Usually I’d be kicking off our new fiscal year with a gathering of our global sales team. We’d all fly in from around the world to share key information like sales targets, company goals, product roadmaps, marketing programmes and much more. This year we are all grounded and isolated.
So, whilst it’s tempting to play the “wait and see” game at a time like this, it’s not the best thing to do. When the financial year starts in such uncertain and isolating times, teams need to come together. They need focus, vision and direction more than ever. Most of all, though, teams need a shared sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging. So, we made the decision to launch an ambitious Virtual Sales Kick-Off (VSKO) for the nCipher Security sales organisation.
The challenge is that a Sales Kick-Off is a multi-faceted event that is hard to deliver through a virtual window. There are many facts to communicate at the start of a new year, but also many less obvious, but equally important things that we address at a Sales Kick-Off, often without even realising.
First of all, the team comes together in the same place. They get to see each other, renew friendships, share stories, challenges and experiences with colleagues around the world and rediscover the fact that they are part of something bigger: that they are not alone. This is a real issue for a geographically distributed team often with only a single team member in an entire country. It all adds up to a vital rediscovery of a shared sense of purpose and a sense of belonging – perhaps even of family.
So, how to address all of that when your 200 attendees are confined to their own homes with only a laptop computer as their eyes and ears?
Challenge 1) Keeping people engaged when whilst sitting in front of a screen all day
Solution: We delivered content daily across 9 consecutive business days providing digestible chunks to look forward to each day. Sessions ran for 60 to 90 minutes each day, with 3 or 4 topics delivered in pieces averaging 20 minutes each, hosted by an overall event MC.
Challenge 2) Coming together in multiple time zones
Solution: We ran the sessions twice daily on most days to give everyone around the world an opportunity to join at a civilised hour, using a mixture of live and pre-recorded material. The only exceptions were the opening and closing days, where we wanted to get everyone around the world together “live” to create a sense of “event”.
Challenge 3) Replicating the face-to-face meetings and relationship building
Solution: Wherever we could we focused on faces rather than slides using split screen interviews and conversations over PowerPoint with voice-over as much as possible. We also encouraged everyone to share photos of themselves during lockdown. This was launched as a competition and we showed pictures daily as part of the live broadcasts as well as sharing via our event collaboration app, Attendify.
Challenge 4) Driving interaction
We needed content that was engaging and delivered in a format that encouraged people to come back for more as well as enabling everyone’s voice to be heard.
Solution: We encouraged the use of live chat during the sessions. In addition Attendify allowed us to share all of the content for on-demand review as well as providing an additional chat forum and a place to showcase our photo gallery. During the live sessions questions to presenters, observations and humorous comments appearing on screen in real-time really enhanced group conversation and was very effective.
Challenge 5) Encouraging story sharing in a virtual environment
Solution: We all want to know how everyone else is coping in isolation, so alongside the programme of educational content we allowed time for insight into the “World of Lockdown”. Several sessions were hosted by colleagues in different parts of the world under the banner of “beating the pandemic”. These sessions focused on the daily lives of the regional teams to give us a view on how people are managing during this time, both professionally and personally. These were a revelation! The teams embraced this part of the event with humour and creativity and delivered some exceptional content, which was both entertaining and informative, but also really got to the core of “we’re all in this together”.
Challenge 6) Giving recognition and celebrating success virtually as a team
Normally we end with a big awards night, so how could we replicate this virtually?
Solution: Go all out! The finale was an awards ceremony where the team were encouraged to dress up, have a drink and enter into the spirit as if we were at an actual physical event. We used music and took the whole team off mute for a period of time to applaud winners. Judging from the number of selfies we saw and the level of chat, it was highly effective.
We built video recaps of both the event and the photo gallery to use as emotionally satisfying closing tools. Through Attendify people are also able to look back at the event content throughout the year.
Feedback has been great and significantly exceeded expectations. It has given the team a real boost and lifted spirits as well as providing those all important things: Direction. Focus. Vision. Along with a shared sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging.
Watching a Microsoft Teams call fill up with people before the scheduled start time, saying ‘hi’ to their colleagues around the world and cheering the 2 minute “Countdown Clock” that heralded our sessions each day was a testament to that. As was the shared feeling of loss the following week when there was no VSKO to attend!
On the one occasion technology let us down, it didn’t seem to matter. The sense of occasion and team spirit took over and we joked our way through the problems. I doubt many will remember the technology glitches in 6 months’ time – but they will remember the VSKO.
I’m not sure this does away with the need for a physical Sales Kick-Off either. A lot of the power of the event came from our ability to awaken some of the emotions we have tapped into at previous events. However, I do know that we can work in the virtual format much more effectively now and will use it as an adjunct to other ways we collaborate.
Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention. We invented, and it was good!