How to make sure your virtual SKO is a success

An empty conference room

If you have a December or January fiscal year-end, you’re probably starting to think about your 2021 sales kickoff, and how you’re going to pull off a virtual SKO with the same impact as your previous in-person SKOs.

This goes beyond Zoom fatigue. A good sales kickoff sets the tone for your year. So does a bad one.

People look forward to coming together at SKO — it can be the only time each year some people get to spend time with each other. It’s a great opportunity to communicate with your entire GTM team all at once. It’s a high stakes event that can have a real impact on your company’s bottom line.

And right now, it’s particularly important to check in and reset with your team, who have been having one hell of a weird year. So, how can you ensure your virtual SKO is truly impactful? Let’s discuss.

What are your goals for this SKO?

To start your SKO planning, ask yourself these questions:

What do you want to change as a result of your SKO? What do you want your sales team thinking about, doing, or knowing that they weren’t before?

Think carefully about your goals for SKO. In a normal year, you’d probably be thinking about some combination of the following goals:

  • To inspire, engage, motivate
  • To align on strategic initiatives for the year
  • To discuss new product offerings
  • To celebrate last year’s successes
  • To share customer stories
  • To preview upcoming GTM motions

You should still be aiming for many of those goals, but you’ll likely need to adjust this somewhat, depending on the year you’re having now and what you’re anticipating in 2021.

Regardless of your priorities, you’ll need to focus on bringing your team together, motivating and encouraging them, and being as clear as you can about what’s coming up.

What will be on your agenda?

First, prioritize the most important or impactful topics for your teams, and organize the rest of your event around them. Some questions to ask as you get this started:

  • What are the 3–5 most important messages you want to convey?
  • Should you have different tracks for different teams or regions?
  • What voices do you want to highlight?
  • What fun activities will you incorporate?

Think carefully about the schedule for your event. If you spent three days offsite in the past, does that still make sense now? Take into consideration work-from-home logistics that may have a bigger impact now: time zones, family obligations, online meeting attention spans.

Block off your team’s calendars as early as possible, and communicate the schedule in advance. Preparation will be key to making your SKO work.

Be ready to adapt. The only certainty in 2020 has been uncertainty. Things change, and they are likely to keep changing. You may need to make adjustments as you get closer to the event, so do what you can to prepare, but know you may need to be flexible.

Pick an appropriate theme. This is probably not the year for a silly or overly aggressive theme. Be sensitive. Don’t try to be too cute or funny. And this is definitely not the year to trot out something like “Ignite” or “On Fire.”

Try to find something that balances the reality of the world we live in with inspiration and motivation for moving forward. Focus on purpose-related themes, or consider something designed around teamwork or innovation. You want to express positivity and optimism while acknowledging the difficulties many people are experiencing. Consider themes around:

  • Evolution
  • Growth
  • Resilience
  • Commitment
  • Togetherness

As for team-building activities, you won’t be able to do a group meal or field trip. What can you do? Consider trying something focused on social good, like raising or donating money to a non-profit organization, or taking time off to volunteer as a group. And everyone will want to let off steam and socialize with their peers. Virtual happy hours can work over Zoom, as long as you create break-out rooms for small group conversations.

How will you run the event?

When it comes to budget, you will still need one, but it’ll probably be a lot less than you’ve spent in previous years (one silver lining of all this, at least). You’ll likely need to invest in technology or equipment. You’ll need swag. You may want to use some budget for a really excellent guest speaker. Find someone external and motivational or inspirational — consider finding someone to talk about larger things than just your product or your company.

Do everything with intentionality this year. Do not assume anything. Develop guidelines for interacting during the event — communication tips, nonverbal signals, recommendations for how to use Slack or chat.

Who will host? Do you need an emcee for the full event? Someone will need to guide people through the event — lay out ground rules and guidelines, and keep the energy levels up. Is this the same person you’d have host an in-person event? Conveying energy over video is not the same as doing it in person.

What kind of tech support will you need? Will you record any sessions in advance? How much will be live vs. pre-recorded? What will speakers need to do when they present?

And speaking of speakers, think carefully about how to deliver your content virtually — who should speak? What do they present? How do they present? Consider speaker training to ensure they can communicate effectively and engagingly over video. Hold practice sessions early so you can fix the issues that arise, because issues are going to arise.

And this should go without saying, but I will say it just the same… Please put women and people of color on your virtual stage.

Consider large sessions along with smaller breakout groups. Be sure attendees have a chance to talk (and not just be talked to).

Survey your audience now to understand what they’re interested in and worried about. Use this pre-event survey to help plan your event. Your team will likely bring up potential issues or good ideas you haven’t considered. And be sure to survey them after the event to see what worked, and what you can improve on for your next virtual meeting.

During the event, use Slack or other messaging channels for backchannel conversations and session discussions. Use polls and other interactive elements. Encourage the audience to participate. The more they just sit and watch, the more likely they are to tune out.

Check in a lot throughout the event. Remind people what to do, where to find things. Take breaks for coffee or exercise.

What about all the little details?

One of everyone’s favorite details about SKO is the swag. What swag can you get that reflects our current environment? For example, consider something like slippers: If your employees are dialing in from home, they’re probably not wearing shoes. Slippers are a fun, useful and unique item to buy. Think about what attendees can use in their home office. You could provide branded headphones, or art they could display on or behind their desk (something that could show up in Zoom calls with prospects, so double win). What can they wear at home? This could be the year for a new hoodie or nice shirt. Anything that could be used for self-care? Food or drink could also be a win, since you won’t be feeding everyone on site.

Avoid swag that will make people miss what they used to have. This probably isn’t the year to do anything travel-related, for example.

And be sure you have updated home addresses for your attendees, since you’ll need to mail the swag out in advance of the event. (Some of your budget will have to go to shipping.)

Speaking of food and drink, are there any ways to bring that element into your virtual event? It’s probably logistically impossible to send everyone a boxed lunch, but could you send gift cards for food delivery or send everyone coffee or bottled water before the event?

What about design? Many SKOs have their own branding and visual design, a logo for this year’s event. Don’t leave that out this year. And think about music. You could have everyone contribute to a SKO playlist, for example. Play music in between sessions to help keep the energy up.

What else can you do to make this event special? All the little details will help contribute to a sense of togetherness, so take them seriously.

Your virtual SKO can be impactful

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