We are several days away from kicking off our annual Cisco sales meeting that brings together all of our sales teams from around the world to share with them the vision and goals for the upcoming fiscal year. In speaking with the organizers of this event we are expecting over 19,000 people to attend …virtually. Yes, you heard me correctly. This will be an entirely virtual meeting for one of the toughest audiences in the world …the sales organization! I’m a long-time Cisco veteran and I’ve attended at least 18 of these during my tenure. I can assure you that this is one of the annual highlights for the sales teams. This gives us the opportunity to get together in person, share strategies and best practices, learn from each other, attend a ton of side meetings, have fun, learn — and for a lucky few — get recognized for a job well done.
I can assure you that when I heard the plans a year ago for this virtual meeting, I almost had a brain hemorrhage. “Are you sure?” I questioned Christine Castle, who’s leading the team for the sales meeting. “Carlos, we either do something creative or we can’t afford to have a meeting.” Christine said.
Necessity is the mother of invention and with the tough economic climate, canceling the meeting was not a great idea. At Cisco, we are accustomed to overcoming problems and thinking out of the box, but this posed some unique challenges:
-- Size of audience - we didn’t know of any global events that gathered this many people in a virtual and interactive way. We have conducted several virtual sessions over the last 12 months. Our Analyst Meeting in December had over 700 virtual attendees. Our Strategic Leadership Offsite had over 2,000 and the Cisco Live Event in San Francisco in June had over 3,000. But 19,000 was a big step up, to say the least.
-- Technical and logistical challenges -- how do you bring together this many people globally: bandwidth, time zones, language etc…..
-- How do you make it interactive?
-- How do you reward participation?
-- What do we want them to learn?
-- Will it work?
Without boring you, the challenges are many and complex.
The team spent a lot of time in architecting the desired outcome. They tackled the challenges ferociously and kept pushing the envelope. In addressing one of the key challenges of keeping the sales organization engaged, they came up with a concept of doing a game. I remember the pitch: “Everyone loves a game and we’ll make it competitive with prizes and leader boards. You know the sales teams love to compete and win.” I remember telling myself that they were on to something. Darn, I wanted to play and I didn’t even know what the game was about.
Many months have passed and many on this team have experienced a lot of sleepless nights and long days. But after seeing the finished product, I can only say one word …WOW! The virtual interface is both beautiful and elegant and extremely easy to navigate. My new best virtual friend, Eva, is just a click away to help me, should I need it. There is the ability to customize my schedule and the sessions that I’m attending. I can watch VODs on topics that I want to learn about. There is the ability to find out who’s online and establish chat sessions with them. After each session, you can take the Cisco Insider Quiz and get points that are added to the Leader board that gives you the chance to win prizes.
“The Threshold” game is incredible, part “24 ” and part James Bond. Clues are hidden in a great plot and it requires collaboration among the teams in order to solve the puzzles and win the game. The concepts of wisdom of crowds and strength of weak ties are being leveraged in this game. The initial feedback and activity on the site is extremely positive from the sales teams.
I’m still holding my breath that everything will go well next week but what we are doing here is truly cutting edge and I think it will change our sales and large meeting format forever. The financial case is obvious: one-tenth the cost and the increase in productivity is huge since you don’t waste days traveling. And the interactivity and games draws participation which you don’t always get in live meetings.
My mind is speeding from one crazy thought to another thinking of the implications. Will gaming be the platform of the future for learning? Will the clues and interactivity make it into primetime shows where the audience hunts for clues and solves the puzzles? Will virtual meetings become commonplace for all businesses? More questions than answers.
I hope you stay tuned to this blog where I’ll provide you with more lessons learned and share the outcomes from next week. I would also love for you to comment and share your thoughts since we are all learning from this experience. It’s exciting to be a part of something like this and hope that you’ll take the journey with me.
Gotta go. The Threshold is waiting for me!