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SKO [Sales Kickoffs/National Sales Meetings] in 2021 – The Virtual Edition

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Virtual Sales Kickoff Meetings in 2021

National sales kickoff events are vital to the growth and prosperity of companies. It’s an opportunity to implement new protocols and strategies, update everyone on last year’s successes and shortcomings, and prepare your employees to meet upcoming goals and targets.

It’s also the time to motivate and invigorate your teams.

Training and incentives won’t improve your numbers if your salespeople aren’t fully committed to your company’s vision. Fueling this fire may be more challenging this year because of the inherent separation, but thanks to virtual event production, it is possible—let’s talk about how.

#1 Results-Based Strategizing

Planning your sales kickoff meeting should go hand in hand with honing the company’s short- and long-term goals. Every aspect of your SKO should funnel into one of these articulated priorities—whether it’s directly, through specific training seminars, or more broadly, with motivational incentives and meaningful team-building.

While this is true of any SKO, it becomes increasingly important when your employees are separated, potentially distracted, and perhaps feeling a little run-down. Here are a few conceptual ideas to incorporate into your upcoming kickoff:

  • Embrace transparency – Don’t be afraid to explain why you created the schedule you did, including how each task relates to a larger goal. Employees want to feel as though you trust them as equals; overall, they’ll appreciate your honest approach.
  • Show that you value their time – Prioritizing useful, actionable training modules will convey that you’ve put thought, time, and effort into making this event genuinely effective. Seeing this will encourage them to put the same effort back into it—even as the Zoom fatigue sets in.
  • Make their lives easier – It can be tricky to convince people to do things that only benefit the company. How can you position these new initiatives as improving the lives of your teams, too? How have you adapted your processes to suit their new remote lifestyles? This can go a long way for employee morale—which goes a long way with their work ethic and subsequent results.

Achieving a different outcome requires changes—these come from your employees and from the senior-level leaders, alike. Use this virtual kickoff event to showcase how your company is evolving for the sake of everyone involved.

#2 Utilize The Right Technology

If you’ve only ever hosted an SKO in-person—as many companies have—there are a lot of new factors to consider that may never have crossed your mind before.

Hosting a virtual SKO requires a virtual platform.

It’s not quite as simple as scheduling a couple of last-minute Zoom calls or throwing together a virtual version of your usual kickoff.

But with the right virtual event production management, it can feel that easy. With event management, you can take your would-be live affair and transform it seamlessly into a successful online event. Keep the best parts of an in-person kickoff—like networking opportunities, individual “rooms,” and real-time engagement—while incorporating the most critical aspects of a productive virtual SKO. A fully customizable platform enables you to:

  • Share live or pre-recorded video content
  • Host multiple workshops and discussions simultaneously
  • Utilize live chat, polling, and Q&A functions
  • Touch base with thousands of employees at once

No matter your company’s size or scope, you’ll need the right tools and professionals to make your virtual sales kickoff the success it usually is.

#3 Company-Wide Engagement

Companies across the country are having to think up new ways to make their SKO engaging and motivating. This is no small task considering how easy it is to zone out from the comfort of your home—or get distracted by your screaming toddler, or take a quick break to switch out the laundry, or anything else you can think of.

Of course, you have a plan for the upcoming year, but this doesn’t have to be the only talking point on the agenda. Instead of coming in full-force, touting facts and figures and brand-new initiatives, try opening the floor to the company first. What are their ideas? How do they feel the previous year went? Any complaints, questions, or improvements on the table?

The more you ask your remote teams to reflect and participate, the more empowered they’ll feel to succeed. This can also help bridge the (literal) distance between you and them.

Include The Entire Team In Planning

Is there a way for you to include every member of your sales department in the pre-planning phase? Having a role—no matter how small—will encourage each individual to maintain a vested interest in the sales kickoff event’s success. This “role” could be very simple:

  • Ask every employee to reflect on the past year and come prepared to share one success, one struggle, and one opportunity for improvement.
  • Split the company into teams and task each group with leading a fun, quick icebreaker or activity.
  • Assign everyone to different departments, then have each department head consult their groups for feedback before planning their seminar or talk.

Encourage Participation Whenever Possible

The more you can talk with rather than at your employees, the more engagement and investment you’ll notice from them. Video conferencing can make this difficult, but you can still find ways to transform your meetings into two-way discussions rather than one-way lectures:

  • After explaining a new concept or tactic, ask a few employees to try it out in mock sales pitches. Then, open it up to a productive discussion about what worked and what they could improve upon.
  • Invite feedback, comments, and questions at the end of every session.
  • Ask your teams to reflect upon and share their past experiences, drawing from their most and least successful moments. This promotes active engagement and vulnerability, which helps foster a healthy work environment, even in isolation.

#4 Accounting for Virtual Fatigue

Zoom fatigue is real—even the Harvard Business Review is studying the causes and effects. They highlight one major factor: to look attentive over a video call, you must stare directly at your camera (for hours at a time).

During an in-person SKO (or any meeting, for that matter), your employees may gaze briefly out the window, whisper a question to a coworker, or look through their briefcase to find a pen—you know they’re still listening. On a video call, we have to work a lot harder to show we’re engaged; this additional effort results in virtual burnout and exhaustion.

You can relieve your employees of this burden, in part, by letting them turn off their cameras—either altogether or periodically throughout the day. Keep them engaged in other ways by encouraging active participation and acknowledging the limitations of a virtual meeting.

Utilize Small Group Meetings

The more you can break up the monotony of your schedule, the better. One way of doing so is through breakout discussions:

  • Organize team meetings after important sessions to solidify the crucial information
  • Encourage cross-mingling between different sales teams or departments
  • Facilitate one-on-one sessions that allow for more in-depth discussion and reflection

If you’ve been giving your virtual teams a break by turning cameras off during presentations and speakers, this could be an excellent time to turn them back on. Face-to-face check-ins are still valuable—this small group setting is the perfect circumstance.

Include Scheduled Breaks

The other way to break the routine of a virtual sales meeting is with a literal break. These are important on or off the computer—brief breaks increase productivity and creativity, and instill a renewed sense of motivation upon returning to the task at hand. Even more so during an all-day virtual event, quick breaks here and there will allow your team members to:

  • Take care of any quick household tasks — checking on the kids, running the dishwasher, etc.—so they can continue to give you their undivided attention
  • Stretch their legs, rest their eyes, and rehydrate to maintain good health
  • Digest important information before receiving more, discouraging mental overload

#5 Work Hard, Play Hard

The current reality is that sometimes you have to spend all day staring at your computer screen. Again, this can become exhausting and altogether overwhelming. So how do you engage your employees in yet another virtual commitment?

Try to have some fun.

Even the most professional office environment can let loose every once in a while—let’s face it, at least 20% of your staff is probably wearing pajama pants. Your employees will be much more receptive if they’re at least enjoying themselves. You can tailor the “play hard” component of your event however you’d like, but here are a few ideas to get those creative gears turning:

  • End the day early with an optional Zoom happy hour – Thank everyone for their hard work all day by cutting the business portion short for a casual virtual happy hour where your employees can chat, mingle, and take a load off.
  • Break up the schedule with fun activities – Use Kahoot or another platform to host lightning rounds of trivia with fun prizes, ask everyone to come up with entertaining skits or performances, or hold a silly pitch contest for a faux marketing campaign.
  • Surprise them with a reward – Send each employee a meal voucher for a food delivery service, ship everyone a fun gift or limited edition version of one of your products, or e-mail out an online gift card.

The Future Is Here—And It’s Virtual

Even before the current restrictions on in-person gatherings and travel, businesses were moving towards technology for many important events and functions. Virtual sales meetings may not have been on your agenda, but they might quickly become your first order of business with the future of event planning. 

Prepare a successful kickoff that keeps employees engaged, involved, and enjoying themselves. Who knows? Maybe you’ll grow to love this new format.

For many companies, this may be uncharted territory. For Vario? We’ve been doing this for over 20 years—start the conversation today and let’s go virtual together.


  1. Spotio. Guide To The Perfect Sales Kickoff Meeting (Agenda Included).
  2. Force Management. Sales Kickoff Meetings: How to launch a virtual sales kickoff that actually moves the needle.
  3. Harvard Business Review. How to Combat Zoom Fatigue.
  4. Psychology Today. How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers.

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