-Critical Steps for Success
By Joe DiDonato
The days of annual sales kick-off events hosted in exotic locations are few and far between thanks to COVID-19. Sequestered at home behind a computer screen is the last place most sales executives wish to be. But today’s new reality has evolved into virtual experiences; the Virtual Sales Kick-Off (SKO).
There have been many studies conducted on the value of creating large scale events remotely. The most obvious are the savings in travel and time away from the office. Adding to those issues in this COVID-19 era, according to a survey by the Sales Management Association and other studies, over 80% of online conference attendees said they wouldn’t have gone to the conference if it was an in-person event.1 But there is some good news. By going to a virtual format, the cost of producing this event is considerably less than most average round-trip airfares.
How can you make the transition engaging and motivating? Here are some of the best practices our team at Baker Communications Inc. has discovered about creating a Virtual Sales Kick-Off (SKO). I have also provided some of the key checklist items to use to turn these topics into a more formal project management plan. A more complete checklist is downloadable complimentary at: https://bit.ly/2I1s3yM.
Although, I am discussing virtual sales kickoffs, many of these checklists can be applied to more simple virtual formats that your organizations might be considering.
THE ROLE OF THE SENIOR PLANNING COMMITTEE
There are twelve (12) key checklist items in the full checklist that range from themes and topics to be covered, to the virtual awards ceremony and engagement venues. Six of these key items include the following:
>>Alignment to Company Goals & Objectives
>>Invited Audience(s) – Sales, Marketing, SE’s, Sales Enablement, Vendors and Partners
>>Data-Driven Training Tracks vs. Generalized Training Tracks
>>Staffing – Prior, During, and After
>>Virtual Engagement Venues
- ALIGNMENT TO COMPANY CULTURE & GOALS
First and foremost, this event is about company culture and direction. What the company has accomplished, where it is going, and calling out the key people that have helped to shape that company culture are important topics for the attendees. This is where to begin the effort. You want to make sure that you are aligned to those company goals and objectives that are going to shape your year going forward. It could be new markets and products, or a complete revamping of the company’s approach because of its response to the pandemic. Examples are how Kodak has turned their facilities to the manufacture of drugs to fight the virus, or how GM and Ford switched out pickup trucks for breathing machines. This is the news that will shape the coming year.
Who will be invited to this virtual event? With travel cost no longer an issue, we are seeing the audience being extended to Marketing, Sales Enablement, Sales Engineers, Purchasing, and even vendors and partners. The audience will help you define the relevant topics and training, as well as the program.
When attendees were asked why they like attending these events, 80% said that they attend for education purposes. Knowing that education is going to be driving the success of these events, and that the audience might be more varied than usual, how best do we cover those needs?
- EDUCATION TRACKS
Fortunately, in the world of sales, we have excellent data when it comes to defining skill gaps and competencies. So, the logical question is why not let those gaps drive the educational topics?
This has become a best practice and where some of the more learner-centric companies are headed. Staffing this event is also a bit different. Here we have to “stack the deck” in our favor by providing speakers with people that can help them push out polls, introduce their topics, feed them questions from the audiences and respond to technical issues. We call these individuals ‘producers.’ Some take on a bigger role than others, depending on their skill set, but in all cases, they are the people that rehearse the speakers, ensure that their presentation deck conforms to the venue’s template, as well as a host of other duties. The second biggest reason that people attend these events is for networking. That means that your platform needs to accommodate “break out rooms.” These are the areas where people can converge during breaks to meet key speakers, teammates, and other people with similar interests. We have seen these engagement venues referred to as Campfires or Town Halls or even Birds of a Feather sessions. Just remember that this is a one of the top draws to your event.
- RECORDED CONTENT This is another area that becomes more doable with the Zoom-like platforms. So key messages about company direction, culture, as well as stories of why the company came to be, are great candidates for recording. They will lend themselves to the on-boarding of new employees, as well as website stories for recruiting and other purposes. Make sure that you have a plan to record those sessions for future use.
- THE ROLE OF THE TACTICAL IMPLEMENT STAFF These are the people that bring the event to life. They create storyboards, presentation templates, and schedule the dates that individual pieces are due. There are 16 items in the full checklist, but some of the key tasks that you should have this group focus on are: >>Speaker & Panel Rehearsals and Scheduling
>>Producers to Assist Speakers & Panels
>>Skill Gap Assessments for Track Assignments
>>Staffing Before, During, and After the virtual SKO
>>Registration Software and Integration
>>Pre-Event Engagement and Publicity
This is the team that will do the heavy lifting for the Steering committee by breaking each major task down to the detailed level.
- KEY DECISION: PLATFORM SELECTION CRITERIA
Once you know the venue, topics and speaker needs, you need to turn your attention to a platform that will do the job. Most platforms have several variations, so do not just assume that one vendor cannot do it if you do not see one of your key criteria. For instance, if you are looking to use GoToWebinar or Cisco WebEx Events, you will need
to add GoToTraining and WebEx Teams or Training to get the breakout rooms.
Below are some of the key criteria that have been pulled from the complete checklist:
>>Live and pre-recorded video streaming
>>File sharing capabilities
>>In-app conference registration
>>Engagement analysis on attendance and follow-up activities
>>Backgrounds for creating a branded virtual environment
There are many platforms for you to consider: Cisco WebEx Events, GoToWebinar, WorkCast, Zoom Video Webinars, Click Meeting, BigMarker, WebinarJam, Remo and 18 more mentioned in the main checklist. Put your needs list together, and then compare the offerings on that basis.
KEY DECISION: REGISTRATION SOFTWARE
The key issue for registration software is its ability to integrate with your delivery platform. By having this as a separate system, you are given control over a host of features that you do not have in most of the platforms. These include:
>>Registration forms on your website
>>Sessions & attendance tracking
>>Custom registration flows
>>Email communication tools
>>And even payment options for noncompany participants such as partners and vendors
The good news is that there are over 6,000 registration systems available, with some of the top names being Regpack, CourseStorm, Sawyer, Learning Stream, Eventsquid and Event manager.
PROGRAM DECISIONS AND LOGISTICS
The last areas are going to be the program decisions and the logistics to carry them out. Some of the key decisions to call to your attention are the following:
>>Recording for Repurposing
These are some of the key functions that must be handled by your program and Logistics staff. Your job will be to ensure that the speakers are rehearsed, that you have their presentation in a timely manner – and in your SKO’s template – and finally, that each support
member knows their role in making their speaker a success. Don’t let the speakers avoid the rehearsal, as this is where you’re going to
uncover bandwidth issues, as well as camera and bandwidth problems – not to mention the problems they might be having with the flow and timing of their presentation.
We hope the above and the complete checklist will give you a real head start on making your event a success.
About the Author:
Joe DiDonato is Chief of Staff of Baker Communications, Inc and former editor-at-large for Elearning! Media Group.