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Virtual SKO? Here’s How Hopin’s Nikki Schanzer Helps Sales Reps Stay Engaged, Create Connections and Get Excited About Learning

The end of 2021 is in sight — and that means one thing for many Sales Enablement professionals: Sales Kickoff is around the corner. Kicking 2022 off right with a great virtual SKO takes lots of planning, and getting started now can help ensure your event is a success.

The main goal of SKO is to motivate your Go-To-Market teams by celebrating their wins over the past year and preparing them for what’s ahead. It sets the tone and helps build excitement, gearing them up to hit or even exceed their goals for the coming year. But if you’ve ever planned a virtual Sales Kickoff, you’ve probably come across some stumbling blocks — what we like to call ‘pink elephants’ — that must be acknowledged and addressed ahead of time. 

During Sales Enablement Collective’s Sales Enablement Festival, WorkRamp’s Director of Enablement, Stephanie Middaugh interviewed Nikki Schanzer, Head of GTM and Sales Enablement and Hopin, to confront the challenges surrounding SKOs and share some unique virtual Sales Kickoff ideas — whether virtual, hybrid or in-person. Here’s how Nikki and her team address these so-called pink elephants that, without careful planning, can potentially derail your virtual SKO:

1. Prep speakers to avoid going off-script 

Ever had a speaker go rogue? According to Nikki, speaker prep is critical to avoiding this unfortunate — but common — issue during a virtual SKO. Careful preparation and establishing trust with presenters can help reduce the risk of speakers going off-script, while ensuring all the relevant material is covered. “Asking questions such as ‘What part of what we’re planning for in your presentation doesn’t work for you?’ gives speakers an out sooner and empowers them to tell you where they don’t feel comfortable,” she said. 

Nikki added that one of the common pitfalls in planning is when people want to stick with what’s worked in the past, rather than try something new. “I like to shake things up and surprise and delight people,” she said. “For example, some teams will resort to talking about new launches, and providing a data dump for the sales team, but that isn’t dynamic. Pre-recording segments — even for live events — can provide the freedom to try new, more engaging ways of delivering information.” 

Nikki recalled one SKO she managed as Revenue Enablement Lead at Dropbox, where she created a “newscast,” with each presenter taking on a different news segment, such as the crime report or the weather. “Attendees loved it, and we were able to convey the same amount of information in eight minutes that would have taken a speaker 30 minutes to deliver,” she said. “Plus, it forced us to be really crisp with our messaging.”

Creative approaches such as these can be effective ways to spice up virtual SKOs, but more importantly, help speakers who may otherwise deliver dry presentations get their material across more effectively. “It’s important to understand the content and the type of speaker you’re working with, then get creative around it,” Nikki said.

2. Have a contingency plan for unexpected glitches

With any event, things can — and likely will — go wrong, and it’s critical to have a backup plan in place. Whether a speaker is a no-show, technical difficulties cause delays, presenters don’t fill their entire time slots, or some other hiccup happens, having a contingency plan ready to go ensures your virtual SKO stays on track and provides peace of mind. “Queing up a video or allowing attendees to take a coffee break can fill the gaps, so you can address the problem and reset,” Nikki said.

Not having a streamlined way to communicate with speakers during the event can create a lot of stress and hassle. “I’ve had situations where there was no way for me to get the speaker’s attention,” Nikki said. “At one event, a speaker thought he only had 10 minutes to present when he actually had 35, and I was frantically trying to let him know to keep talking! After that happened, I knew we needed a direct line of communication behind the scenes at all times.”

This challenge is easier to address on a video-conferencing platform like Hopin, which has an integrated messaging app so you can ping speakers at any time. Still, Nikki recommends setting speaker expectations and ensuring they know to pay attention to incoming chat messages throughout their presentation.

Nikki also suggests planting moles in the audience who can ask questions and participate, particularly when speakers bring up potentially controversial points. “Consider who you can ask to participate in the discussion on certain topics to facilitate engagement and discussion,” she said.

3. Allow time for attendees to relax — or even disengage 

Keeping attendees engaged throughout the virtual SKO can be challenging, especially in a virtual setting. Nikki has several tactics she uses to gauge attendees’ sentiment and ensure they’re tuned in and connecting. 

First, she leverages polling tools to collect real-time feedback throughout the event. She also leverages Snapbar, a photo booth app that’s integrated with Hopin and enables people to take photos with other attendees. “They can add fun backgrounds and share them via Slack,” she said, adding that providing opportunities for people to network informally can help virtual events feel more like in-person events. “Providing an avenue for people to have brief, informal connections — and giving them permission to have a conversation while the event is going on — helps to mitigate screen fatigue and keep people actively engaged throughout the event.”

4. Determine what level of training should take place — if at all

While virtual SKOs are often used to train sales reps on sales methodologies, products and roadmaps, and other topics key to sales success, Nikki suggests they might not be the right venue for training after all. “The main goal for SKO is to create connections, and help your sales reps build rapport with one another and get prepared for what’s ahead,” she said. 

Nikki described an event where they delivered training in an elaborate roundtable format, separating attendees into groups with each sales role represented. “We facilitated mock role plays and asked all groups to simulate the process of closing a deal.” Not only was the experience hectic and stressful, in the end, the outcome was that people made connections — a goal that can be accomplished without focusing so hard on training. “You have to determine what you’re trying to accomplish during the event, and if creating connections is the goal, that doesn’t have to happen during training,” she said. 

Nikki believes that the focus of SKOs should be on celebrations and realignment, with some teasers about what follow-up training will entail. “It’s important to prepare reps for what they’ll be learning in order to execute on the goals laid out during your virtual SKO,” she said, adding that it’s important to keep a critical eye on what you’re presenting and how you plan to reinforce the learnings post-SKO. “Is it a panel? Is there a customer story you can feature? Is there a more dynamic way to deliver the information instead of having a speaker with slides? On a virtual platform, you have the ability to do things creatively and rethink how you deliver sales enablement training, and help get people excited about learning,” she said.

Get fired up!

SKOs are the ideal venue for building excitement and getting reps fired up to make the coming year a success, but careful planning is essential. With a little forethought and creativity, your virtual SKO can be free of any show-stopping glitches and just as engaging as an in-person SKO.

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Michelle Mckinley

Head of Growth Marketing, WorkRamp

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