Science and Surprise

Spark Innovation, Ignite Results: Six Ways to Rethink Your Sales Kickoff

Six Ways to Rethink Your Sales Kickoff

Unexpected tactics for making a lasting impression on modern sales teams.
New trend lines are emerging, and brands are rethinking how they engage and educate their teams through annual kickoffs.

SKOs are designed to recharge, reconnect, and recommit their teams and must deliver on a significant investment. After the event wraps on its final day, organizations send their teams back into the field, hoping that the kickoff was impactful enough to guide and motivate them through the rest of the year.

Our latest SKO research shows that sales teams have new goals for attending: hands-on learning, team-building, strengthening culture, and celebrating action. This data aligns with another macro shift, Attendees as Stakeholders, which refers to attendees’ expectations to have a say in the brand's future and an active role in their own event experience. 

In addition, there are two other micro trends that event leaders should consider for their kickoff:

  • Dopamine Culture:
    Maintaining audience engagement in today’s B2B landscape remains a core challenge—and a key path to success for event marketers. The TikTokification of everything feeds demonstrably shorter attention spans for audiences that crave immediate gratification. This shift has given rise to the newly coined “Dopamine Culture,” characterized by a desire for immediate gratification and experiences that deliver a quick emotional payoff. 
  • Value of Values:
    Doing good is a savvy business strategy to increase a company's power, profit, and competitive advantage.  The impact of company values on business and culture is wildly consequential. In a world where consumers have more choices than ever, people increasingly support brands and work for companies that align with their values. This “Value of Values” lens helps event leaders drive success for their brands, events, and the world around them.

For brands that are engaging employees, these macro and micro trends influence events beyond the proverbial “rechange, reconnect, recommit” pillars. Let’s explore six innovative ways to rethink your SKO to deliver on these trends.

1. 'Dynamize' Your Content Formats

Our new stakeholders—our attendees—are ready for us to ditch the outdated lecture formats and breakouts. Own the movement by redesigning content formats to be more engaging.

  • Listening Tour Sessions: An executive enters the stage, “You may have expected me to deliver a speech, but I’m not going to do that yet. We want to hear from you first.” With that, the leadership team spreads out and joins groups of attendees for small group discussions. The results? Radical listening—where challenges are shared, opportunities are identified, success stories are celebrated, and ambitions are realized.
  • Rapid-Fire Presentations: Multiple presenters take the stage for five minutes each to present their topic; at the end, there is time for holistic discussion.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: From the keynote stage to breakout sessions, attendees are asked where they would like the conversation to go. Three options appear, and they vote on what they want the speaker to address next. This approach generates audience buy-in and keeps the speakers talking “to” them rather than “at” them. 
  • TikTokify Your Keynotes: In today’s post-entertainment dopamine culture, attendees crave easily consumable content with brevity and playfulness. To add style and speed to your keynotes, take a page from TikTok’s book. Produce bite-sized presentations, high-impact soundbites/visuals, interactive AR-styled overlays shown on the video screens, and rapid-fired “hot takes” from an onstage host desk.

2. React in Real-Time

Through the attendee-as-stakeholder lens, we know that attendees want to have a say in the brand and a role in a product’s future. More than ever, people expect to be seen, heard, and valued by brands. As event professionals, we can deliver on this in real time by using attendee actions to ignite changes within the experience and transform the space. 

  • Track Behavior: Aggregate data from room counters, beacon technology, and live polling during the first day of your SKO to gain insights into what attendees want and track their behavior patterns. 
  • Make Live Adjustments: After capturing behavioral data, flip the room overnight to accommodate your sales team's desires. Suppose you capture data showing that your attendees favor certifications over roundtables. In that case, add or remove certification space to prepare for day two, making your sales team protagonists in their SKO story. 

3. Bring in Fresh Talent

Bringing fresh energy into your SKO keeps attendees engaged and inspired. A wealth of up-and-coming talent is waiting to be discovered, and inviting these new voices will invigorate your sales meeting. 

  • Speaker-Value Alignment: Prioritize speakers who embody your company’s core values to deliver on modern values trends. Does your brand champion sustainability? Then an ecological expert might be a perfect fit. Is empowering women and POC a central value? Ensure your on-stage talent reflects that commitment. By aligning your speaker selection with your company’s identity, you’ll create a more meaningful experience while building brand love among your sales team. 
  • Book the Unexpected: To keep the energy fresh and exciting at your SKO, feature up-and-coming musicians. These artists often bring a unique sound and passionate performance that resonates with a younger demographic, showcasing your brand’s interest in current trends and curated experiences. Get inspiration for your next booking with Opus Agency’s Spotify playlists

4. Tap Into Sleep Tourism 

Sleep scientists have proven that sleep is the best way to prepare the brain for forming new memories and retaining information. This cognitive learning data and the exploding sleep tourism trend suggest that attendees desire (and benefit from) sleep wellness. Here’s how to tap in:

  • Sleep Amenities: Support attendees’ well-being and knowledge retention with a room drop promoting quality sleep. The drop could include sleep masks, sleepy time tea, essential oils, and an informational card highlighting the science behind sleep’s role in creating memories. 
  • Sleep Activations: Get experimental by designing sleep therapy activations featuring cocoon hammocks, offering a unique and comfortable space to rejuvenate during the event.

5. Uplevel Your Gamification

Gamification remains a powerful tool for increasing event participation and strengthening retention, but attendee preferences are evolving. To stay ahead of the curve, we must adapt our approach. Here's where the latest gamification trends and guest preferences intersect.

  • AI-Sprinkle: As AI advances, its role in optimizing team-building and events is expected to expand, delivering even more engaging and successful experiences for attendees and planners. By seamlessly integrating AI-powered elements such as auto-generated text, an intelligent chatbot, and image verification, AI improves team-building activities' engagement, efficiency, and overall experience. 
  • Mazes and Escape Room: Simulations inspired by mazes and escape rooms immerse sales teams and partners in real-world customer scenarios. By navigating these simulated and engaging challenges, attendees gain a deeper understanding of customer needs and have the opportunity to test their newfound knowledge. After completing the simulation, attendees unlock a “safe room” where they receive a signature beverage or coveted swag item.
  • Experience Auctions: Points aren’t just for leaderboards. By pre-allocating points to attendees, planners create a dynamic system where individuals “spend” points throughout their journey. Planners strategically introduce surprise and delight moments where attendees use their points to bid on unique experiences or exclusive swag items. This approach sparks friendly competition and keeps attendees actively participating.

6. Pilot New Problem-Solving

Ignite creativity and break free from conventional thinking with problem-solving exercises designed to push boundaries and inspire innovation. 

  • Role Players: Conduct role-playing training to empower attendees to extend their POVs. PaddleBoat, a tool that incorporates AI-powered role players, is an excellent tool for facilitating these scenarios while adding an extra layer of engagement.
  • Rule Breakers: Encourage attendees to submit their most pressing challenges before the event. Then, invite someone outside your industry to tackle them on stage. This outsider perspective might spark the next A-ha moment.
  • Improv Basics: Integrate improvisation techniques directly into your SKO sessions. The core principle of improv, the “yes, and” approach, emphasizes building upon ideas rather than shutting them down. By dividing attendees into small groups and having them practice this technique, you unlock fresh ideas and collaborative problem-solving skills.

The new era of annual kickoffs is here. While the core goals of recharging, reconnecting, and recommitting teams remain consistent, attendees’ expectations are evolving. These six innovative ideas embrace new trends and empower sales teams to be active participants in shaping the future of the brand. From gamified escape rooms to suspended sleep hammocks, these tactics deliver a lasting impact and position your brand for success. 

Ready to dive deeper into these cultural movements and SKO trends? Explore with our team.

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