Launching a successful commercial kickoff:

Avoiding three common mistakes that lead to unnecessary friction


Published on: August 2023

Written by: matthew archer

Traditionally, a commercial kickoff is a milestone event — part of a company’s DNA, and the place to reignite and recharge the field by celebrating accomplishments, driving excitement among sales reps, and building alignment around the organization’s future.

It provides an excellent opportunity for organizations to advance their objectives and strategic imperatives. Unfortunately, through our experience, these events often miss the mark in expectations from leadership, the field, and overall return on investment. We find that critical elements to plan and execute a commercial kickoff successfully are overlooked at some point during the process, creating friction among those responsible for planning and managing the event.

These three critical elements are: (1) ensuring alignment across relevant, diverse stakeholder groups, (2) maintaining a focus on the target audience, and (3) recognizing the impact of changes on event design. Attending to these elements ensures a balance between executing a memorable event, making the event relevant to the target audience, and driving business outcomes for the future.

Designing, developing, and executing a sales event: does this happen to you?

Typically, a commercial kickoff starts when a sales leader sees a need to celebrate accomplishments, drive excitement among sellers, and build alignment around the organization’s future. A committee is quickly assembled with representation from stakeholder groups such as marketing, sales enablement, and operations; they then develop a budget and announce the commercial kickoff, and everyone involved in planning quickly shifts into execution mode.

The committee comes up with a plan and assigns responsibilities. Committee members then go off on their own along with their respective teams, conducting periodic check-ins as a full committee to gauge progress. It quickly becomes apparent that groups are working in siloes with different priorities. For example, one group focuses on event program management, including venue choice or platform identification, event objectives, agenda, speakers, and communications. Other members of the commercial kickoff team are focused on content development.

Inevitably, something always happens that leads to minor and, in some cases, significant changes to the event. For example, sales leaders who are sponsoring the event are not always involved until a few weeks before, when they begin to realize that minor changes are necessary. However, there are other instances when organizations need to make drastic changes to their commercial kickoff plans. Whether adjusting for minor or significant changes, these changes lead to re-work, stress, and late nights for the people putting the event together – all major contributors to friction between team members and others in the organization. More alarming, these challenges can ultimately impact the ability to achieve the desired outcomes from a commercial kickoff.

There are three common mistakes organizations and planning committees make that lead to unnecessary friction when launching a commercial kickoff. By avoiding these mistakes, you will experience better planning, coordination, and alignment between sales leaders, marketing, event planning, sales enablement, and operations, which will help you achieve the desired business outcomes for your commercial kickoff.

Mistake 1

Planning is not aligned across all event stakeholders

Too often, planning efforts fail to consider competing stakeholder interests and perspectives that influence members of the planning committee as they develop an overall event plan.

  • The Event Team wants attendees to remember the experience. Therefore, their priorities are the location (if in-person), the platform (if virtual), registration, and communications.
  • Sales Enablement wants attendees to walk away better equipped to engage customers. Therefore, their priorities are breakout sessions that focus on tools and skill development.
  • Product Marketing wants attendees to understand product and solution features and benefits, use cases, and “what’s new.” Therefore, their priority is education.
  • Sales Leaders want attendees to leave inspired and motivated to execute the strategy. Therefore, their priorities are the main stage messaging and the overall vibe of the experience.

Ensuring alignment to the business objectives early in the process and understanding the critical decision points the team needs to make will reduce unnecessary friction throughout event planning and execution. Experience tells us that organizations with the most successful commercial kickoffs do the following:

  • Align all vital stakeholders on goals or desired outcomes for the event.
  • Solicit input from all stakeholders to identify themes.
  • Maintain clarity on the red thread throughout the event.
  • Coordinate planning and execution efforts by working as one unit, rather than in silos.

Mistake 2

Losing sight of what the target audience needs from the event

When balancing multiple perspectives and priorities, it can be easy to lose sight of what the target audience needs to get out of the event. While everything that an organization does is in service of customers, it is critical to keep in mind that commercial kickoffs are intended to serve the salesforce to help them do their best work serving customers. Traditionally, organizations have over-rotated on celebration, inspiration, and information-sharing during commercial kickoffs. However, these do not address sales reps’ comprehensive needs in today’s environment.

In reality, today’s sales reps struggle to achieve work-life balance because they are working longer days, jumping from meeting to meeting, experiencing less separation between work and home, and struggling to disconnect from work outside of working hours. Sales reps have demonstrated the prevailing feeling of being disconnected or isolated from their colleagues and their organizations. They are spending more time with their immediate families and re-evaluating what is important to them. It’s essential to recognize that some sales reps will decide whether or not to continue working for organizations after a commercial kickoff.


A concept called “everboarding” describes the notion that onboarding or activating customers never stops because products and services are ever-evolving. “Everboarding” is also applicable to your existing salesforce. Everboarding is informed by learning science – the realization that one-shot approaches like having a single day to onboard a new employee or share something new with employees in a single session will not endure. An everboarding strategy is a shift from sharing information during a single event to ongoing reinforcement. The organization, marketplace, and sellers constantly evolve, but teams are left to make sense of these changes. Successful organizations, particularly now, are taking the “everboarding” approach with their teams to continually engage and activate their team in the go-to-market strategy. A commercial kickoff represents an opportunity to engage participants in meaningful dialogue, workshop ideas, problem-solving, reflect, and plan intentional experiments in the field.

Mistake 3

Failing to recognize the impact of significant changes on the design of the event

There are external and internal events that can lead the team to reassess a commercial kickoff. With limited time to pull off a commercial kickoff event after any significant change, the team, including vendors, is thrust into action. Unfortunately, sometimes the group takes action without having a clear line of sight on the overall impact of their decision or based on incorrect assumptions. In these situations, stress builds, and missteps or errors become widespread.


Significant changes may require redesigning the event rather than simply adjusting or modifying sessions. There is a subtle difference between the two, but one that will determine the impact and effectiveness of the event. Given any significant changes, redesigning the event entails taking a step back and considering how you can best accomplish the event’s objectives. We know what you’re thinking – that you don’t have time for that, because the event is only weeks away – and we understand your urgency in these situations. However, taking the necessary actions early on will save you time, re-work, and overall frustration. Here are a few steps you can take to make the redesign work to your advantage:

  • Quickly convince stakeholders to align the event’s objectives given a need to redesign and explore what needs adjusting given proposed changes.
  • Evaluate the limitations of the platforms (registration, learning delivery, virtual event, etc.) that can materially impact achieving the objectives of the event.
  • Redesign the event by considering the impact of the changes on the scope of the event (national, regional, or global), length of sessions, the balance between main stage and breakout sessions, strategies for participant engagement, speaker selection, and also the impact of the red thread throughout the event.


A commercial kickoff represents an excellent opportunity for organizations to acknowledge their sales force’s contributions and advance organizational objectives and strategic imperatives. However, it is also essential to balance executing a memorable event, making the event relevant to the intended audience, and driving business outcomes. To successfully plan and execute a commercial kickoff, event planners must not overlook the three most essential aspects to execute a commercial kickoff successfully: (1) ensuring alignment across relevant stakeholder groups, (2) maintaining a focus on the target audience, and (3) recognizing the impact of changes on event design. Ensuring that these elements are top-of-mind considerations throughout the commercial kickoff development journey will allow for a memorable event that’s relevant to the target audience and drives business outcomes for the future.


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