October 15, 2020
By John Hunter

Sales Kickoffs (SKOs) are a key annual program for sales teams at most organizations. They are built to motivate, inspire, and educate the sales force, and create a rallying point to drive common goals. Sales leaders use their SKO to drive annual messages and look for these events to increase sales employee retention and drive quota attainment. And with planners typically responsible for organizing 86% of internal events, they are a true team effort. As if executing these critical internal meetings wasn’t stressful enough, in our current climate, the need to hold successful virtual (and hybrid) SKOs is fast becoming a reality.

This networking-heavy, highly motivational program is just too important to dismiss, but with many travel restrictions in place and offices around the world still closed, an alternative to in-person internal meetings is necessary. Going virtual could be the right answer for your organization. In this post, we’ll show you how planning a successful virtual internal event requires many of the same tried-and-true skills for in-person events, with some notable differences you’ll need to keep in mind.

In this blog post, we’ll cover:  

  • The Importance of Internal Events  
  • Virtual SKO Challenges  
  • Virtual SKO Solutions 
  • Tips for Hybrid SKOs

The Importance of Internal Events  

Internal events are part of an organization’s overall events program, but because their primary goal isn’t about getting leads and increasing sales pipeline, they aren’t always seen as “high value.” When it comes to Sales Kickoffs (SKOs) in particular, this couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, what’s more important than ensuring that employees are engaged, motivated, and energized? Employees are the lifeblood of an organization, and when employees feel valued and inspired, they work harder and stay longer. Engagement determines whether employees will stay for twenty years or if they’ll turn in a letter of resignation.  

The trouble is that internal events are often treated differently than external events because success isn’t all about dollars and cents. It’s about retention, engagement, and motivation. Whether these events take place in a virtual or face-to-face environment, companies must focus on creating programs that provide employees with recognition and feedback. When asked if internal events help retain employees, 64% of respondents replied with a resounding “yes” (EventMB). When you consider the time and resources it takes to onboard employees initially as well as, training your sales staff, investing in internal events may save you money in the long run. 

Top Reasons Organizations Host Internal Events (from a recent EventMB Report)  

  • Keeping employees engaged, motivated, and loyal  
  • Recognition and celebration events  
  • Workshops and breakout activities  
  • Set goals for the year  
  • Skills development

Virtual SKOs Challenges and Solutions  

Challenges 

Sales Kickoffs are an annual celebration to reward those who succeeded in the previous year and re-energize the organization as a whole. This event is an opportunity for inspirational speakers and company executives to motivate teams, educate employees on new products and campaigns, and rally sales departments around one goal. SKOs may include smaller-scale meetings with individual team projects and initiatives. Creating dynamic SKOs is an annual challenge for sales executives and event planners. Because their importance is immeasurable, the pressure is on to deliver year after year.  

What that often leads to are the most high-energy internal events your employees are likely to attend. Replicating that kind of experience digitally may seem daunting, but it can be done...to an extent. While you may not be able to re-create the electricity of being in-person, an engaging, dynamic virtual experience is attainable. Pivoting your SKO to virtual can create some unique challenges, but with the right game plan and technology in place, you can create an atmosphere online worthy of your in-person SKO.  

To begin, you need to accomplish the following in a virtual or hybrid event experience:

  1. Showcase a consistent, fully branded experience, from your event website and registration process to your virtual event experience and native mobile app.
  2. Deliver enterprise-class live or pre-recorded video to support different session formats and appointments.
  3. Have one source of truth for virtual, hybrid, and in-person event data for a unified, up-to-date view of your program.

Beyond that, you can take comfort in knowing that your key players and success metrics will be the same.  

Stakeholders  

  • Sales Department   
  • C-Suite  
  • Meeting Planner 

Measuring Success (Key Metrics) 

  • Awareness of sales goals  
  • Engagement during the meeting  
  • Employee satisfaction  

And while hosting a virtual event requires the same care and attention as an in-person event—you need to effectively promote the event, engage your attendees, create memorable moments for attendees, and prove event success—there are some key differentiators. What’s missing from your usual task list? Going full virtual means no need for venue sourcing, attendees on-site, and F&B. If you choose to go with a hybrid event, that’s a different story, and we have some tips for that below. 

Even more than usual in-person experiences, successful virtual SKOs will rely on technology. Heavily. Attendance wouldn’t be possible without the use of computers and mobile devices. But there’s more to virtual event technology than video conferencing tools. Just like an in-person event, virtual events benefit from the use of an entire event technology platform that helps you promote, execute, and manage your event. Below are the most important pieces of event tech to use when executing your virtual SKO. 

Technology Recommendations  

  • Meeting Notifications and Spend Approvals  
  • eMarketing  
  • Event Registration  
  • Event Feedback 
  • Mobile Event Apps  
  • Budgeting  
  • Data Security and Compliance  
  • Reporting and Analytics 

Solutions 

Virtual events rely on technology. Attendance wouldn’t be possible without the use of computers and mobile devices. What used to be engagement killers at in-person events (“laptops down please,” and “please mute your phone,” for example) are now the cornerstones of your virtual SKO.  

Virtual event technology can enable you to:

  • Have everything you need to keep your entire sales team connected and engaged with your program, no matter where they join you from
  • Give attendees easy access to key details, live and upcoming sessions, surveys, and more with a dynamic home screen
  • Utilize a native mobile event app to engage your sales team on any screen
  • Holding live session Q&A keeps sessions interactive and engaging
  • Use embedded video appointments tools to create connections between your employees
  • Hold virtual roundtable discussions to let your sales teams connect and network with one another
  • Allow employees to catch up on sessions they missed live with on-demand videos

Let’s dig a little deeper into the most important pieces of event technology to use when executing your virtual SKO. 

Budgeting Tools 

No F&B? Check. No venue sourcing? Check. No travel or room blocks? Great! The reality is, a few of the traditional costs associated with SKOs are no longer a concern—but there’s a caveat. The budget essentially flips, meaning you’ll be more reliant on technology than ever before to create an SKO that will invigorate your sales teams and set the table for success in the coming year. Because virtual vs. in-person isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, prepare for event costs you’re unaccustomed to.

Virtual Event Technology 

The most important key to success for your virtual SKO. It’s no secret that you’ll be relying heavily on video and online presentations, keynotes, and other means to bring your virtual event to life. Find a reliable all-in-one platform that includes everything you need. One that allows sales staff to easily browse and select sessions, and embedded video player delivers high quality live, “simulive,” or recorded content, one that enables and encourages interaction with live, moderated Q&A, and one to help viewers connect one-on-one, or scales through collaborative sessions with hundreds of people.    

Dynamic Event Website 

You should create an SKO  event website, and use it for event promotion and important program updates and details. It serves the same purpose, regardless of whether the event is virtual or in-person—but carries more importance for sales staff as the majority of your employees may be working remotely. Your event website is your key promotional tool to create hype and excitement. Your event website should communicate the value of your virtual event, contain the event schedule, showcase speakers, include FAQs, and point potential attendees to registration. 

Event Registration 

Registration  is your first tool for data collection. Registration tools allow your staff to register, submit preferences, and add personal information. A robust online registration tool allows your internal attendees to register easily for both mandatory and elective sessions, and provides planners and sales executives the data they need to plan a great SKO, ensure staff are signing-up for required sessions, and measure overall event success. 

Email Campaigns 

In our current climate, electronic communication has become indispensable. With little or no chance for buzz in the hallways and motivating signage in high-traffic areas, email marketing can drive interest and help hype-up the SKO by keeping attendees informed before the event. Email is the best way to communicate with attendees at all stages of the event. Use an email marketing tool that can deliver branded, personalized emails, automate when emails are sent and to whom, and provide open rates and click-through metrics. 

Mobile Event App 

Another key piece of event technology for virtual events, the  mobile event app can be an engagement driver during your virtual SKO. You may find this surprising, but mobile event apps can be as critical to virtual events as they are to in-person ones. Mobile devices and web browsers are the main information hubs for attendees. Agendas with links to sessions puts content at attendee’s fingertips. This is where attendees pick and choose what breakout sessions to add to their agenda and where planners gather data on session popularity and attendee engagement. These tools also connect attendees and provide messaging tools that allow attendees to network and foster connections virtually. 

Event Feedback 

Event feedback is crucial for virtual events when planners don’t have the ability to gauge reactions by the expressions or verbal feedback given by attendees onsite. Use event feedback tools to collect feedback using post-event surveys that can then be used to prove event success. Additionally, event feedback can be used as a tool to measure the popularity of breakout sessions, guest speakers, program content, and more.  

Data Collection and Security 

Data you glean from your virtual SKO will help set you up for success when the time comes for the next one, whether that’s virtual, hybrid, or in-person. Monitor attendees’ clicks and views during the event, get session attendance tracking, and keep track of engagement scores for your sales team. Also, when vetting providers, make sure that they provide the highest levels of security compliance 

Here are the key types of data that should be captured during your virtual SKO, Integrate your virtual event data with other key business systems, like your Learning Management system:

  • Session and web analytics to understand employee behavior and satisfaction
  • Engagement scoring metrics to give your internal teams a simple, actionable view of employee activity
  • Web analytics to see what content within your virtual event is being engaged with most
  • Session tracking data track to ensure employee attendance and compliance

Tips for Hybrid SKOs

For many reasons, there may be the need or opportunity to create a hybrid event when planning your SKO. This makes things a little more complex, but again, the same principles apply with the added measure of safety. And even though this is an “internal” event, attendees will expect an environment with social distancing and health protocols in place, so it will be more important than ever to plan internal events or find the perfect venues that can deliver safe event experiences.

  • Find the right venue that fits your needs, with access to critical health and safety information
  • Design event spaces and room layouts remotely to accommodate social distancing guidelines
  • Offer touchless event check-in and name badge printing onsite
  • Use contactless session scanning to manage room capacity  

Conclusion  

The realities of the global pandemic mean that many a company’s sacred annual internal event – the Sales kickoff, will be different in the near future. Persisting transmission concerns, restricted travel, and reduced budgets will force companies to hold these events virtually. Sales leaders will be challenged to re-create the same “pomp and circumstance” used to rally, educate, and connect their sales teams in a virtual format.  

As one of your most important events each year, your SKO is pivotal in setting your sales force up for success. Even though it’s internal and doesn’t generate leads or drive direct revenue like other events, it needs to be highly engaging and educational. Your sales team should walk away feeling motivated and inspired.

The bright side is how quickly the meetings and events industry has pivoted to a “virtual first” mentality, making the tools you need to create a thrilling one-of-a-kind SKO readily available. Your SKO can thrive in the digital world, and you’ll be able to create virtual event experiences that deliver your messages, engage employees, and drive quota attainment, paying dividends for months to come.  

For an in-depth look at virtual events, download our new eBook: Virtual Event Strategy and Execution: A Practitioner’s Guide.

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John Hunter

John is the Manager of Event Cloud Content Marketing at Cvent. He has extensive copywriting experience across a diverse set of industries, including broadcast television, retail advertising, associations, higher education, and corporate PR.

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