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Yes, You Can and Should Host a Virtual Sales Kickoff.

It’s possible to create an engaging virtual sales kickoff, but you need to be inventive. Here’s how to next-level your most important internal growth event of the year.

COVID-19 may have upended life as we know it, but it hasn’t changed the fundamental needs of businesses to find and connect with customers. Marketing still needs to generate leads, and sales still needs to pursue and close opportunities. And you still need to find ways to support them.

For enterprise B2B companies, the sales kickoff meeting (SKO) is one of the most important ways to do that. This event builds excitement for the year ahead, fosters pride in being part of your organization, and gives sales representatives the tools and knowledge they need to be successful to meet and exceed company growth goals. It’s an investment in your team that pays dividends for your organization.

Read on to learn how to host the premium virtual SKO your team deserves. For a more comprehensive look at how to plan a virtual event, make sure to check out our guide to planning, managing and promoting virtual events.

So, I just schedule a bunch of Zoom meetings, right?

Wrong. One of the biggest misconceptions about a virtual sales kickoff is that it will be nothing but a series of online meetings or webinars. This fear is keeping many organizations from exploring what’s possible for a virtual SKO—and leaving their teams rudderless in the meantime. Those that do go down this path are sure to underwhelm.

Don’t limit yourself by choosing your delivery method—aka your platform—before you identify your goals and outcomes for the event. To create a next-level virtual sales kickoff, your desired attendee experience must drive your virtual event platform selection, not the other way around.

It’s a sales event. It has to be premium.

The biggest caveat when thinking about a virtual SKO is that it must, absolutely, hands down be a premium experience. The entertainment, social engagements, and even the swag might be different than at your past events, but it all needs to be incredible. Remote selling is not easy. Most salespeople are extroverts who thrive in social settings. They have worked hard to adapt to restrictions on in-person interactions and the total shutdown of face to face events. 

More than ever, your 2021 SKO should acknowledge the incredible job they are doing, celebrate their successes, and set them up with the tools to smash their quotas. 

This will not only benefit your organization through increased revenue, but it will help bring your team together in a way that’s never been more important. 

Breaking it down: the parts of a virtual SKO.

Your team comes to the SKO to hear from leadership, collaborate with peers, celebrate top performers, have fun and team-build and, most importantly, learn and prepare to sell your solutions this year.

Here’s what to consider as you translate each of these activities to the virtual environment.

Leadership conversations. 

The job of the keynote is to inspire your team with a vision for the year ahead. Don’t skimp on the production value here! But don’t stop with the keynote. Take advantage of the digital experience to offer attendees more personal interactions with the leadership team. For example, you might set up ask-me-anything (AMA) sessions so reps can get their burning questions answered.

Virtual value add: Now that your keynote is online, you can reach more people in your company with it. During or after the meeting, your whole organization can watch the replay and get excited about what’s next. 

Training and development.

The heart of your SKO may actually be the easiest piece to bring online. Virtual training sessions enable sales representatives to access learning at their own pace—and make sure they don’t miss anything. This is better for retention: the sheer amount of new information presented at an SKO can be overwhelming. (Late night socializing just might have something to do with this.)

For field managers, virtual events provide incredible tracking and analytics. You can not only track who completed the training, but gain insight into how effective it was.

Virtual value add: Now that reps will be engaging with content at their own pace, consider creating sessions for advanced skills and product knowledge that might have seemed like “too much” for the SKO in the past. 

Collaboration.

Remote selling is not easy and some of your team have likely adapted to it more quickly than others. This makes the collaboration piece of your SKO even more important than usual. Traditional sales training activities like role plays and quiz games translate well to digital, but you can also get creative. Try a speed “dating” activity where pairs share something they’re proud of from 2020 or an open-mic style competition for the best pitch. Give top performers space to share successful stories or win stories—then edit them into a motivational “highlights reel” for future viewing. You can even set up an online mentorship program that kicks off at the SKO and continues throughout the year.

Help reps get psyched for these opportunities and drive engagement by integrating virtual SKO content in your sales LMS prior and after the event. 

Virtual value add: Without the space constraints of your physical location, you can create more personalized tracks for the different people on your team. Consider organizing breakout sessions for different business units, skill levels, and more. 

Fun.

You can’t take the team out to the golf course, or to a 5-star dinner. 2020 was different and 2021 will be too. Create experiences that embrace the situation we’re in rather than trying to work around it. There are many providers and partners that can help make these experiences truly special. You might bring in a chef or mixologist for a live class (send out ingredients and the recipe beforehand), a mentalist or magician to entertain, or a comedian as an emcee. Games aren’t off the table—what about solving a mystery as a team? Even better: work together for a social cause by collaborating with a non-profit.

Whatever you do, include a way for participants to share digital selfies throughout the event. And you can still gift winners with a round of golf in their own location.

Virtual value add: Make sure to include other members of the household in the fun. These experiences can introduce a spontaneity and intimacy that may not usually exist among your team—changing your company culture for the better. 

Surprisingly cool benefits of a virtual sales kickoff.

There are actually a lot of interesting benefits to going virtual with your sales kickoff.

Amazing interactive experiences.
Create an immersive digital experience to showcase your product information. This could be anything from an interactive tour of features, use cases and benefits, to 3D simulations of products or technology. Don’t be afraid to use video, audio and animation to engage your audience. And, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what you create here is permanent. Invite reps to provide real time feedback on the tools you create and then iterate on them so your team can use them in the field. 

Teach me now. Support me later.
No matter how important and engaging the information, once your audience reaches their saturation point, you’re facing diminishing returns. With a virtual SKO, your sales team can attend sessions live and return later to digest key points or prepare for a specific meeting. They might also save some content for when it is more relevant. Consider packaging session replays with other useful resources into a single interface—such as your sales LMS—so your team can easily find everything they need right when they need it. 

A global affair.
Part of shedding one-size-fits-all thinking means considering ways to engage global teams in their own time zones. This could mean that some of your content is asynchronous, or delivered simulive with different team members handling the Q&A in different time zones. Or, maybe for your EMEA team, the schedule features the  keynote at the end of the day, instead of the beginning. Once you remove the constraints of everybody all at the same time, there are many ways to make the event more useful and engaging for all of your stakeholders.

Incredible shout outs.
The awards ceremony is not only a chance for your top performers to earn great rewards, but also to have their skill and achievements celebrated by their peers. With a virtual SKO, you can extend that recognition beyond the event, so everyone in your organization can appreciate and acknowledge the incredible work of your sales team, and the team effort that goes into company growth.

Involve your partners.
With time and space constraints out the window, you have the ability to bring in speakers you haven’t involved in the past. Offer your partners the chance to present a session, host a breakout, or have a “booth” at the event. They can increase the excitement with special spiffs or competitions. This same concept can be extended to other stakeholders, such as other geos or business units. Even better, think about how you can bring in the client point of view—inviting clients to participate in a virtual panel is likely much easier to pull off than having them attend your live SKO. 

Don’t stop with the SKO.

The SKO is your first stop among sales touch points. Once you’ve gone digital with it, you can leverage the content you created to create a virtual Executive Buying Center (EBC), virtual Account Days, or a virtual sponsor booth that reps can “take” to online events you participate in.

The Iron Horse insight.

When you take your SKO online, you’re not only setting up your sales team with the knowledge they need to beat their goals in 2021. You’re modeling an effective means for them to engage with opportunities in the digital space. This may be the most important way your virtual sales kickoff meeting drives growth this year.