January 22, 2021

5 Tips for Running a Virtual Sales Kickoff (SKO)

New Breed team attending an in-person SKO

With an increasing number of sales teams having some or all of their employees working remotely, traditionally in-person events like sales kickoffs (SKOs) need to be adapted into a virtual event. 

But how do you conduct that virtual transformation without reducing the value your team gets from the kickoff? Here are five tips:

1. Take Format into Consideration When Structuring Your Sales Kickoff

The best way to structure your event will depend on the format you’re using. If your event is fully remote, you’ll need to make different accommodations than if you have a hybrid event with only some employees remote.

Typically SKOs are all-day events or multi-day events, but if you’re hosting a fully virtual SKO, you need to take Zoom fatigue into account. You can’t expect your team to sit through an eight-hour meeting like you would have if it was in person because they’re not going to retain the information as well. 

To solve for that, you could spread the sessions out over a couple of days, so instead of fitting everything into one all-day meeting, you have three or four shorter sessions. And, even within those shorter sessions, you should still plan for breaks to allow people to get up from their computer and move around.

If you have a hybrid kickoff, you need to make sure it doesn’t feel like your remote employees and in-person employees belong to two separate workforces. You want everyone to have a similar of an experience as possible.

To accomplish that, you’ll need to meet your remote employees where they are instead of catering primarily to your in-person attendees. Consider having some of your sessions presented entirely via video call as opposed to in-person. Depending on how many remote employees you have, project their video feeds somewhere in the room or have your in-person employees call in from their personal devices so everyone can see everyone else’s faces. If you have small group sessions, make sure each group has both remote and in-person employees.

Social elements are another hallmark of SKOs that you'll need to adjust for hybrid and virtual events. You can’t exactly all head to a bar after the meeting if you’re not in-person together. So instead, you need to put conscious effort into mixing mingling and socializing throughout the day. For example, maybe have a lunch social that’s a designated time for people to chat with each other. 

2. Keep in Mind What Roles Will Be Present

You need to be aware of who’s in your audience. For some companies, SKOs can include members of the marketing, product or customer success teams, but even if the event is just for your sales department, SDRs, sales reps and sales managers all have different needs and interests. 

The content you cover needs to be applicable and valuable for all of your attendees.

As you’re deciding what sessions to include, make sure the subject matter you cover, the goals you highlight and the activities you do are relevant for the various employees present.

While there may be some role-specific information, like sales compensation updates, that won’t apply to everyone, you don’t want to have someone sitting there for hours gaining nothing because the sessions are all targeted at other roles.

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Revenue kickoff vs. sales kickoff

At New Breed, we host a revenue kickoff (RKO) instead of a SKO. So, instead of just involving our sales team, we invite the entire revenue department, which includes our marketing team and customer success team too.

Just as you want the marketing and sales teams to be aligned in their day-to-day work, you also want those functions to be aligned around the same overarching goals. That means you need to involve both teams in the planning process for the year which means your agenda should also reflect all teams that are present as well. 

3. Outline a Goal for What You Want Attendees to Take Away

Your SKO is an opportunity to set the tone for the year. You want to set the focus for what the company vision is and what your goals are as a sales team or revenue department in order to contribute to bring that company vision to life. It should also be a motivational event that gets everyone excited about that goal and that vision.

In addition to presenting the company vision for the year, you might also have annual updates around quotas, compensation, product pricing or organizational structure you want to share. SKOs are also a good time to go over the successes of the previous year. 

With there being so much information you can potentially cover during your SKO, it can be easy to try and fit too much in. But, if you overload your sales team with knowledge, retention and adoption of the things you taught won’t be very good.

Remember that you have the rest of the year to do more training through departmental meetings and team meetings; you don’t have to fit everything into your sales kickoff. 

Determining what sessions should be included and what trainings should wait until a later date comes down to the objective you set for your SKO. What do you want your team to walk away knowing? What’s critical for your team to know right now? 

Additionally, outline your goal at the beginning of the kickoff so attendees know what they’re supposed to be getting out of the event.

4. Diversify Your Sessions

Even if your virtual kickoff is only happening in three- or four-hour blocks, you still don’t want to spend that entire time presenting a slide deck. Diversifying both the information you’re covering and how you’re presenting it will help you better keep attendees’ attention.

Use technology like Zoom’s breakout rooms to do small group activities. Include scenario-based learnings and critical thinking sessions. Break up the purely educational content with fun team-building exercises. 

Additionally, even if you are changing up the style of how information is being presented, you also need to think about changing up the voice. If the same person is talking the entire time that can also make it hard to maintain attention.

You can bring in a guest speaker to offer an outside perspective on a motivational topic or teach a soft skill. You can also bring in presenters from other areas of your company: maybe have a member of your product team discuss the product and packaging updates or an executive or VP go over the company vision. Involving presenters from your marketing and services team can also increase cross-departmental alignment in addition to varying up the presentations.

5. Think of Energy Levels When Planning Your Agenda

While you want to include fun and motivational content, there are parts of the SKO that people won’t enjoy as much, like compensation adjustments or territory updates.

You want to think about the energy and excitement that what you’re presenting will cause and plan your agenda accordingly. To help with this planning, outline what sessions will get people excited, what sessions attendees will feel neutral about and what sessions they might have negative reactions to. 

You should always start off with something exciting, like a review of the wins from the previous year or a guest speaker that’ll get everyone pumped, and you want to end on a high note too, like with a social activity. Spread out in the middle should be the less engaging sessions or the updates that people need to hear, but don’t necessarily want to hear.

The Takeaway

After your sales kickoff is over, you should check in on the adoption and retention of the topics you covered. If you set goals, but then you never follow up on if your teams actually retained what you learned or are making traction toward the vision you presented, then you won’t be able to tell if your SKO was actually successful.

In addition to following up on the concepts covered during the following meetings, you should also collect feedback about the event itself so you can improve it for future years.

Download the complete guide to inbound sales

Beth Abbott

Beth is a Senior Manager of Revenue Operations at New Breed and specializes in optimizing how processes and platforms support revenue growth.


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