For some, next year's sales kick off is just another meeting topic that's getting snooze-buttoned because it's too complex to tackle right now. For others, it's happening this fall and they are actively navigating the rapids to bring it to life. From global participation parity to budgeting questions to venue staffing shortages, the conversation in today's Pulse Check was lively and engaging. While we know going into this topic (as with all Pulse Checks) that we would all have more questions than answers, hearing what others are doing is always helpful when having internal conversations and when guiding clients.
We always start with the same two travel-related questions each time to see how companies are reacting to the gradual loosening of travel restrictions. So... let's dive in.
Corporate Travel and Event Participation
Question #1: What is your current company policy for business travel to WORK at an event?
A handful of participants said they are wide open and approved for travel, however they have no official T&E budgets, so each trip requires management review and approval. One participant reported that their company is permitting US travel beginning in September, but global travel will continue to vary by region. We heard from one participant that while they are permitted to travel anywhere, they are still not sure they want to - which is something to consider when calling your in-person sales kick-off "MANDATORY." Several participants stated that they have lots of upcoming events to work at starting in October.
Question #2: What is your current company policy for business travel to ATTEND an event?
One participant shared that their company is encouraging them to continue to only attend virtual events this year. Many said they will be permitted to attend events after their travel ban is lifted in September, but since no budget was allotted for 2021, they just need participation and budget approval from management. This was dependent upon home location, as some countries are not open yet.
Format for 2022 Sales Kick Off events
Question #1: In-person, Virtual, or Hybrid?
The short answer is: no one is really sure. Some are avoiding the topic altogether hoping that decisions will be easier to make later this year. No participants said they were planning to hold a large single global gathering of their sales teams, but many are exploring smaller regional gatherings with shared content across the meetings. Although with one of the primary objectives of the sales meeting being networking with peers, regional gatherings may not provide the global access to peers and executives needed to make it effective. Global parity/equity was the primary concern for decision-making. If the sales team in the US can meet in person, but the sales team in APAC cannot, companies are opting to not gather at all. We raised the question of whether revenue weighting mattered (i.e. if 80% or revenue comes from the US, should that be a reason for the US to be allowed to gather when other regions can't?), and the answer was a resounding no - parity/equity/inclusion takes priority. (An interesting business and ethical conversation can spawn from this one, in my opinion!).
Question #2: One event or cascading events?
One participant said they will focus on one concurrent event, executed in-person across the regions. Pre-recorded executive content for consistency across all events, and live regionally-focused content for other keynotes and breakouts.
Another said they are planning a fully virtual event, but will be permitted employees to gather in groups up to 6 if they want to experience it together.
All of the rest of the participants said they are planning for the event to be fully virtual, but are looking at ways to make it hybrid to accommodate small gatherings.
Question #1: What are the major budget category changes for your upcoming event? (A/V, supporting hybrid, T&E changes, content creation/video production)
Budgeting remains the most confusing part of beginning the SKO discussions because budget categories are so foreign and so variable. Small companies can easily execute an event on Zoom meetings for minima cost if they keep the entire event virtual, but larger companies have platform decisions to make, complicated by hybrid options and adding back in F&B and travel to the mix. While none of our participants were worried about getting budget approval, all were unsure HOW MUCH they actually needed to ask for.
Everyone agreed that presenters need more effective training on how to be an engaging speaker in a virtual environment, but none of the companies have budgeted for that, instead focusing on internally-created technical training on the logistics of joining the meeting to present.
More funding is going into higher production values and creation of video assets to use during virtual events, and some are even investing in studio time for executives to record keynotes. Additional funding is needed for interactive elements, but there is still confusion around what elements are impactful to add on. Everyone said they were budgeting for sending experience kits if they were going to do virtual again.
For those exploring in-person events, decor and A/V costs are the biggest internal push-back, and there is concern over rising F&B costs with dwindling staffing resources at venues, causing planners to explore hiring outside staffing to help oversee the events when hotel staff used to be readily available to support. In addition to the hotel staffing challenges, participants were concerned with the ability of in-house A/V companies to be able to truly handle the needs of hybrid when the onsite A/V team may be inexperienced; therefore the budgets are being driven up by a desire to bring in outside production teams with more experience and companies are being forced to pay an in-house penalty.
For digital events, speaker peripherals is new line item that wasn't previously in the budget (ring light, microphone, etc).
Question #2: How are you finding the costs for execution - similar to 2019 levels, or changing?
Everyone discovered in 2020 that digital production/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 more burden on in-house staff to manage breakout rooms and ancillary activities, as well as speaker prep and attendee communications. As they begin to explore in-person, they are finding that the hotels do not have the staff to support the events yet.
The number one cost increase our participants are seeing is in freight/shipping, closely followed by venue costs (primarily F&B and room rental).
Internally, some people reported 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.
Greatest challenges when planning for the 2022 SKO
Question #1: What concerns do you have with meeting your business goals?
The number one challenge participants who were attempting to book in-person events found was the hotel staffing shortage. There was great discussion around the overall hospitality industry exodus. Due to the personnel losses, many venues are bringing in young inexperienced staff who are not capable of handling the needs of a complex corporate group. Hotel response times are unacceptably long. There was talk of creating a "Dear Venues:" letter from corporate event professionals to help them understand what we are experiencing when we try to inquire about group events.
Participants are hungry for productivity reports to understand the impact of virtual versus in-person SKOs. While sales teams understand the need for virtual, and have enjoyed the time, effort, and money invested in attempts to make the sales meetings meaningful and fun, they are dying to get back to in-person because they inherently understand the value of it.
Question #2: What concerns do you have about face-to-face engagements?
For young people, we're going to be in a huge deficit. Through lockdowns, they're not engaging in the soft skills category (communication, collaboration), and its going to be a huge topic as we come back live to get those younger folks skilled in how to engage with others.
This question ended up reverting back to digital engagement, though, as all participants agreed that their 2022 SKOs would still largely be virtual or hybrid with an anchor around digital and only small groups gathering.
Everyone agreed that more digital presentation training, engagement training, and thoughtful content creation is needed and should budgeted for with money and TIME. The reality is that screen-based content CAN be impactful, engaging, emotionally-bonding, and educational... just look at TV and movies. Companies need to spend more time and money making the content watchable and useful.
Great conversation, great insights! We look forward to doing it again in 4 weeks - Join us for our next Pulse Check on August 20th at 11am Central. This one-hour insights session is free to join.
Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder of Haute Dokimazo, sparking profitable relationships anchored in genuine connection through rousing shared experiences and conversations. Explore the #HugLife community for event professionals and Convo, a program for marketing and sales executives.
Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies that believe in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation.
Contact Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about how Haute can help you create programs that foster deep and trusting relationships with your customers and workforce.