The Virtual Sales Kickoff: Best Practices for Before, During, and After

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Many organizations are experiencing plenty of “firsts” this year, such as pivoting many initiatives that were traditionally delivered in-person to virtual, online formats. The highly-anticipated sales kickoff (SKO) event is no exception. While some companies have conducted SKOs remotely before, many are likely navigating somewhat foreign waters.

Despite the necessary logistical pivots, the focus and purpose of the sales kickoff is unchanged as a means to educate, celebrate, and inspire the revenue organization as it steps into the new year. SKOs are pivotal opportunities to reinvigorate positive aspects of the sales culture, and therefore it’s important that the virtual version is able to succeed on the same front.

Although teams might be unable to rendezvous in person this year, it doesn’t mean that the event shouldn’t be taken as seriously. In fact, the virtual SKO may require greater preparation and alignment from sales enablement and other partners in order to execute flawlessly in a new, digital format. Here are some best practices for delivering a virtual SKO, with tips for before, during, and after the event to ensure a thoughtful, comprehensive experience for the revenue teams that deserve it.

Before: The Planning Phase

In order to ensure that the virtual SKO maintains the same level of quality as an in-person event, begin planning and engaging key stakeholders as early as possible. One of the key challenges to overcome early on is a perception of the event as just another virtual meeting. With the following best practices in mind, teams can plan thoughtful content and build momentum in the lead up to the SKO.

Establish SKO objectives that align with company goals

Connect with executive stakeholders to gain clarity on what the broader company goals are for the new year, and how the SKO’s objectives will ladder into those goals to provide value for reps. This is ideally one of the first orders of business, as all sessions that are designed thereafter should rely on these principles as a foundation of their conception. Whether marketing, operations, product, or sales, every department may have their own priorities for the coming year. Since experts from across the business will be involved in presenting material or facilitating sessions, it’s critical to align on the key areas of focus for the SKO each session should support.

Ensure all stakeholders reinforce a cohesive message

Once goals and objectives have been established, they can be seen as core pillars of messaging for the event. Key parties involved in the planning and design of sessions should be reinforcing them in order to appear cohesive and organized. As the virtual format breeds inevitable distraction, it’s all the more important for SKO sessions to have a unifying message that will maintain interest and drive engagement. Furthermore, every session or panel should be developed with a clear value proposition in mind. If it isn’t clear how the information is useful or applicable for reps, it is much more difficult to grab and maintain attention — especially in a virtual setting.

Make appropriate adjustments for various time zones

Unlike an in-person event where everyone is together under one roof, the virtual SKO must cater to reps across multiple geographic locations. For larger organizations with global sales teams, it’s important to take the multitude of time zones into account during the planning phase. If the resources are available, consider hosting more than one event with unique agendas depending on the region.

“After looking at our attendee information, we realized that we had 2,200 people globally who needed to attend and that it would be best for us to have three agendas,” said Michelle Dotson, senior manager of sales enablement at Zoom. “So, we ran a Pacific or North America agenda off of a San Francisco time. We ran one for our EMEA teams through our Amsterdam time, so Central European time. And then we had a third one that was run off of Singapore time as well.”

Perform multiple dry-runs to test engagement levels and get feedback

If the virtual SKO is a new format for the company, it’s important to test the waters of the experience. While it might be difficult to do a full dry-run of the SKO in its entirety, carry out practice runs of sessions with various stakeholders to get feedback on quality of content, duration of presentations, and overall engagement level. This will also help to suss out any technical issues that may arise, and give moderators a chance to practice smooth transitions between sessions.

During: The Execution Phase

Undoubtedly one of the greatest changes of this year’s SKO will be in its execution. Many organizations may find themselves struggling on how to keep morale and engagement high, while also providing educational opportunities that benefit both the rep and the company’s return on investment. Consider the following strategies to drive effectiveness during the execution of the virtual SKO.

Spend more time celebrating the wins

Often one of the most anticipated and engaging aspects of a SKO is celebrating the accomplishments of the past year and recognizing exceptional performance. In light of the turbulent times many businesses have experienced this year, this portion is even more essential to boost morale. Dedicate a little extra time to calling out the positive impacts of various revenue-facing teams on the organization, and acknowledge their contributions and achievements. If there’s ever a year for generous praise and accolades, it’s this one.

“This year, we put a little bit more emphasis on taking time to celebrate the wins across all of the different teams,” said Jamin Fochtman, head of sales enablement at Addepar. “That came out of some soul searching, where we were looking back and noticing folks didn’t necessarily know what other teams were doing when it came to our AEs, BDRs, AMs all working really hard but not necessarily knowing what each team was doing and the big wins that they were having.”

Create connection between leadership and attendees through transparency

A big benefit of traditional SKOs is getting high-level leadership in front of reps and revenue teams who may not get that face-time normally. In order to make the most out of this remotely, leadership should take the opportunity to be vulnerable and authentic so as to create meaningful connections with attendees. This authenticity can manifest in addressing their own personal challenges of transitioning to new work environments and business norms, or a brief acknowledgement of how various political or social events can take their toll.

“If you can’t address what’s real and what’s happening, I think you instantly will lose an audience and lose that connection,” said Dotson. “In our keynotes, in our product main stage sessions, [and] in even some of the more fun and casual sessions that we created, we urged people to just be real.”

Propel learning and engagement with gamification

It is difficult for virtual conferences and events to mirror the energy and high-spiritedness of in-person versions. To combat this, incorporate games as frequently as possible, either to keep things fun and light-hearted or to drive retention of new information. One method is to have quiz questions pop up during and after sessions, and allow attendees to rack up points throughout the SKO. Invest in a worthy grand prize that can be awarded to the employee with the most points at the end of the event.

Flip the classroom with dynamic approaches to sessions

As those within the business or academic world have learned this year, many conventional assumptions about teaching and learning are no longer applicable in the online world. For Q&As or live discussions, consider having attendees watch pre-recorded panels on their own time so that they arrive ready to participate in an interactive conversation or activity.

For information-rich SKO sessions or panels, be cognizant of factors such as overall duration and the number of presentation slides. Consider putting a cap on session times to avoid burnout — hour-long panels may not be feasible for this year’s event — and be sure to incorporate plenty of breaks throughout.

“In order to keep [reps] engaged, breaking things up into much shorter bite-sized chunks made a material difference for us,” said Fochtman. “One team came to the table with almost thirty-five slides, [so] we set a five slide maximum. If you’re doing a presentation, five slides max.”

Use this opportunity to collect as much data as possible

One of the key benefits of doing everything online is the ability to accumulate information that would otherwise be unavailable in-person. Sales enablement can gain real-time insights into the sessions that most people are interested in based on attendance, and which ones reps are most engaged in based on poll or quiz participation throughout. After sessions are finished, offer very brief one or two question polls that allow them to rank the quality of the respective session. When researching which platform to use for your SKO, pay close attention to features like poll and survey integration that make it easy to deliver and collect these insights for future use.

After: The Reinforcement Phase

In an ideal sales training initiative, learning isn’t a one-time event — continuous training is often required to affect behavior change and ultimately drive growth. Similarly, the SKO doesn’t stop at the culmination of the conference. In order to get the maximum ROI, concepts should be reinforced throughout the year to keep momentum going.

Offer a takeaway template

Immediately following the end of the event, send all reps a template or form that they can fill out which prompts them to reflect on the three most prominent takeaways of the SKO. This template should also include a section for them to describe how they plan to apply those takeaways throughout the year. To take it a step further, coaches can use these templates to help guide their sessions, and assist in developing a roadmap for long-term application.

Use surveys to get feedback

Once the SKO is over, send out anonymous surveys that attendees are highly encouraged to fill out regarding their assessment of the event. Be specific in the questions asked to receive meaningful feedback. Then, next year, make it a point to address and reference the feedback to demonstrate to reps that enablement cares about their experience. Some examples of questions can include:

  • Was the SKO valuable?
  • What was the messaging you left with?
  • Do you feel more confident in your role as a result?
  • How do you feel after leaving the event?

Have a plan for the rest of the year

The objectives and goals that were defined in the planning phase and fortified throughout the event should underpin reinforcement messaging post-event. For SKO sessions that guided attendees through new offerings, competencies, or processes, have a plan in place for managers to follow-up with reps during one-on-one coaching sessions. For a lighter lift, ensure that any taglines promoted throughout the event that embodied important values are continuously mentioned in emails and communication channels.

Although a virtual SKO naturally has its own set of challenges, there are plenty of benefits to be gleaned from the experience. With a positive attitude, growth mindset, and creative focus, the virtual sales kickoff is an opportunity to showcase how far the sales enablement is willing to go to educate, celebrate, and inspire revenue-facing teams as they embark on the new year.

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