Growing and Scaling Your Sales Kickoff Strategy with Morningstar

Sales Kickoff planning with Morningstar 2 ladies in a frame
Listen to this podcast via your favorite podcast player

Episode description

What are you doing to improve the effectiveness of your SKO event planning?

In this episode of Great Events, join host Alyssa Peltier as she dives into a discussion with Caroline DeCamp and Becca Martinson from Morningstar. They share their insights and experiences in planning and executing Sales Kickoffs (SKOs) and other large-scale events. 

The conversation covers various aspects of SKO planning, including challenges related to attendance, scaling content regionally, engaging stakeholders, measuring event success, and planning for the future. 

Whether you aim to make your events more inclusive, leverage AI for content creation, or effectively measure their impact, this conversation offers the guidance you need. 

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Implement strategies to accommodate demand to manage scope creep in event attendance effectively. It is essential to maintain exclusivity and relevance throughout the process
  • To enhance inclusivity in event experiences, implement closed captions and quiet areas for attendees
  • To streamline event planning processes, improve efficiency, and facilitate data-driven decision-making, implement AI

Things to listen for:

00:00 Morningstar’s SKO plans

05:12 Sales kickoffs restructured to a regional focus = growth

07:34 Piloted content scaling 

12:26 Approach sales kickoff as a full-fledged project

15:32 Executive buy-in facilitates easier, more effective decision-making

17:59 Methodology to prove ROI.

22:11 Experimentation phase, creativity blossoming, & opportunity to grow

23:51 Leveraging opportunities for executive engagement in events

Meet your host

 Alyssa Peltier, Director, Market Strategy & Insights at Cvent Consulting

Meet your guest host

Caroline DeCamp, Senior Director of Experiential Marketing at Morningstar, Inc.

Becca Martinson, Event Producer & Project Manager at Morningstar, Inc.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Becca Martinson: ... and a particular challenge we've had with this event is scope creep of attendance. The audience, now that the event is proven to be fun and successful and have really rich content, the people that want to attend, even if it's outside of their normal role, it's too much, the demand's too much. So, it's growing.

[00:00:21] Alyssa Peltier: Great events create great brands, but pulling off an event that engages, excites, and connects audiences, well, that takes a village, and we're that village. My name is Alyssa.

[00:00:34] Hosts: I’m Paulina. I'm Rachel. And I'm Felicia.

[00:00:36] Alyssa Peltier: And you are listening to Great Events, the podcast for all event enthusiasts, creators, and innovators in the world of events and marketing.

Hello, everyone. What has been going on in this wide, wide world of events? My name is Alyssa and I am this week's host for today's episode. Now, Q1 for many organization marks the sales kickoff season. We call them SKO for short. So, we at Cvent host an SKO of sorts alongside many of our customers, one of which is joining us today to talk about this very topic.

But as we wrap up this kind of event type for the year and this season of SKOs, we felt that it was really important to talk with one of our long-valued customers about their process and what goes into the SKO plan, the strategy, the goals, and also the re-engineering of this experience, as they can be a little bit cookie cutter year-over-year for many organizations.

And so, today, I am welcomed by two amazing meetings and events professionals from Morningstar to talk with me about their own SKO plans, their strategies, their goals, and the changes that they've experienced over time, to see how they are doing things over at Morningstar. So, with that, I have the pleasure of introducing Caroline DeCamp and Becca Martinson to the Great Events podcast. Welcome.

[00:02:02] Becca Martinson: Hi. Thanks for having us. 

[00:02:04] Alyssa Peltier: Yeah. So, Caroline, I'm going to start with you. Would love to get just a little background about yourself, your role, and a little bit of background around the events program that you manage at Morningstar.


[00:02:15] Caroline DeCamp: I have been in the events industry for more than 20 years, so a long time. I've been at Morningstar for 13 of those years, and prior to that, I spent a little time on the hospitality side of the business. Since I've been at Morningstar, we have changed events in many, many ways and currently we have a team of nine that oversees our Morningstar Investment Conference along with our sales kickoff and another leadership strategy event.

[00:02:44] Alyssa Peltier: Nice. How many events per year? Did you say that already? Did I miss the number? Roughly?

[00:02:48] Caroline DeCamp: So, roughly 10 events across our team.

[00:02:52] Alyssa Peltier: Awesome. Becca, how about yourself? 

[00:02:54] Becca Martinson: I'm a senior event manager at Morningstar. I've had the pleasure of working here for about a year. But prior to that, my about decade of event experience is in the nonprofit sector. So, I really love working collaboratively with stakeholders and attendees to create meaningful experiences and learn that in that space. And then my personal and academic background is in the arts. So, I love bringing creative and unique experiences to events as well.

[00:03:23] Alyssa Peltier: I love that. We have that in common. I have a BFA as well, Becca. Former life as a graphic designer, so I like to always plug that one again.

[00:03:31] Becca Martinson: Yeah. And so, I oversee our global SKO or sales kickoff event series. My primary focus is on North America as it's our largest, but I ensure that there's continuity across our global regions with two other events, one in the Asia, Pacific Island region and one in EMEA, the European Union.

[00:03:52] Alyssa Peltier: Oh, nice. I can't wait to dig into that in just a little second here.

Caroline, I do have a question just related to Morningstar at large. For those that are unfamiliar with your brand, who may not be in the financial services sector or the investment banking sector, who is Morningstar? What do you all do?

[00:04:08] Caroline DeCamp: Morningstar is actually about to have its 40th anniversary this year. We're super excited. Morningstar is a provider of investment insights and we do that through our software, through our data, we serve independent investors, we serve asset managers, and we serve advisors, and we do that in 32 countries.

[00:04:35] Alyssa Peltier: Truly a global functioning organization, which Becca you just alluded to, we could talk about in your SKO plan, which is a perfect transition. Let's really dig deep into this SKO plan, strategy. So, Caroline, I'll throw this one back to you too as just the overseer, the manager of this entire meetings and events team here. What do your goals look like for your SKOs? And also, how have those changed over time since you have been at Morningstar? I missed the general number. Did you say 16 years?


[00:05:03] Caroline DeCamp: 13.

[00:05:05] Alyssa Peltier: 13 years, okay. I'm getting my sixes and the zeros confused here. 13 years. What do those goals look like now and how have they changed over time?

[00:05:12] Caroline DeCamp: So, now we are more regionally focused with the SKOs, right? So, we have the one in the US, EMEA and APAC. Earlier on, and this is going back many years, but we brought everybody together in one sales kickoff from across the globe. Funny enough, it's about the size now in the US that it was globally back in 2014. It's grown a whole lot and I would say that the core focus of SKOs has not really changed. It's been a forum to really motivate sales to get them excited for the year, to connect people together so that they're having those conversations that they need to have.

Where I think it's gotten a little bit more bespoke for the individuals attending is really in the content of business units and more specific, regionally. So, we did decide to, ultimately after 2014, we actually paused on SKOs for a while. So, we didn't have any. We got a new CRO and we decided to take baby steps back into SKOs again, where we started with one SKO that was quite small, it fit in our auditorium, which is like 200 people, and then begin to rebuild from there. And that's when this pivot happened in terms of content and really starting to think about how different groups would plug into sales kickoff and what would be most beneficial for them.

[00:06:39] Alyssa Peltier: I love that. Was there an inflection point that got you to that? What was going on that said, "Hey, we need to press pause on this."?

[00:06:46] Caroline DeCamp: Sure. Again, there was folks coming from around the world and the feedback surveys would tell us, "The content isn't speaking to us personally." It was too broad for all of the different various areas and also role types that attend. Right? And so, we were having a hard time finding content that could give everybody that personalization that they wanted, but that we could do that in a big forum. And so, it was a pause, step back, relaunch and then now we really take a lot of time to focus on those.

[00:07:19] Alyssa Peltier: In terms of roadmapping those, do they happen the same time? Are they overlapping, so that there is a shared experience at all? Or, is it more of a overtime, you have your North America one first or your EMEA one first, or APAC? Is that how they're scheduled?

[00:07:34] Becca Martinson: This past year, we really piloted what it would look like to scale content and how we can prioritize keeping a strategic vision, having a continuous vision for the entire sales kickoff series while keeping them regionally specific and making sure that it's valuable for team members.

So, we start with our largest event. North America is our flagship, it's where our headquarters is, and so we build content there, host it first. And are simultaneously planning our European and Asian sales kickoffs, but are taking into consideration feedback along the way, so we can adapt those when it comes time to host them.

[00:08:15] Alyssa Peltier: What's that timetable in between? I'm asking this really because it sounds very similar to how Cvent executes its own SKOs. We have two major regions. We do our North America sales team. We also bring in our European sales team for that. So, those two markets are collapsed, but we have a very sizable operation, I think we've talked about it many times on this podcast for our listeners, out of India.

So, we have our whole executive team flies over and select other members of our organization to help with the APAC, but also that team does support North America activities as well. But it's really interesting, that's about a month apart. So, from a content scalability and tactical execution from the meetings and events, they have about a four-week turnaround time to take that content. And of course, there are elements that are hyper-personalized for that market as well. But I'm curious on that timetable for you as well, Becca, how long do you have to flip your events and then scale them into new markets?

[00:09:09] Becca Martinson: This past year we hosted them back to back. So, we hosted one in North America on a Wednesday and then the following Monday, hosted our one in London, and then about a month later we're hosting one in Singapore.

This upcoming year, we realized that that timeline's quite tight to make changes. I don't think it's necessarily ideal. But the strategy is so important to roll out early in Q1, that we're going to replicate it in 2025. So, we're hosting them at about a week to two weeks apart from each other moving forward.

[00:09:47] Alyssa Peltier: That's awesome. Okay. Let's talk about some of those challenges. So, this started as an event that was specific to North American SKO. Were there any unique challenges in these new markets as you were thinking about bringing these on in London and your APAC market, that were unique, that were dissimilar to the North American SKO experience?

[00:10:06] Becca Martinson: Yeah, there were challenges. I think the challenges were just getting buy-in from sales leadership in each of those regions and making sure that they're as involved in the planning process. Luckily, we were able to champion that and I think without that we would've run into many other challenges. They're the expert matters in the content that we're delivering, and content is key at this event, as it is so many others, and so you really need them to participate and be bought in.

[00:10:33] Alyssa Peltier: Might go off script here a little bit because I know this wasn't one of the questions we have, but do you have any best practices for engaging those stakeholders from a department that is not in marketing or seated where meeting an event strategy is core?

[00:10:49] Becca Martinson: I think, laying out milestones in advance and explaining the why behind when those milestones are happening was key to our success this year. I think people who works outside of marketing and events don't understand that the timelines aren't as fluid and you need to have your program together by this date so you can order AV, and it's not a moving target. I think that's really different than the organization that they work in.

So, creating transparency and deadlines and milestones for planning, making sure that they're aligned with that. I don't know if that answered your question.

[00:11:21] Alyssa Peltier: Oh, for sure. That's critical. It's mission-critical. I think that level setting on expectations and timelines for deliverables, it's huge. Like I said, not to bring this event card up every single time, but we go through a very similar process. And timetables and execution is always the hardest piece of every event, especially working with outside groups that you're not working with day in and day out. Right? This really is just a one-off blip to their year. It's not their bread and butter.

[00:11:48] Becca Martinson: Yeah. I think our feedback and survey results have been such a powerful tool and advocating for the power of this event and the ROI in their organization as well, so they see the fruits of their labor come out in their survey response. So, the people that they're managing are saying they value this time. It's easy proof as to why we should be investing moving forward.

[00:12:09] Alyssa Peltier: I love that. That's great. Okay, so let's talk a little bit more about the planning process just at large for this global program of events that you're running.

Becca, I'll ask you that first since you are the lead event planner. But Caroline, I'd love to hear your perspective on that as well, just from a leadership and strategy perspective as well.

[00:12:26] Becca Martinson: This is a one-off sales event that looks different than day-to-day work for people in this organization or people who are living in the sales world. And so, I think approaching it like a full-fledged project is key to success. So, we're going to have a RACI, we're going to have milestones, we're going to have carved out check-ins, and we're going to manage this event like you would any other campaign or project.

So, that's how I approach planning our global sales kickoff. I try and create alignment amongst the teams so that we have different regions, we have some key leaders that sit on the leadership team for each event, right? Are making sure there's continuity, making sure our priorities are met in each region, even though they have different resources and people that are actually managing those events on the ground.

[00:13:15] Alyssa Peltier: How long does that timetable look like for you for this series?

[00:13:18] Becca Martinson: It's definitely changing. I think we started with maybe a six-month lead and now we're probably closer to eight months. So, it's starting to become a little bit more of a year-round endeavor. And of course, the early-on conversations are feedback collections, scoping out, resource allocation, and then we don't really get into the weeds of logistics and content planning, much closer to the event.

[00:13:41] Alyssa Peltier: And forgive me if we covered this in the beginning, but how large are each of those events, North America, London, and the APAC one?

[00:13:49] Becca Martinson: So, right now, in total it's about 850 people. It's divided up 550 in North America. EMEA is about 250. And then our APAC region's coming in at about 200 as well.

[00:14:04] Alyssa Peltier: Okay. Great. So, sizable. Sizable conference-type events. So, they would necessitate right around that 1,000 person mark is where you start to see a six to eight month makes sense, right? In terms of logistics, venue sourcing and all of that come into play from a space planning.

[00:14:20] Becca Martinson: And a particular challenge we have with this event is scope creep of attendance. The audience, now that the event is proven to be fun and successful and have really rich content, the people that want to attend, even if it's outside of their normal role, it's too much, the demand's too much. So, it's growing.

[00:14:41] Alyssa Peltier: Caroline, anything to add on that?

[00:14:42] Caroline DeCamp: No. Agreed a hundred percent on scope creep. It's a good and bad thing, right? To have to try and figure out who can and who can't attend when we have capacities and budgets and all of those things.

Becca talked about the leadership that's involved across the globe in these events and I think that one of the key pieces for us really is that our CRO is involved in all three of them and really drives the strategy and the theme, but then is also flexible in terms of when we take that strategy and we take that theme and we want to replicate it globally, we have to also be mindful of cultural differences, business differences, all of those types of things that change from area to area. And so, we work very closely with him and his team to adjust content accordingly.

[00:15:32] Alyssa Peltier: And that's huge. I mean, at that executive level, if you have that type of buy-in, I think the decisions across all of your stakeholders at the leader level become that much easier if you have that ally at that level, helping you to push decisions through or push back on decisions that ... I think, equally pushing things through, but also stopping things that need not apply or are going to be outside of scope or outside of budget. So, of course, that happens with every event, but our internal stakeholders can sometimes be worse than the external.

We've been dancing around it a little bit here, but talking about the ROI, the measurement of success of these SKOs, can you talk a little bit more granularly, both Becca and Caroline, I'm going to ask both of you this question, how you're measuring that in delivering that insight back to the business to say this is what's working, this is what's not working? I'll start with you, Becca.

[00:16:22] Becca Martinson: We do pre-event surveys of attendees to ensure that our content creation is aligned with priorities. And then we do an immediate post-event survey with an NPS that we measure year-over-year so that we can compare. Our survey questions don't change very much year-over-year, so we can compare as well.

And then we are lucky enough to partner with a sales enablement team because we're a large enough organization to have that resource. And so, they do quarterly, mid-year check-ins on the content that we delivered to see if people are tactically implementing what they learned at sales kickoff as well.

[00:17:01] Alyssa Peltier: And Caroline, anything to add to that?

[00:17:03] Caroline DeCamp: So, it is an ongoing process in terms of the survey results and then the feedback we're able to gather through sales enablement, but we also do collect as part of the survey, an NPS score, a net promoter score, essentially so we can just track on the whole how our events are doing year-over-year in terms of satisfaction of the attendees. So, there's the event side of it and then there's the education side of it. So, this bridges a little bit of both, but gives us that post-check.

[00:17:32] Alyssa Peltier: Has there been any discussion, and this is something that I've talked about internally with my consulting branch, of trying to tie actual revenue or sales to sales kickoff participation, tying that direct dollar amount to their engagement in the event experience? Has that been discussed at all at Morningstar? It feels like a very hard hill to climb, but one that might be interesting just in terms of return of engagement.

[00:17:59] Caroline DeCamp: That's really interesting and I'd love to hear from someone that tries to do that, I'd love to hear the methodology and how they're thinking about that, because definitely, in all of our events we're always looking for ways to better prove ROI, right? You can never have enough of it.

But I will say when I think about our SKOs, what I would see as a next step to what we're doing now, would be tracking some of the behaviors that we are teaching and encouraging at SKOs and success stories where those behaviors are proven. And if that number is going up and we're seeing more of those, I feel like that's real impact from SKOs.

[00:18:40] Alyssa Peltier: That's great. And it's certainly quantitative as well. Right? This behavior wasn't done, now this behavior is done. It's quantifiable, zero to one. Right? There's at least something that's measurable on that. Of course, we survey, we want anecdotal feedback, we want sentiment analysis, but we're always being challenged to bring even more quantitative results to our event experiences. And I think oftentimes in our internal events, we don't do a great job at that. We get the satisfaction scores, it felt good, or the sales rep says they feel good about it, but really how quantitative is that? Right? How solid of a number is that?

So, for a program that is CRO-led, I can imagine that these are types of conversations, if not happening today, might happen in the future within the event program.

[00:19:26] Becca Martinson: Yes. Something that I think is a priority for sales kickoff that isn't directly tied to sales metric is that team time. That's obviously hard to quantify, but something that we do measure is tenure at the company and people attending sales kickoff. Is it my first year? Have I been many years? And what am I learning? And I think that's an interesting metric to look at success. If somebody has been attending 10 sales kickoffs, they're staying at the company, they're maintaining their clients, they're growing their revenue base, that feels like success too.

[00:20:00] Alyssa Peltier: I think that's great. Yeah, certainly moving the needle forward in terms of data maturity, right? And thinking about how do we tell better stories and up-level the work that our meetings and events teams are doing?

Okay. So, let's think about the future and a little bit of the lessons learned. Right? I know we talked a little bit about we wish we'd staggered them a little bit farther, maybe not do the Wednesday to Monday footprint, but anything else in terms of, okay, it happened, it was great, or this was a failure, but we are going to pick ourselves back up and learn from it for next year's planning?

[00:20:31] Becca Martinson: Something we're thinking about as our event grows is how can we be more inclusive of diverse needs or diverse learners in our space? So, incorporating that into our content and event experience, that's a priority, for sure.

[00:20:44] Alyssa Peltier: Is there any ideation around what that might look like even?

[00:20:48] Becca Martinson: So, we're actually going through this with our conference right now. Some things that we're implementing, some strategies that we're implementing is closed captioning of our presentations. We're including spaces for neurodivergent individuals who maybe want some quiet areas, that's a priority, and maybe something we would incorporate into sales kickoff.

[00:21:10] Caroline DeCamp: Becca mentioned, we also are doing kits that have noise-canceling headphones. And we've done some research, we worked with another organization that does this for large-scale sporting events and concerts, and piggybacked off of what they're doing and are testing it out at our conference. So certainly, it's something we want to bring into our organization so that our own folks can enjoy our events the same as our external.

[00:21:35] Alyssa Peltier: That's great. Any discussion on AI? The biggest, buzziest topic there is right now.

[00:21:42] Becca Martinson: There is. That's a company priority for sure. I'm proud to say that this past year at sales kickoff, some of our content was initially created by AI. So, presenters put an idea into a chatbot and then brought it to fruition all the way through, or started their slides out that way. And so, it was cool to see it come to life in real-time. And then we also used it to create summary of our survey results.

[00:22:08] Alyssa Peltier: We see a lot of trial and error right now, right? We're in this experimentation phase. I know during the pivot years we were talking about how in these disruptive times there's a lot of creativity and I think we're going through another disruptive time in theory. It's a little different of a disruption. We have a little more time to react. But I'm seeing a lot of creativity blossoming and blooming on the meetings and events team. So, it'll be interesting to see where we are 18 months from now in terms of, okay, this is what's cool about it. This was the dumb kitschy stuff that we were doing, and here's where we really see opportunity at hand to grow our programs and maximize the technology.

Caroline, anything to add on that, or ideas for the future, things that are happening at Morningstar for just the general meetings and events program?

[00:22:55] Caroline DeCamp: Yeah. So, I guess, two parts and one is on AI. We certainly are enjoying testing it out for things like how can we do things more efficiently? We are very mindful as an organization of the governance around it and just being responsible users of AI. So, that's something that we always keep top of mind.

And then in terms of the looking forward for the events program, we have been so fortunate to be able to really have a hand in scaling the SKOs across the globe. And this event in particular, you have such great access to leaders that I feel it gives great exposure. So, Becca's had great exposure. Back when I did it, I had great exposure. And it just helps the whole team. It helps us in terms of getting that foothold and being able to expand the events we do as a company. People see the value in it, they see how much further we can push things and in the ROI that they bring. And so, looking forward to see our team continue to grow and thrive.

[00:23:51] Alyssa Peltier: Oh, I think that's such a good point because we do talk about just L&D opportunities across the meetings and event space. And candidly, a really hard area is getting that seat at the executive table, getting that ear, getting them to listen, fighting for resources, right? It's a constant budgetary struggle. So, leveraging these types of opportunities and not missing those types of opportunities to really rub elbows with your executive groups, with your stakeholders that are going to hold the purse strings for the rest of the year, I think is so, so smart of you, Caroline, as a leader, to be thinking about your teams in that way and to position them.

Becca, it's great that you're learning these types of strategies and tactics so you can pass these on to future leaders within your meetings and events team too. So really, really smart thinking how to leverage SKOs to maximize the broader meetings and events strategy and budgetary needs.

So, with that, I very much enjoyed this conversation, Becca and Caroline. Thank you so much for joining and thank you to Morningstar for allowing you to participate in the podcast. I think our listeners will definitely glean something from this conversation today, whether it's bringing your SKOs global, jockeying for stakeholder needs, or trying to measure your SKOs a little bit more effectively and efficiently than you may be doing today. With that, have a great rest of your week and thanks for joining us on the Great Events podcast.

Thanks for hanging out with us on Great Events, a podcast by Cvent.

[00:25:18] Hosts: If you've been enjoying our podcast, make sure to hit that subscribe button so you never miss an episode. And you can also help fellow event professionals and marketers just like you, discover great events by leaving us a rating on Apple, Spotify or your preferred podcast platform. Stay connected with us on all your socials for behind-the-scenes content, updates and some extra doses of inspiration. Got a burning question or an epic story to share? We want to hear from you. Find us on LinkedIn and send us a DM or drop us a note at greatevents@cvent.com. And a big thanks to our amazing listeners, our guest speakers, and the incredible team behind the scenes. Remember, every great event includes great people.

[00:25:47] Alyssa Peltier: And that's a wrap. Keep creating, keep innovating, and keep joining us as we redefine how to make events great.