The time leading up to American Thanksgiving is often especially busy, with a combination of major conferences, ambitious sales goals and, of course, planning for the upcoming year before people check out (physically and/or mentally) for the holiday season.

You’ve probably spent some time already thinking about your goals for next year, and what you are committing to your board and stakeholders.

A key ritual of setting the year up for success for many organizations is the Sales Kick Off (SKO).

But this year’s event is likely going to look a little (a lot?) different.

I was inspired by my friend and colleague David Meerman Scott, co-author of Standout Virtual Events to rethink the SKO. David provides some excellent tips for running a quality virtual event, including the right equipment, how to prep a speaker, and how to think about the whole program as part of a whole.

In this article, I look at the SKO from a different angle. I took a step back to really focus on the “Forever Promise” organizations make to their sales teams and which has resulted in the “product” of the SKO event. The Sales Kick Off is a time to educate, engage and inspire the team to maximize the likelihood of hitting all sales objectives in the coming year.

Given that people are working remotely, and not able to gather in person this year, how do you educate, engage, and inspire your team?

Start with the goal in mind. You are not “designing a Sales Kick Off Meeting”. You are setting up your team for a successful year.

  • Start with the goal in mind. You are not “designing a Sales Kick Off Meeting”. You are setting up your team for a successful year. Your “forever promise” to your sales team is to give them the resources and experiences to help each person exceed their quota. Don’t limit yourself by trying to recreate the in person event digitally.
  • Get creative about tactics. Brainstorm everything you could possibly do to achieve each of the sub-goals–educate, engage, inspire. Remember, you are no longer limited by a fixed time and place to achieve these objectives, so you can get creative. Let’s take them one at a time.
  1. Educate. What do your sales folks need to know in order to be successful? This probably falls into three categories. They need to understand the products that you’re offering, and all related details. They need to have the skills sell effectively. And they need to know what resources they have in case they run into a challenge.
  2. Engage. You want your sales team to be proactive about their work, and connected to the organization and to their peers and broader network. You need to establish the right habits to succeed in this new reality. How can you use this moment at the start of the year to get your team into a healthy rhythm?
  3. Inspire. Most salespeople are extroverts who gain their inspiration from other people. It’s hard to recreate that feeling of connection and shared values over a Zoom or via email. So you will have to be creative in “filling your team’s emotional tank.” And you probably don’t need to do this just once, at the start of the year, but on an ongoing basis.
  • Bring in the Whole Team. Traditional SKOs are often limited in who can attend, either because of travel costs, competing commitments, space constraints or all of the above. If you’re digital, though, these constraints go away. On one end of the spectrum, it means you can bring out the big guns, and invite top clients, executives and industry experts to speak. And on the other end of the spectrum, you can include the support team and adjacent functional areas like marketing, product, and services where useful.
  • Make it Modular. You don’t need everyone for everything. So you could ask your marketing team to attend the session on “practicing your pitch” for example, but not for the discussion on commissions. Or you could bring in a few executives to role play scenarios without taking up their whole day. You could even do your own series of “Ted Talks” bringing in a bunch of people to each talk for 15 minutes
  • Create Opportunities for “Lean Forward” Moments. TV is a Lean Back medium. You just lounge on the couch and watch. iPhone Apps are Lean Forward experiences. The “audience” is a “user” or “player”. How can you make your Sales Team into Players? Can you gamify the experience? Can you give them avatars, or create opportunities for interaction and meeting new people? I recently attended a “Speed Mentoring” event hosted by my college alumni association, where I was able to have 8 1-1 meetings of 5 minutes each in less than an hour. It was totally exhilarating. Or maybe you want to create a mini “exception handling” tournament, giving team members an opportunity to compete by having to respond in front of the group to a randomly-drawn sales challenge. And by keeping chat open, and maybe having sales leaders moderate the chat, you can create an opportunity for a second conversation to happen while the speakers are speaking.
  • Stretch it Out. We know that there’s a “half-life for enthusiasm” after nearly every in-person event. You walk out of the conference feeling excited and on top of the world. And then you get back to your desk, and your to-do list and promptly set aside all of your best intentions from the event. With a virtual event, you don’t have to cram everything into a single week. You can schedule followup meetings, booster-shots to ensure that the new habits stick.

Bill Gates recently predicted a 50% decline in business travel, even after the pandemic, while Rafat Ali of Skift is proposing a more modest but still significant 10-15% lasting contraction.

Back in March, I thought it was just going to be a few weeks of this social distancing. It looks like it may continue for a while. And even if we are soon able to enjoy the confidence that would come with widespread use of vaccines, it’s unlikely we will go back to how things once were. Bill Gates recently predicted a 50% decline in business travel, even after the pandemic, while Rafat Ali of Skift is proposing a more modest but still significant 10-15% lasting contraction.

What that means for us, is that how we do business is evolving. By focusing on the “what and why” goals, and being flexible on the “hows” we have an opportunity to take a great leap forward. Rethinking how to achieve our sales goals by reimagining the traditional Sales Kick Off is just one way of making this happen.