We all know that the popularity of virtual events has risen meteorically over the past couple of years.

But now, even internal gatherings like sales kickoffs, which companies once thought could only be in-person, are also moving online like never before.

Sure, a small part of this shift is due to necessity, as COVID-19 has shuttered some office buildings for good and catalyzed remote work.

However, a larger part of this shift is due to the fact that many virtual events, such as virtual sales kickoffs, have the potential to be better than their face-to-face alternative.

Virtual sales kickoffs can be more convenient online, while still maintaining the same level of engagement, motivation, entertainment, and camaraderie that you’d get by corralling employees under one roof.

It’s time to stop thinking of virtual events as just a stopgap and start thinking of them as the new normal for large-scale company occasions. After all, the global virtual events market is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate of 23.7% until 2028.

growth of global virtual events market

An effective virtual sales kickoff requires shrewd planning, creativity, and a virtual event platform that makes the event feel seamless and interactive. To find out how to host a virtual sales kickoff for the ages, look no further than this all-inclusive guide.

What is a sales kickoff — and why is it so important for companies?

A sales kickoff is a summit typically held at the beginning of a company’s fiscal year. It’s designed to celebrate past successes, motivate sales teams to start the new year off strong, and align everyone on future strategy while introducing new company offerings available to clients. It’s also a perfect opportunity to train rookie employees and familiarize sales team vets with new messaging.

A sales kickoff is often when a company introduces its new go-to-market strategies. While that makes it vital for the year ahead, it’s also meant to be a fun team-building event — an opportunity for employees to get to know each other better and let loose, all while nurturing a sense of company pride.

Limitations of an in-person sales kickoff

It’s not unusual for in-person sales kickoff events to take place in ritzy, warm destinations like Vegas or Miami. A trip like that can be great for socializing. But it’s expensive! Between renting out the venue and paying for travel and hotel expenses for entire sales teams, some companies spend millions of dollars organizing such an event.

For some, it can also be cumbersome to leave home for a destination kickoff. Plus, that time spent traveling cuts into valuable hours that could be spent making sales.

What’s more, events like this can lead to attendee burnout as companies rush to pack a short number of days with hours and hours of information. Even when event planners try their best to create engaging in-person sales summits, budgetary constraints often force them to over-optimize the schedule with a mind-numbing number of presentations.

Benefits of a virtual sales kickoff

Virtual sales kickoffs, by contrast, save on many of the big-ticket expenses. When less of the budget goes into the complicated logistics of getting everyone in the same room, more money and more planning can be devoted to making the discussions and exercises as relevant and helpful as possible to sales teams. And since virtual sales kickoffs are easier to organize, companies can deliver them as needed instead of at one set time every year, to match the changing demands of a sales cycle.

Another benefit of virtual events is that training modules and other valuable sessions can easily be recorded and revisited for future use.

In the virtual setting, sales kickoffs can also be more personalized. Instead of bombarding attendees with one-size-fits-all information, online sales kickoffs allow for live data collection that tracks engagement and makes employees feel like active stakeholders in the event. Individual-led breakout rooms also foster smaller, more intimate discussions that are tough to replicate amid big, noisy crowds.

If you’re wondering what the future of internal events looks like, we have you covered. Check out our blog Corporate Events: Everything You Need to Know for the Future of Work!

4 Components every virtual sales kickoff should have

The best sales kickoff is custom-tailored to the needs of your salespeople, all while being flexible enough to allow for some improvisation along the way. That said, every effective summit shares a few things in common.

1. Engaging presentations

During a sales kickoff, your company wants to set a strong, exciting tone. This likely means hosting a keynote speaker with an inspirational message and a proven track record of success in a field your salespeople care about.

But the event is also an opportunity for executives and sales team leaders to give their own motivational two cents. Make speeches more resonant and engaging with a virtual event platform that allows for some interactive flourishes — like question-and-answer sections and live polling.

2. Training, development, and sales enablement

This should be at the core of every successful sales kickoff. It’s the practical, nuts-and-bolts section of the event amid all the motivational flair. And it gives teams the tools they need to hit sales targets in the months ahead.

What’s great about the virtual version: it’s respectful of every attendee’s unique pace. Training sessions can be pre-recorded and viewed before or after the event to ensure employees don’t accidentally miss any valuable information. And you can easily segment sessions so that knowledgeable salespeople learn more advanced skills, while newer hires brush up on old tricks of the trade.

3. Team-building

Bonding with colleagues is an enjoyable element of a good sales kickoff. And since sales is such a collaborative business, the social nature of the event should not be ignored when you go virtual. This is an obvious challenge when hosting events virtually, which is why this is the time to get creative. See next.

4. Fun!

Sales kickoffs are the perfect opportunity to learn about employees’ shared interests in a fun way. While a golf outing may be off-limits virtually, most activities that help colleagues get to know one another are still fair game. Quizzes, pitch contests, and role-playing games work well online, as do speed-dating style meet and greets.

It’s also worth considering sending gift bags to every attendee. Or you can organize a virtual cocktail hour or cooking activity. Some companies even spring for a professional entertainer (or a willing sales team member who everyone thinks is hilarious) to emcee the kickoff, ensuring there are some laughs.

4 Components every virtual sales kickoff should have

10 Tips for hosting a successful (and memorable!) virtual sales kickoff

You know what a virtual sales kickoff needs. But how do you pull one off? Try these pointers:

1. Set clear and achievable goals

The kickoff is when you trumpet your initiatives to your entire sales team. So you need to be thoughtful and realistic about what your goals are. Keep in mind that the pandemic has rendered some conventional KPIs — like number of face-to-face meetings and in-person demos — unachievable. What new goals do you want and expect out of them over the next year?

Apart from sales goals, it’s also helpful to be specific about what exactly you want to achieve during the actual kickoff. What should linger in the attendees’ minds after the event? How do you hammer the important points home while ensuring everyone feels valued?

2. Plan your agenda ahead of time

You may not need to book a ballroom or hotel accommodations, but a virtual sales kickoff still requires way more planning than setting a time for a group of people to hop on a video chat.

Who will be speaking? What topics are you planning on covering? Is there an overarching theme that inspires attendance and engagement? These are all considerations you want to have accounted for well in advance of the actual meeting, so that the right people are learning about the right things. To streamline this process, you may consider using a virtual events platform with a built-in agenda-planning feature.

Remember — you want to make sure you’re allotting plenty of time for training and development while also making room for motivation and morale-focused activities. It’s helpful to budget out how long you envision each component taking, leaving appropriate room for participation.

The planning stage is also the perfect time to ensure your event is personalized. Once you have your invitee list, it could be worth taking stock of any potential shared interests the attendees have and planning some specialized talks that pair like-minded people together.

3. Prevent monotony

An hour on a video call can sometimes feel longer and more tiring than an hour event in-person. So be mindful of your sales team’s attention! Virtual events are best when sessions are short, to the point, and have some interactive components. Companies should also make sure they designate plenty of time for breaks between sessions, especially if the kickoff is a multi-day affair. If that’s the case, more shorter days are likely better than fewer, longer days.

4. Use breakout rooms

A great way to combat video conference fatigue is through breakout sessions. A virtual event platform with breakout room functionality lets you split off from main meetings to join a side chat. They allow for more intimate conversations and an easier chance to network.

Maybe these sessions take the form of workshops, with tips on how to close sales while working remotely. Maybe they’re blue-sky improv sessions where teammates brainstorm new sales techniques. Whatever it is, make sure they’re fostering the type of collaboration you wouldn’t get in the main meeting, while instructing sales reps on how to face challenges.

5. Gamify engagement

Who doesn’t love some friendly competition? Gamification helps sales teams connect with each other, and there are plenty of ways to use it to spruce up a kickoff. One idea is to award superlatives to star achievers during the event — celebrating anything from funniest outfit to best sales pitch. It can also be where you spotlight the top performers from the past year.

Virtual events are great homes for quizzes, and you can even host an elaborate team-building game like an escape room. Some games should be tailored to sales goals, while others can just be for fun.

gamify engagement

6. Include practice exercises

Any sales kickoff is bound to be jam-packed with essential information. A great way to ensure sales reps are taking it all in is by supplementing the training with practice modules. This is a good time to mimic scenarios sales reps will have on the actual job. One idea is to have each person pitch a demo on a new product or service, and then have attendees vote on winners in a bracket-style tournament.

This is also a reason to consider a blended approach to your kickoff. Lecture-style training can be pre-recorded, and then the live kickoff stream could be spent discussing what everyone learned in real-time, talking through any comments or concerns.

7. Recruit charismatic speakers

You want guest speakers your sales team will get excited about. It could be worth asking who they’d most want to hear from ahead of picking a candidate. What’s nice is that, since the event is virtual, the speeches don’t have to be live, meaning you can access speakers on their own schedules across time zones.

The keynote speaker ideally strikes an inspirational tone while offering a fresh perspective. If that person isn’t a part of your company, try to get a voice from one of your executive teams to speak as well.

Also, sales reps like hearing from customers! If you can get an industry leader who uses your business solution to talk about why they like your company and what you can still do better, your staff will thank you.

8. Encourage participation

Polls, knowledge checks, ask-me-anything sections, and the like are online-friendly ways for participants to speak out. Make sure you’re asking questions throughout the event, and fostering an environment where sales reps feel comfortable speaking their piece.

This is where it helps to have a virtual events platform with attendee engagement tools like live polling, live surveys, Q&A features, games, and challenges that help make new sales concepts feel fresh. It can crowdsource the best questions from huge audiences, and reward attendees who stay the most engaged.

9. Ensure equity and inclusion

If you want to build a more inclusive company culture, you need to create opportunities for employees from every community to meet and network with each other within your event. It’s also important to make sure your speakers, along with the event writ large, reflect the diversity of your company.

10. Focus on value

Your first virtual sales kickoff may not be perfect, but pay special attention to what participants are responding to versus what’s faltering. It could be helpful to survey everyone after the event ends to gauge what attendees found valuable. Make sure to revisit these findings when it comes time to plan your next virtual sales kickoff event.

Out-of-the-box ideas to incorporate into your virtual sales kickoff

If you’re looking to shake things up, these three ideas for breakout sessions will get team members socializing and problem-solving.

Solve a murder mystery

Uh oh — someone was killed! In cold blood! And the sales team has to follow a series of hints to discover the culprit! Enterprising kickoff holders can devise their own mystery. Or, you can hire a company like Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries that will throw a virtual “whodunnit” like the one picture below (from the company’s Instagram) for you.

Solve a murder mystery

Host a trivia party tailored to the personalities of your sales team

Trivia night is a tried-and-true team-building exercise. And you can make it more collaborative by designing every question to be about the contestants themselves. They submit personal facts to the gamemaster beforehand, who devises a series of questions that give players a chance to learn more about their colleagues.

Host a virtual Shark Tank

If you want a sales-specific activity for your kickoff, why not drill pitching skills by imitating the acclaimed TV show? Sales coaches, influencers, and maybe even your keynote speaker, if they’re willing, can be judges. Teams break off into small groups pitching a made-up product with a brand name, tag line, and sales strategy. It’s a great way to get feedback on a sales pitch, while encouraging innovative thinking and rewarding standout performers.

Choosing the right virtual events platform for your sales kickoff

A virtual sales kickoff needs a host platform that can accommodate your entire team. And the pandemic has ushered in a glut of video conferencing options.

Before you choose a platform, you need to ensure it’s up to the task of your event. Some options have hard caps on attendees. Others fall short of providing interactive features that make most virtual sales kickoffs worthwhile — like polling and Q&A features. And only a select few platforms provide actionable data on how team members are engaging with the event.

Webex Events is an end-to-end events management solution tailor-made for an impactful virtual sales kickoff. Its easy-to-use interface allows for seamless registration, session schedules, live streaming, and small breakout video rooms.

Remember when we discussed how important it is to customize events according to your team’s needs? Webex Events easily enables you to gather information about your attendees’ roles and interests, giving you a comprehensive view of who’s attending.

And you can even unveil what’s resonating with them. The sleek data dashboard offers up-to-the-minute engagement data that tracks how attendees are contributing to the event. It’s an easy way to monitor feedback and track whether people are successfully networking.

Choosing the right virtual events platform for your sales kickoff

Sales kickoffs are valuable team events. They boost company morale while keeping employees inspired. With the right platform, it can be even more impactful virtually than it ever was in-person.

Ready to host a virtual sales kickoff for the ages? We’d love to give you a custom demo and show you Webex Events in action — just reach out here.

Olivia VanCuren
Olivia VanCuren

Content Marketing Specialist @ Webex Events (formerly Socio). Words enthusiast. Passionate about events that foster meaningful connections.