Yay, autumn! The time when those of us who didn’t put last winter’s work into building this summer’s beach body can finally relax … some more. We’re trying to figure out what to do with enough garden tomatoes to start a small Italian restaurant and what to do with the balance of our vacation days before they expire. For sales enablement professionals, it’s also time to figure out how we’re going to manage next year’s sales kickoff, and more and more of us are conceding the fact that it’s going to be a virtual event … or at least some form of hybrid event.
But what does that mean? What is a “hybrid” event? Is there some amazing compromise between “live at a giant hotel in Orlando” and “everyone at home alone on video” that we have not considered? There just might be. Over the past 18 months, we have learned a great deal about how to facilitate critical conversations and information-sharing opportunities without being in the same room, and we’ve come up with some clever, creative solutions. We know sales leaders are desperate to heroically dive on an astronomical bar tab expense grenade, but the reality is we still must use our ingenuity to keep one another safe while starting the new year on an incredibly high note.
If we think about the two extremes described above — Orlando vs. video — we can then imagine a range of options in between. Beginning at the fully virtual end of the spectrum, consider the following options:
• Virtual, with physical enhancements. This is a fancy way of saying “send gift boxes to virtual attendees’ homes.” I have personally received several of these for various events over the past two years, and I really appreciate the thought that goes into them. Gifts like coffee mugs, sports water bottles, and candles last much longer than the event itself and are a fun conversation starter for attendees, even in a virtual environment. One gift box I received included a ring light and a high-quality microphone that I have used every day since the event. My family enjoys divvying up the loot and including family is another successful strategy for making virtual events work. A client recently told me that they had worked secretly with family members to surprise sellers with their president’s club awards during a virtual SKO. Nice touch!
• Presenters live and together at HQ. Some sales teams are opting to get sales leaders and other presenters together in a central or headquarters location to deliver kickoff messages to attendees who are still virtual. This strategy minimizes travel and risk to employees and their families while providing at least a hint of togetherness.
• Attendees gather in local groups. This works particularly well for sales teams that are organized by geography and can be combined with the “presenters live and together” strategy described above. To the extent that sellers are comfortable getting together in this manner (i.e., they don’t have at-risk family members in their household), this solution may provide some benefits over the traditional “everyone in Orlando” kickoff — namely that regional teams always struggle to carve out team planning time in the national or global SKO agenda. Organizing local teams makes it easier to prioritize regional or local sales planning.
• Attendees’ choice. Given the current level of uncertainty with the threat from the COVID virus, it may make sense to allow employees who are not at high risk to meet in person while allowing others to opt out and attend virtually. This must be planned well in advance, as it introduces variability in attendance numbers, hotel rooms, and other logistics. It must also be clear that there is no judgment or negative consequences associated with either the decision to attend live or the decision to attend virtually. It does require effort to ensure that remote attendees are not inadvertently ignored or otherwise left out, and if more than 60% of attendees choose to attend live, then this format may not work for the remote attendees.
• Live event with simulcasted sessions. If you’ve attended a major industry trade show or conference, you’ve experienced this — there are live sessions that you can attend at the massive event hall, but you can also watch some of the major plenary sessions from your hotel room. This concept can also be creatively worked into sales kickoff events, assuming organizers are comfortable relinquishing some control over physical session attendance.
• Live event with digital enhancements. This is one positive aspect of event management that we’d love to see continue in the future, even when sales teams are all together again live in a big hotel. Digital components add a layer of engagement to virtual events, but they also have a place in old-fashioned face-to-face events. Augment live events with virtual and digital experiences such as contests, quizzes, games, and augmented reality — think Pokémon GO, Wizards Unite, geocaching, or ghost tours. Yes, they’re cheesy, and yes, they’re fun.
All of these are examples of hybrid sales kickoff events, and none of them are mutually exclusive — mix and match, take the best ideas from each, and plan an event that keeps everyone safe but still sets the tone for a successful sales year.