We’ve combed survey after survey and have had several multi-industry discussions to nail down the most commonly asked questions about the state of sales kickoff events in 2022 and beyond. While we knew going into this topic we would have more questions than answers, hearing what others are doing is always helpful.
Most companies are expecting to start experimenting with hybrid events by March of 2022. Clearly, a willing attendee base is key to the pace of returning to in-person events, and “convincing attendees to attend in person when some are attending remotely” was cited by the majority of studies as one of the top three obstacles to adopting hybrid events. As the world has changed, so has the sales kickoff experience. From the main stage to the breakout rooms, the annual sales kickoff needs a makeover right now.
So, let’s jump to some of the common themes and questions we’ve seen on the topic of sales kickoff events.
In-person, Virtual, or Hybrid?
The quick answer is: no one is really sure. Some are avoiding the topic altogether hoping that decisions will be easier to make next year. Nobody seems to be planning a single, global gathering of their sales teams, but many are exploring smaller regional gatherings with shared content across the meetings.
Networking with peers is the number one objective for hosting sales kickoff events in person, but the safety and health of attendees and employees supersede all of those desires and will continue to do so.
One event or the hub and spoke model?
Almost all sales leaders and event planners said they are planning for the sales kickoff event to be fully virtual, but are looking for ways to make it hybrid and accommodate small gatherings.
A popular response was that many globally located teams are planning to implement a hub and spoke model, or a fully virtual event permitting employees to gather in smaller groups if they prefer a live experience. Or hosting one, concurrent event executed in person across their regions. They will stream pre-recorded content for consistency across all events and live, regionally-focused content for other keynotes and breakouts.
How much will sales kickoff events cost moving forward?
Budgeting remains the most confusing part of sales kickoff event planning because budget categories are so foreign and variable. Small companies can more easily execute an event on Zoom for a smaller cost if they run the entire event virtually. Larger companies likely have virtual platform decisions to make, complicated by hybrid options, then adding back in food and beverage and travel to the mix. There are many factors to consider when trying to determine hybrid event budget requirements.
Not many seem to be worried about getting budget approval for any kind of meeting, it was how much they actually needed to ask for that created great anxiety.
For example, everyone seems to agree that virtual presenters need more effective training on how to be engaging in this new environment, but none of them have budgeted for speaker kits or virtual presentation coaching. Instead, they have focused on training internally for the technical logistics of joining a meeting to present.
More funding is going into higher production values and the creation of video assets to use during virtual events, and some are investing in studio time for executives to record keynotes. Additional funding for interactive elements is beginning to catch on, but there is still confusion around what elements are impactful to add on. Almost everyone said they were budgeting for sending experience kits if they were going to go virtual again.
For those exploring in-person events, decor and AV costs are the biggest internal push-back, and there is concern over rising food and beverage costs with dwindling staffing resources at venues, causing planners to explore hiring outside staff to oversee the event in place of the hotel staff that is no longer available.
In addition to hotel staffing challenges, there is a growing concern with the ability of in-house AV companies to be able to truly handle the needs of a hybrid event due to inexperience. This is driving up budgets to bring in an outside production team with the experience required to pull off the event, and to pay the in-house penalty of not using the hotel’s team.
How are you finding the costs for event execution compare to previous sales kickoffs?
Everyone discovered in 2020 that digital event production, or virtual events, take more staffing and manpower to execute than in-person events that used to rely on staff augmentation through hotel staff and onsite vendor support. Now there is a burden on in-house staff to manage breakout rooms and ancillary activities as well as speaker prep and attendee communications. As companies begin to explore going back to live events, they are finding that the hotels do not have the staff to support them yet.
The number one cost increase being seen is within freight and shipping, closely followed by venue costs.
Internally, a large number of people report having challenges with their stakeholders thinking that hybrid is as simple as adding a camera to the back of the room, so helping those executives understand what goes into a well-produced hybrid event would benefit planners.
From Uncertainty to Deliberate Construction
There is a lot of uncertainty still around events, but creating memorable experiences is something you can’t afford to avoid until things settle back into some format of normal.
Commit to hosting a sales kickoff event and watch it unfold, even if all the details from here to the final moment are a bit uncertain. Within that uncertainty is a constant truth: the health of your organization hinges on having a successful sales kickoff.
Whether live or remote, an engaging sales kickoff demands the right talent: a team that combines technical ingenuity with raw creativity. This is not the year to skip the recognition of your top performers – it’s the year to go big and find creative ways to acknowledge the hard work and tenacious attitudes that will define the brand’s future success. Now is not the time for excuses but to share the proof points of customer success stories so your sales teams can incorporate them into future sales storytelling. Define how success will look going forward. Next year’s sales kickoff is the place where you will communicate your carefully thought out strategy on making it your companies’ best year ever.
Events with the biggest impact thrive on the smallest details. You hold the power to deliver a message that inspires people to action. We’re here to help.