November 09, 2022
By Cvent

Let’s face it: the pandemic caused upheaval for every organisation – especially for their sales teams. The last two years have redefined what it means to be successful in sales and how to achieve that success. As teams return to the office, annual sales kickoff (SKO) events will be critical in ensuring that teams are well-prepared to face 2023 and beyond.

What Is a Sales Kickoff?

Internal events make up a huge percentage of your total meetings and events. Sales kickoff (SKO) is one of your internal marquee events. It’s the event where sales leaders talk about upcoming strategy, motivate their teams, celebrate recent successes, reward teams for jobs well done, and create alignment on annual goals.

Here are a few stats about the importance of internal events, according to EventMB’s The Business of Internal Events:

  • 90% of event planners say they plan both internal and external events for their organisations
  • 64% of respondents say internal events are vital for employee retention
  • 55% of respondents say managing internal events is more difficult than managing external events

Sales Kickoff Goals for 2023

When we think about the last three years of sales kickoffs, here’s how they roughly span out:

  • 2020: the “normal” SKO, whether it was in-person or virtual
  • 2021 - 2022: leaning into the “virtual” SKO with COVID-19 regulations going strong globally
  • 2023: planning for return to “in-person” or “hybrid” SKOs as teams begin returning to office

As more and more organisations return to working in-person, it’s not enough to take your virtual sales kickoff agenda and move it offline, or dust off your 2019 or early 2020 in-person playbook and think it will work in 2023.

We’re in a new environment and need to adapt our sales kickoff programmes to achieve the same results.

Here are a few goals that might be relevant to your sales teams in the upcoming year:

  • Creating an engaged community: For so many sales team members, this will be the first time they will meet each other in person. So, creating an engaged community of sales reps is more important than ever. Your SKO should inspire them toward the common goal and make them feel part of the team.
  • Boost morale and productivity: This is important for SKO planners because your ultimate goal is improving your business sales. By delivering a top-notch internal event, you’re hopefully making a positive impact on your company’s topline revenue.
  • Seamless planner execution: Virtual, hybrid or in-person – no matter the event format, ensuring your SKO runs smoothly is the top goal.
  • Safer return to in-person connections: While we’ve all made a return to in-person, health and safety are still important concerns. Use the right tools to ensure contactless event check-in and badge printing at your SKO. Also ensure your tool manages session capacity and tracks attendance with unobtrusive RFID tracking.

Challenges in the Way

Event planners are used to handling challenges and dealing with uncertainty. But the current climate seems to be relentless. Clearly, there’s a lot standing in the way of achieving the above goals, including:

  • Budget realities: With increased inflation, there’s a rise in operational costs – although event budgets remain the same. Travel costs are also rising, not just due to inflation, but because of the global nature of today’s workforce.
  • Distributed workforce: For most organisations, the majority of employees were stationed at a physical office in 2019. In 2023, most workers could be remotely located across the world. That’s a huge impact not only on budgets but on how you plan for your sales kickoff.
  • Continued uncertainty: Although organisations are feeling fairly confident about the return to in-person, there are always unplanned uncertainties like wars, recessions, and pandemics. So, there’s always some level of uncertainty that we must plan for when we think about a sales kickoff in 2023.

6 Essentials for a Successful Sales Kickoff in 2023

Here are six essential factors organisations must think about when hosting a successful SKO in 2023:

1. Market and Communication: Usually, we look amarketing and communications through the lens of an external event and for generating engagement. But this is just as important for your internal events like your sales kickoff. Your teams don’t just need to know when and where the SKO is; they should know the agenda and what they should expect out of it. Create a personalised experience for your sales reps and make them feel that their personal success is a priority for your organisation.

2. Venue: It’s important to be in sync with your venues and where they stand today in terms of returning to in-person events. They’re important, as they set the tone for the event and require vital technology components to ensure a successful in-person or hybrid event. Ensure that you partner with venues that follow health and safety guidelines relevant today and don’t miss out on the A/V requirements. Due to staffing shortages, you may also need to reach out to newer venues via RFPs.

3. Content: Even after disruption from the pandemic, content is still king. And ensuring that content is delivered meaningfully is even more important for hybrid audiences. Depending on the event format and goals, planners need to consider different digital content strategies to keep audiences engaged throughout the event. These can vary from skills-focused trainings and panel discussions to live Q&A, break out working sessions, and content recaps. This should also extend to personalised home screens, session recommendations, and personal schedules.

Here are 6 content ideas to make your teams feel motivated and invested in their goals:

  1. Showcase recent success stories
  2. Present best practices of top performers 
  3. Ensure inclusive networking areas 
  4. Awards ceremonies for the win!
  5. Plan an internal talent showcase or fun skits
  6. Get external speakers or customer panels

4. Community: Building a sense of belonging and community is one of the strongest pillars of a successful SKO. Ensure that your sales kickoff promotes a culture where your sales team feels connected and motivated to sell your products for the upcoming year. Even if they’re attending virtually, ensure an interactive, broadcast-quality virtual component to present a synergised hybrid event.

5. Suppliers and Partners: While this might not apply to every sales kickoff, a number of internal events include suppliers, resellers, and partners, where SKO is the major event of the year to drive awareness around partner programmes. This also helps sales reps collaborate with various partners to achieve their quotas for the year. So, don’t overlook your suppliers and partners while planning your SKO. Educate and drive awareness across different partner programmes.

6. Insights: At a sales kickoff, you may not be looking for the same ROI as an external event, but don’t forget to set clear goals for what you want to get out of the SKO. If your SKO is hybrid, combine the in-person and virtual audience insights to achieve full ROI. It’ll help your sales leadership dive deeper into team strength and improvement areas and improve overall efficiency.

The Bottom Line: Be Prepared for Everything

Having the right event technology can help you plan a successful sales kickoff, from pre-event strategy to day-of execution and data insights.

Although your SKO is an internal event, don’t forget to drive curiosity and excitement, from creative invitations to announcing the theme of the year! Curate the registration process to drive people to provide relevant information based on their roles in the organisation. You can similarly curate webpage visibility and registration paths, and even pre-populate personal info.

At the end of the day, it’s all about contingency planning. While you might be planning for an in-person event, be prepared to switch gears to virtual if things go haywire. Make sure you partner with the right event tech provider, A/V partner, venue, and community that can help you plan for an in-person or hybrid experience with virtual elements to extend engagement. This will also allow you to pivot and steer toward more in-person or more virtual experiences as needs arise.

To learn more about how to create internal events that improve employee engagement and retention, check out our Ultimate Guide to Internal Events.

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Cvent is a leading meetings, events, and hospitality technology provider with more than 4,500 employees and nearly 21,000 customers worldwide.

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