How to Plan a Virtual SKO that Educates, Motivates, and Entertains

November and December are always frantic times for sales leaders, as they are focused on closing out the current year while simultaneously preparing for the upcoming year. There are a hundred things to consider, from redesigning compensation plans to setting quotas, and capacity planning. And then there is the daunting challenge of hosting the sales kickoff (SKO). Each year, sales leaders develop multi-day, in-person events to train and update their sales teams on new techniques, processes, and tools, celebrate the successes of the past year, and energize the team for the year to come. With increasingly distributed teams, lingering concerns about the pandemic, and constrained budgets, more teams may be considering hosting sales kickoffs virtually.


Key Insights

  • With increasingly distributed teams, lingering pandemic concerns, and tighter budgets, teams are considering hosting virtual team events, including sales kickoffs (SKOs).
  • Planning a virtual SKO requires different planning and presentation than simply hosting your normal SKO over video conferencing.
  • Virtual SKOs can offer unexpected benefits from physical events, including opening the SKO to the entire company and offering guest speakers who may have previously been out of budget.

Making a sales kickoff virtual isn’t just doing last year’s event over video; it’s fundamentally different in both planning and presentation. And if you plan ahead and follow these tips, it can be even better than those in-person events. One of the biggest opportunities is the ability to extend the SKO into a full company kick-off. For a minimal additional cost and effort, everyone in the firm can hear the vision of the CEO and sales leaders, get insight into the sales strategy, and most importantly, understand precisely their role in helping sales achieve its goals. Another key benefit of the virtual event is the flexibility it offers when booking guest speakers: By avoiding the logistics of flying guest speakers to events, you can engage someone from anywhere in the world, or even engage someone previously outside of your budget range.

Virtual SKOs require a different approach than in-person events

To help you plan a successful virtual sales kickoff, here are 5 key considerations and a few useful tips from our portfolio and from Jacco van der Kooij, Managing Director of Winning by Design.

Drive impactful engagement

It’s easy to multitask during a virtual event, so you have to create something that is compelling and holds the audience’s attention.

  • Hype it up by leveraging short-burst videos to create breaks in the presentations and mix in music to change the mood.
  • Keep the sessions short and succinct — approximately 45 minutes.
  • Spread the sessions over a few days with no more than a 4-hour session block, rather than holding an 8-hour-long marathon event.
  • Leverage music, video, and interactive presentation tools to shake things up.

Plan and practice

We’ve all had those moments where the video platform doesn’t work right, or a presenter forgets that they’re on mute. In a normal meeting, it’s mildly annoying; in an SKO with 100+ people on the call, it’s disastrous.

  • Double the amount of time needed to create the event.
  • Test your technology with each speaker, and always have a backup plan.
  • Practice the transitions to create smooth and natural handoffs.
  • Record sessions in advance, and stick to the timing.
  • Have one dedicated moderator and one dedicated tech support person.

Teach them something new

This is true even in physical events, and in a virtual one, you can’t keep your audience captive.

  • Use breakout rooms to engage smaller groups.
  • Assign pre-work for attendees.
  • Train the trainers in advance. Make certain that they can drive impactful sessions.
  • Ask your reps in advance for feedback on what they want to hear or learn about. Also, at the end of a segment, ask one member of the audience to summarize their key takeaways. Then have them select the next person to do the same.

Let them catch up with their peers

One of the best parts of SKOs is being able to share best practices and war stories with peers. Make your virtual event memorable by giving them this capability when they weren’t expecting it.

  • Plan specific times for catch-up sessions.
  • Create coffee chats or happy hours with random assignments of attendees to breakout rooms.
  • Create “wedding table” assignments for breakout rooms to ensure teams socialize.

Keep it going after the event

Because a virtual event costs a fraction of a physical event, you can hold follow-on events throughout the year.

  • Create a reinforcement program to drive home key learnings from the SKO.
  • Host a mid-year event. Things change rapidly; a mid-year meeting allows you to course-correct.
  • Use Slack channels or Teams chats to collect ideas live during the sessions and to communicate with the attendees throughout the year.

The shift from physical events to virtual may seem daunting, but if you keep the above considerations in mind, you will create a game-changing event. Take advantage of technology and the reduced cost to expand the reach of your event and energize the whole organization, not just sales. But most importantly, remember that during your event, you should always aim to educate, motivate, and entertain.

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