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Virtual or In-Person? How to find the right strategy for your SKO

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In the first four months of 2020, more than 83 million events were canceled or rescheduled worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After that, most people stopped counting. Companies went remote, leaned heavily into the virtual world, and began holding every meeting online. 

It’s fairly simple to switch your weekly status meeting to a zoom call, but it’s an entirely different animal to pull off a virtual sales kickoff (SKO) event involving your entire sales and marketing teams. The challenge of successfully executing a virtual SKO undoubtedly tested many marketers’ creativity and grit last year, but it also added a new tool to their SKO toolboxes for 2022. 

Virtual SKOs existed pre-COVID, but they were mostly considered lesser value alternatives to in-person events. Now that workers are returning to offices, and travel restrictions are easing, should the virtual SKO be relegated to the history books? We say, “No Way!” Both virtual and in-person SKOs have their unique merits and handicaps. Below, we’ve summarized the strengths of each model to help you decide which one best fits your goals in 2022. 

Why virtual SKOs are better than in-person SKOs:


Planning a virtual SKO

1. Cost savings

Any way you look at it, a virtual SKO is going to be less expensive than an in-person event, especially if you have stakeholders and employees spread across the globe. Virtual SKOs eliminate the costs of travel, venue rental, food, entertainment and accommodations. If you are looking to plan an SKO on a very tight budget, virtual is the way to go. 

2. Flexible scheduling

It’s challenging to find a time when everyone from sales and marketing can be physically together for multiple days on end without impacting other aspects of your business. A virtual SKO can happen over several days, or once a week for a month, or once a month for a year. If you have a very busy sales team, or employees on the other side of the world, a virtual SKO offers scheduling flexibility to make sure everyone is included, and no one is severely jet-lagged upon arrival.

3. Recorded content and better analytics 

Virtual events can be easily recorded from start to finish, unlike in-person events where some meetings or discussions won’t be captured. When a virtual SKO goes really well, it can be repurposed for onboarding or training. If it turns out to have some flaws, watching it will make for a great learning experience for the team who planned the event. 

Digital SKOs can also provide a wealth of analytics that can help you judge event success and be more effective.

Bonus: Reps that get hired throughout the year can watch your recorded SKO and catch up quickly. They’ll get to see how your team interacts and benefit from the shared energy without feeling as if they’ve missed out this year.  

4. Ability to evaluate and pivot along the way

Since virtual SKOs are easier to spread out over days, weeks or months, you’ll have the opportunity to receive feedback from the sales team in real-time. Build assessments or surveys into your agenda to gain valuable information so you can make adjustments as you go. With an in-person event, you can’t evaluate your success until the event has concluded, at which point you may wish you could’ve changed a few things. 

Why in-person SKOs are better than virtual SKOs: 


1. Productivity and persuasion

A survey of 760 business executives at small, medium, and large businesses revealed that the overwhelming majority feel face-to-face meetings are better for persuasion (91%), leadership (87%), engagement (86%), accountability (79%), and decision-making (82%), all of which are vital to SKO success. That doesn’t mean these things can’t be achieved in a virtual SKO, but more thought, time and creativity are necessary to achieve a similar result. 

2. Engagement

The multisensory experience is a key tactic used by event planners to deliver creative and memorable meetings and events. It is based on the idea that the more senses a person uses to engage with an object, topic or person, the more likely they are to remember the experience and make a meaningful connection. Full multisensory input is not accessible at a virtual event, which may leave your attendees battling boredom and distraction. There are ways to combat this, but nothing virtual will provide the same kind of multisensory engagement that can be achieved in person.

3. Team building

One of the main purposes of an SKO is to get your sales team working together toward a shared goal. When it comes to building relationships, nothing can beat facetime. It’s harder to detect social cues and body language in a virtual environment, which can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. There are many fun and productive virtual team-building exercises, but face-to-face teamwork is important for building personal bonds and a shared sense of accomplishment.

4. The buzz

We’ve all been somewhere where we could physically feel the buzz of excitement in the air. It’s that energy that only happens when a group of humans are moving in sync toward the same exciting goal in the same place at the same time. It is simply irreplaceable. Unfortunately, until we get to the point where virtual reality is really that good, we will have to concede that the in-person buzz is reserved for in-person events only, and that’s what makes them so special. 

When deciding which route to go this year, start by identifying your SKO goals, budget, and restrictions, then weigh those against each model’s strengths. There is no right or wrong answer, and the perfect strategy may lie somewhere in between. 


Blending in-person and virtual for your next SKO

A successful sales kickoff must include a healthy dose of celebration and motivation, as well as time spent learning the practical nuts and bolts of your sales and marketing plans. A virtual SKO lowers costs, adds flexibility and gives you some great content to repurpose, but nothing can beat the energy and team cohesion opportunities of an in-person event. If you are struggling to decide, why not blend the two and create an SKO with virtual and in-person elements? 

It is likely that your SKO will include an array of activities such as presentations, celebrations, and team-building exercises. Make a list of each activity and identify which could be done virtually and which would absolutely benefit from that special in-person energy. For instance, a presentation about your new marketing strategy may be easier to digest virtually. There, you can take polls, attach materials, and allow the sales team to save and repurpose elements. A sales celebration and goal-setting session would definitely benefit from some in-person power and that special buzz. It could be as simple as hosting virtual events during the day capped off with a social happy hour event in the evening. By combining virtual and in-person events you can cut some costs and invest more heavily in the things that really need a personal touch. 


Expect the unexpected, and lean on us for help 

If there is anything we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that we should all expect the unexpected. It pays to be well-practiced at virtual and in-person event planning so your team can have a successful sales kickoff no matter what the circumstances.

Whether you choose a virtual or an in-person SKO, we’re here to help you strategize, create and execute exceptional SKO content that engages your audience from any platform. Contact us and we’ll help make your next SKO a content-rich, impactful event.