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In our recent post, we shared the recommendations of Emilia D’Anzica, Customer Success Leadership Governing Council Member, and a distinguished panel of CS experts on why CS leaders need to conduct semi-annual or annual Customer Success Kickoff or Summit. The panel included Sabina Pons, Vice President of Client Success, Support & Community at Mavenlink, Julie LaPlante, VP, Global Client Success at Bazaarvoice, and Tiesha Bursese, Global Head of Operations & Infrastructure at Square. In this post, we’ll review the panel’s advice on how you make the event a success.

Successful Summits are Designed

One of the biggest tips the panel shared is this–a successful summit is the product of sufficient planning and preparation. There are many decisions to make when designing a summit that builds team spirit and energizes participants. Will it be in-person or remote? Do you invite other teams? Do you include training? It can take weeks to plan an effective event. Julie shared how, during the pandemic, she and her team turned their annual planning session from a day-long in-person event to smaller sessions spread out over multiple days. 

There are choices to be made and it’s best to make them consciously. If you are doing a remote-only event, you have to design accordingly. Day-long sessions don’t work as well using a web conference. If your event is all remote, consider designing threads or tracks to include smaller sessions and have more of them. This flexibility makes the event less intensive and perhaps more valued.

No matter what you need people interacting with each other.  When you are in person, this happens naturally.  Remote events generally require more planning to ensure the team is interacting.  Polls or breakout rooms work well if you have good questions or prompts and can use team members who are sufficiently trained to facilitate. An online event that doesn’t get the participant involved is fine for basic communication but does not build team spirit. Both are important.

Virtual events also need frequent breaks and benefit from clear agendas and plans. When folks are together in the same room, you can be more flexible and still get everyone on the same page. This is hard to do when working with remote participants. 

The panelists agreed that the planning stage is an excellent time to get other leaders and groups involved. You can talk to other senior leaders in your company to help them understand why they should attend or participate on panels. You can survey prospective attendees to set expectations and find out what they hope to learn. After the event, it is a good idea to collect feedback and survey both leaders and participants to determine if the summit met their expectations. You should design these surveys during your planning phase. That way you will know in advance what you want to accomplish and are more likely to plan your agenda and activities to meet that plan.

Ostensibly, the purpose of a summit is to introduce or revisit a shared mission, annual plans, and quarterly goals. You do a lot of work. However, a clear recommendation from the panel was this–the event must also be fun. The panelist had many recommendations on how to design a memorable summit by balancing work and play,

Recommended Activities

As a part of your planning consider not only content but also activities.  Making the event enjoyable helps build relationships that become bridges between individuals, teams, and departments. Sabrina described two ice breakers she finds useful. When teams can meet in person, make small, comfortable groups that let people stand, move, and be animated. Have participants stand in a circle and toss a beach ball to one another. On each panel of the ball is a question about themselves. When an attendee catches the ball, they have to answer the question on the panel that their index finger touches. When she’s doing the events using Zoom, participants answer seasonally relevant questions, like “What was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?” 

Julie shared her experiences using puzzle rooms and scavenger hunts to build teams. Groups enjoy getting out of the office and doing fun things together. She has also done virtual talent shows when hosting remote events. Team members enjoy seeing their colleagues’ personalities shine when performing for each other. 

Tiesha likes team icebreakers in which members share fun facts about each other. She reminded us that this is one of the most important reasons for having a summit–helping team members get to know one another. This type of activity works for both in-person and remote events. Her team collects fun facts about individuals and then reads them during a session. Team members enjoy trying to guess who the fact is about. 

The panelists shared their experiences with both paid facilitators and free services. Tiesha shared a great resource, AirBNB’s online experience site, which lists hundreds of activities for groups to do together. The consensus was clear–you don’t need a big budget to build team spirit. 

The panel also recommended you use a theme, like Carpe Diem or Heroes Together. A theme allows you to package the spirit of the summit in a way that can inform other design decisions like tracks and content. The theme can also support or complement the company mission, a Sales initiative, or product launch that focuses on commercial activity for the year. All of these relationship building activities are important and need to be a part of your planning process. To reiterate, Successful Summits are “designed”.

Assessing Summit Success

When you’re planning the summit, you should determine how you’ll assess if the summit is a success. Tiesha reminded us to capture both qualitative and quantitative feedback. “For qualitative feedback, you should survey attendees after the summit to capture feedback and sentiment,” she said. 

While you will probably measure attendance, one benefit from using Zoom and other conference products is you’ll be able to measure more precisely attendance and participation. Did attendees arrive on time? How long did they stay? 

Julie recommends talking to senior leaders who attended to capture their feedback. Did the summit meet or exceed their expectations? Sabina said doing a proper post-mortem on summit performance is an important step. She recommends capturing opportunities for improvement while the feedback is fresh to make the event even better the next time. Use the feedback to fill in gaps in content you didn’t cover or relationships that you need to build during the year.  

While the panel was brief, Emilia, Sabina, Julie, and Tiesha shared many more ideas and recommendations that were captured in the shared video recording. If you are considering hosting a summit or are planning one now, I encourage you to watch the recording or jump on the CSLN Slack channel to brainstorm with other CS leaders. If you haven’t planned your Kickoff or Summit – think again – it just might be the thing that makes the difference between you being successful or not next year!