening a sales kickoff

The easiest way for CMOs to influence revenue is to ensure that the sales organization believes in — and buys into — what marketing does. And the easiest way for CMOs to do that is to very clearly illustrate that they care about revenue, and that sales and marketing’s mutual success depends on collective execution.

With that in mind, I always recommend CMOs open a sales kickoff event by presenting what their team did in the previous year, why they did it, and why those activities were (or werent) successful.

For example, let’s say you’re the CMO of a tech company that sponsored Dreamforce in 2014 and co-hosted a party at the event at a total cost of $300,000. Without any explanation for why that initiative was purposeful or successful, a sales team may simply view that spend as an excuse to throw a huge party and look good, without tangible sales benefits.

If, however, you stood up in front of the sales organization during sales kickoff and said:

“We spent $300,000 at Dreamforce. As a result, we generated $3 million in new pipeline, of which $1 million has closed so far in Q4 and Q1. More importantly, it accelerated our existing pipeline by an average of 21 days for accounts we interacted with at Dreamforce. Unfortunately, the results were limited to our North America mid-market business. So this year, while we’re maintaining our investment, we are excited to announce some new initiatives that will serve our EMEA and APAC regions, as well as our Enterprise business.”

Kind of difficult to be skeptical now, isn’t it?

Being specific about results—including failures — will result in your organization’s sales reps valuing these leads more.

Closing with a plan of action for the year

That simple framework (here’s what we did, here’s why we did it, and here’s why it makes sense) can be leveraged to explain every initiative, strategy, or channel, and provide explicit evidence for why it helped the sales organization move the needle. Once you’ve clearly communicated what you did and why you did it, it’s important to tie that information to what you’re planning to do.

For instance, if investing $500,000 in syndicated content in 2014 helped you generate 1,000 incremental MQLs per month, $3 million of pipeline, and $1 million of revenue, then it will be significantly easier to convey why you’re doubling down on that channel in 2015. Conversely, if a particular marketing initiative was a failure, you can use historical metrics to explain why you’re scaling back on it.

(Bonus tip: If you’re a high growth business with a significant multiple on your valuation, get your CEO to stress the impact on value to shareholders of a higher growth rate).

Following up regularly on your plan

Of course, it’s one thing to declare the value and purpose of a strategy, and to promise certain results. It’s quite another to actually deliver them.

The best way to maintain credibility with sales post-kickoff is to regularly follow up with updates on your plan.

How are you tracking against the goals you presented at sales kickoff? How many leads have you actually created? Are specific marketing channels or activities delivering the results you expected?

By Q2, you should plan to give sales an update on how 2015 initiatives are performing, as well as how leads generated from 2014 are maturing into revenue. And don’t be afraid to be transparent. If the aforementioned Dreamforce investment hasn’t panned out like you expected, be upfront about it and communicate how that might change your strategy.

With that context, sales will better understand the logic behind each investment (and the value of those leads relative to revenue), and they’ll be more likely to support marketing efforts with greater attention and efficiency.

Ultimately, that will create better sales and marketing alignment through a “rising tide lifts all boats” scenario in which sales more ardently follows-up on MQLs, and marketing’s contribution to bottom-line revenue is more directly felt. At the end of the day, that’s a win-win for everyone involved.


Nadim Hossain is the CEO and cofounder of BrightFunnel. He was previously CMO of PowerReviews, where he led marketing and sales development. He more than doubled the revenue, increased demand generation results by 10x, and paved the way to a $168M exit (Bazaarvoice – NASDAQ: BV). Prior to that, he was a product marketing executive at Salesforce and owned the SaaS P&L at McAfee. He is an alumnus of Amazon.com and Bain & Co.