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Event orchestration | 2 December 2021

How To Ensure Virtual or Hybrid Sales Kickoff Success in 2022

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett

Did last year’s sales kickoff not get the attention it deserved? It’s time to look forward to 2022 and host a virtual or hybrid SKO that’s brimming with success.

Although some teams may be back in the office, many companies are either fully remote or taking a hybrid approach to the workplace. No matter how your sales team is dispersed, the sales kickoff is prime time to equip your salespeople with the right talking points, build morale and excitement, and work to retain more employees.

What Is a Sales Kickoff? 

A sales kickoff (SKO) is an internal event held at the beginning of the fiscal year. The goal of an SKO is to get everyone on the same page with strategies for growing the business in the new year. More importantly, the SKO serves to motivate, educate, and inspire your sales team. 

Before the pandemic, SKOs were highly experiential in-person events heavy on networking, swag, and more. Salespeople would often fly or drive in from around the country for this special event, but with teams dispersed and the pandemic persisting, sales kickoffs have gone virtual. 

“Instead of canceling plans for their kickoff,” said Doug Bushée, senior director analyst in the Gartner Sales practice, “[sales leaders] are changing the venue to a virtual environment that can serve as a platform to inform, inspire, and connect their teams to prepare them for the year ahead.”


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The Benefits of a Virtual or Hybrid Sales Kickoff

You might be asking yourself whether your team needs another virtual meeting, even for the all-too-important sales kickoff. It’s true that, according to a study by organizational research firm Korn Ferry, 67% of employees say they spend too much time in meetings and that it hinders their productivity. But skipping the SKO isn’t an option, and if the past two years have shown us anything, it’s that you can have a compelling and impactful virtual or hybrid event. 

Yes, there are challenges associated with virtual or hybrid events when compared with classic in-person SKOs. It’s no secret what people miss most about the office is the chance to socialize. Although there are tools you can use to engage participants virtually, when employees tune in from home, there are more likely to be distractions.

But with proper planning, you can deliver a high-impact virtual or hybrid SKO. Here are a few of the benefits of a virtual or hybrid SKO:

  • Cost-effective: Remote work has distributed teams even further around the globe, and a virtual event means there’s no need to fly your whole staff into a central location. This saves your company an immense amount of money on hotel and transportation fees.  
  • Sustainable: Virtual and hybrid events often result in a smaller carbon footprint, which shows your employees and customers that you prioritize sustainability and the environmental impacts of your events.
  • Flexible: When you host a virtual or hybrid event, you can record high-quality video to reference later, particularly when evaluating your sales efforts for the year. Additionally, your SKO becomes more accessible to people across time zones and job titles. 

Ultimately, the key to a successful SKO is engagement and creating an event experience. Yes, you’re here to share the vision and strategy. Yes, you’ll offer training. But, at the end of the day, you want your team to have a memorable experience that motivates them to sell successfully. 

4 Sales Kickoff Theme Ideas

An event theme is a great way to ensure your SKO is cohesive and memorable. When choosing a theme, make sure to take the temperature of your sales team: Is morale high? This gives you some space to be creative and go a bit bigger. Do employees seem less certain about the future of the company? That might be an indicator that your theme should reinforce trust and demonstrate stability.

Here are some theme ideas for your sales kickoff: 

  1. Motivation: So much of the sales kickoff is about getting people excited about what you’re selling. When you focus your meeting on a single motivational concept related to the vision you have for the year, you can tie everything back to action. For example, Samsung’s 2019 sales meeting theme was “Activate.” This theme created a high-energy environment while also serving as a call to action in and of itself. Consider a powerful word or phrase — such as Ignite, Elevate, or Rally — that could motivate your team for the year ahead.
  2. Education: Depending on your strategy for the coming year, you could choose an element that is central to your operation. A theme like “Customer Retention” might not be as flashy, but if that’s the message you want to drive home, all roads should lead there over the course of the meeting.
  3. Vision: What is your organization all about? Maybe it means a little something different to everyone. A big gathering of your sales team can unearth a lot of useful sentiment around your company’s purpose and strength. Shaping a sales kickoff around your brand’s identity ties employees even closer to the mission and cements buy-in.
  4. Celebration: For some, sales kickoffs are a place to have fun and bring people together. If that’s your main priority, the sky’s the limit for your theme. Anything from superheroes to historic eras like the 1920s, or something more abstract, such as “Your Inner Child” — so long as it works with the messaging you plan to share, you can go wild here.

Check out this SKO hosted by Remax for some ideas. What will be your theme for 2022? Make sure it’s current, relevant, and speaks to the challenges and celebrations that are coming in the next year.

How To Build a Successful Sales Kickoff Agenda

Traditionally, SKOs ran a full day or even spanned a weekend. Today, however, virtual or hybrid SKOs need to be shorter to avoid attendee and presenter fatigue.  You can’t just take a multi-day, in-person sales kickoff agenda and deliver it virtually. Here are some ideas for how to deliver a winning virtual or hybrid sales kickoff: 

  • Hold shorter virtual SKOs by region that run a half-day over a series of days. 
  • Go hybrid with speakers and a small number of local attendees in person and the rest attending virtually. 
  • Get creative and offer short supplementary or optional sessions, such as an Executive Drop-In, Q&As, small group discussions, and manager-led sessions.
  • Pre-record any non-interactive videos, such as those about product announcements, and then host a live Q&A.

Here are some other elements you’ll want to consider for your virtual or hybrid SKO agenda: 

  • Welcome: This can be a casual and fun start to the day, led by the CEO or other leader that inspires confidence. If you have a theme, this is a great time to explain and infuse it into the day. 
  • Recap: Before you can move forward, it helps to look back and learn from what’s happened. A recap will get everyone on the same page and offer context for this coming year’s goals, but be sure to keep it short and sweet. 
  • Training: Capture everyone’s attention with a training session on any new services, products, or features. Leave plenty of time for Q&A or make the session interactive from the get-go.
  • Lunch and Networking: After product or feature training, people will want some time to refuel and process everything they’ve learned. Lunch can also serve as a networking opportunity. If your SKO is fully virtual or you have virtual attendees, be sure to send out gift cards to UberEats or DoorDash for your employees to order in.
  • Fun: Whether your event is virtual or in-person, there are so many ways to excite and inspire your team after lunch. You can also make your sales kickoff memorable by inviting a comedian or a celebrity speaker.  
  • Departmental updates: Getting a holistic picture of the business is informative for everyone. Be sure the lineup includes the marketing team, the product team, customer success, and any other departments that work closely with sales. 
  • Knowledge share: Every company has top performers, and leveraging their knowledge is a great way to set everyone up for success. They know how everyone in the room feels because they’re part of the same team and can share inside knowledge that’s directly applicable.  
  • Wellness break: Don’t forget breaks. That’s often where great connections are made. Whether you encourage networking or do a short yoga or meditation session, make sure that you give your team time to breathe.
  • Training: This could be a slot for new training or retraining on old products or services using updated data. Make sure to give the freshest information to your team. 
  • Pitchfest: Host a pitch-off with funny themes or impossible-to-sell products. Make sure the contestants are pitching using messaging and themes that have been the cornerstone of your SKO.
  • Awards: One of the most popular parts of any SKO is the presentation of awards to top performers. When your event is virtual, it’s important to work with a partner who offers plenty of interactive elements so your sales team can celebrate the honorees, whether that’s a clapping feature or celebratory emojis. 
  • Closing event: End on a high note full of energy and optimism! Send out kits for a lesson with a mixologist so everyone can share in a toast, host a virtual wine tasting, or host a happy hour Jeopardy-style event with prizes.

You might also want to include some team- or culture-building activities to boost morale and excitement. For example, you could do a virtual escape room, trivia, talent show, or scavenger hunt. 

Tips for a Successful Virtual Sales Kickoff 

For a virtual sales kickoff to be successful, you’ll have to think outside the box. But with the right strategy and event software partner, it can be done. Here are a few tips for ensuring your virtual or hybrid sales kickoff goes smoothly and successfully:

  • Treat employees like customers: You have to put as much thought into internal events as you would customer-facing events. Treat your team members like you would your buyer personas and create content and experiences that are compelling and sticky. 
  • Choose the right partner: There’s nothing worse than hosting a virtual or hybrid event only to have the technology fail you. Choose a software partner that can ensure event success and that offers meaningful engagement tools.
  • Think about the experience: Whether hybrid or virtual, a sales kickoff isn’t just about bombarding your team with information. To level up the experience, encourage participation, engagement, and connection. Consider sending out an event box before the SKO with branded swag, a ring light, headphones, or something else to level up the virtual experience. 
  • Set goals and measure success: To know whether you’ve been successful, you need to set goals for audience satisfaction, participation, and so on. Be sure to poll your attendees on what they learned and how they felt the SKO went. Then, you can plan better for future virtual or hybrid SKOs.
  • Keep the momentum going: Studies have shown that sales professionals forget 84% of what they learned just 90 days after learning it. One of the benefits of a virtual SKO is that you can share the recordings after 30, 60, and 90 days to keep everyone up to speed. 

Host a Virtual or Hybrid Sales Kickoff to Remember

Planning your own sales kickoff and not sure what route to take? Start by asking your team what they’re most comfortable with. If the majority of your team would prefer to attend from the comfort of home, make it a virtual SKO. If you’ve got local sales reps who are comfortable coming into the office, then go hybrid. 

Whatever route you take for your SKO in 2022, we’re here to help you elevate the experience, track engagement, and deliver an event experience unlike any other. 


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