It was standing room only for the third SalesCraft event with many new faces in the room joining the regulars to talk about this growing trend towards virtual kickoffs. It’s an interesting phenomena made compelling by the technology and the current economic climate. Because let’s be honest – would any of us even consider a virtual kickoff if budget wasn’t an issue?
I, for one, love kickoff. I love all of the hard work that goes into preparation; the lack of sleep; the creative energy; the craziness; the adrenaline rush and the sense of accomplishment when it’s all done. And let’s not forget the people and the drinking. Kickoff is good fun. So it saddens me to say that I think the traditional kickoff is all but extinct. A moment of silence, please.
An Undeniable Trend
The room was divided into equal thirds – those who’ve done it, those who were planning it and those who were scared. I put myself in the last group.
Don’t Let the Technology Fool You
The technology is not there yet. It’s just not. There are pieces that will work – a great portal, video hosting sites, etc. But no one has figured out yet how to create a complete end to end experience for the audience. Even more important is that the technology and the associated reduction in costs lures one into thinking the effort in developing a virtual kickoff is less than a live event. That’s not true either. All of the effort and planning necessary for a successful live kickoff is also necessary for a virtual event. What’s more, because we don’t have the same level of experience, it’s harder. We don’t know what we’re doing.
Sharon Smith of Symantec
- Planning – Symantec only had 4 months to plan their event. Next time they will allow for more time and more resources.
- Execution – Deliverables included both live and on-demand content. They had 5,000 participants over a two-day period. Keynotes were broadcast live and there were six scheduled group chats.
- Outcome – Virtual events are not a replacement for a live event. But the technology can be used to complement a live event. Symantec will go back to a live Kickoff next year.
Linda Britt Cole of Cole Connection
- Perception vs. Reality – What is a virtual event? You’ll find that people have widely varying ideas of what it’s supposed to be. Is it a fancy webinar? A “second life” experience? An online trade show? Don’t assume that everyone sees this in exactly the same way. Set expectations early and often.
- Defined Objectives – What is the objective of the event? Both for management and the audience? Cost saving is a perk, not an objective or a goal.
- Differentiating Content – What works well virtually and what doesn’t? Are there things you would normally do in a live event that will never translate to a virtual world?
Real World Application
Stephanie LeMar-Datta at Extreme Networks shared a cautionary tale about trying to replicate too many of the components of a traditional kickoff into a virtual event. They included an online game in their virtual experience. It didn’t work.
The Executive Factor
Anyone who has worked behind the scenes understands the importance a traditional Kickoff has to a sales leader. This is the one time of the year they can stand in front of all of their people and set the stage for the year to come. Even the most stage-ready executive puts hours of preparation into their keynote. They walk on that stage prepared. They expect to deliver and they enjoy the reaction from the audience. The camera changes everything. It gives nothing back. Unless your executive has substantial experience in front of a camera, encourage them to work with a skilled coach. Otherwise, there is a risk that one of the most important aspects of your event will fall short of expectations for both your executive and the audience. Suddenly the fact the fact that you saved millions is not as compelling.
Loved It – Hated It!
So the big question is what did Sales think of the virtual event? It seems fair to say that feedback was mixed. Probably the biggest plus for many was that they didn’t have to travel and spend time away from their families. And, you guessed it, that was also a negative for many as well.
Virtual in Name Only
While the cost is considerably less for a virtual event, it was clear that the preparation required was equal to or greater than that needed for a “real” kickoff. That means that in order to execute a successful virtual kickoff, the same amount of time and effort is needed to plan the event. If anything, more time is necessary because most of us have never done this before and there is a substantial learning curve. And here’s the question most of us need to ask, “Do we staff differently”?
For the first time, we had a vendor join us for SalesCraft. Altus Technologies provides a video interface that allows users to watch a speaker while looking at slides and reading a transcript. Videos are downloadable, portable and searchable to the spoken word. Pretty cool stuff.
I think we have to admit that the virtual event is here to stay. But we have to understand that well-established business processes do not exist. So, with kickoff unlikely anytime soon, I’m reviewing other options. What if we leverage the current content management tools we have to build a video content library every quarter that can be leveraged for QBR’s (quarterly business reviews)? RVP’s can use the content or not on an a la carte basis. Anything they don’t use is available on demand. This drives alignment and consistency while still offering flexibility and choice to sales leadership. At the same time we open up a pilot to provide flip-cams to reps interested in showing a white board demonstration or killer demo.
Think of it as the “un-Kickoff”.