How Stratus pivoted to virtual solutions for a hybrid live-virtual experience.
Sales Meetings, large and small, are moving to live, virtual and hybrid models. Learn how one company built a hybrid hub-and-spoke meeting to rev up its sales force during the global pandemic.
National sales meetings can be tricky under the best of circumstances. For Stratus, its 2020 sales conference was shaping up to be trickier than most. Its traditional Fall meeting was important to their business. The challenge was how to safely conduct a meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic, which made travel and the traditional gathering of sales reps and corporate executives untenable.
Stratus’ Chief Executive Officer, Charlie Alvarez said, “We had a more urgent need to get together than ever, but with the pandemic, we had limitations on being able to fly everyone in for a large meeting. We wanted to do all we could to support the business need and keep our teams safe.”
Going 100% virtual wasn’t an option. In addition to rolling out sales tools and building a more effective sales force through teambuilding, as usual, COVID-19 was changing the way reps were to meet and educate physicians on its home EEG testing service and monitoring devices. The company was also in the midst of implementing a new selling system and launching its new corporate rebranding.
Alvarez and his team worked with American Meetings, Inc. – AMI to create a much-needed environment where everyone could embrace the revised corporate messaging in the same way, learn the new system, and access corporate leadership, while also enabling each region to provide localized updates for their reps.
The solution was a hub-and-spoke hybrid meeting, with the corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas serving as the hub. Complete with a professional-grade broadcast studio and a live stream set up manned by AMI staff, the kickoff general session was streamed to the sales teams in groups of 10 to 12 at six locations throughout the U.S.
Since launching the new brand was central to this year’s September event, Alvarez wanted to extend access to headquarters staff who usually don’t attend the sales meeting. “In addition to the local sales reps in each market, we had a number of individuals in the headquarters studio participating in the kickoff,” he said. The message was also recorded so that those who couldn’t watch it live in the office could view the link afterward.
From there the regional managers took over, handling the hands-on training and teambuilding before enjoying some downtime. AMI carefully selected dine-arounds that met social distancing criteria, at the hotel and area restaurants to provide some breaks as well. Everyone followed the same agenda and listened to the same pre-recorded presentations, while an executive was at each location to answer questions.
AMI recommended the use of remote event “pods” to accommodate attendees, including provision of the company-owned AV equipment. Most of the reps were able to drive to the regional events, though a few also had to fly in, which was a bit more logistically complicated than usual due to COVID-19. “Some cities or states weren’t letting people enter from certain other cities or states, but in the end, it all worked out,” said Alvarez.
In line with localized protocols and recommendations, participants followed COVID-19 hygiene and sanitation rules without incident, as laid out by AMI in its safety, sanitation & resource guide.
“We provided information and local standards in attendee registration materials,” said American Meetings Inc., Vice President, and Client Success Chelsea Litos. “We also posted travel directors on-site to support the guidelines, and our travel directors also had AV points of contact on-site to troubleshoot any connectivity issues that could arise,” she added.
“Managing six different venues and the broadcasting studio at the headquarters, versus having everyone gathered in one large function space, made it a little bit challenging — but we made it work beautifully,” stated Litos.
One interesting twist Stratus brought to the party was a virtual role-playing competition, where the reps across the market locations were recorded role-playing in the new selling system model. Then each regional hub voted on their best role player, with the videos of the winning entries sent to everyone the next morning. After watching the winning recordings over breakfast, everyone got to vote for the overall winner. Both the regional and corporate-wide top role players received prizes.
“All the role plays were great, which means that all the regional managers did a great job with training everyone,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said some of the keys to success were:
- Determine what constitutes your ideal situation, then find a partner such as AMI that can use their expertise to figure out how to make it happen. “AMI did a fantastic job of listening to what our concerns were and what we wanted, and then helping us get creative in how we could execute it.”
- Recognize that you will have to be flexible — and patient, especially when it comes to technology. “You have to expect there to be a few glitches,” he said.
- Hybrid is here to stay. Even if next year’s national sales meeting goes back to face to face, now that they have experience with the benefits of hybrid meetings, there will be no going back, said Alvarez. “This experience really has opened my eyes about how we can expand our messaging and culture to the rest of the organization.”
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