November 19, 2012
by Andy Saks
Every January, AT&T assembles a gigantic group of staffers, executives and resellers together for an event called the Alliance Channel Kickoff. It takes over a hotel and spends a week announcing, strategizing, entertaining, and revving up everything and everyone for the year to come.
One of the Kickoff’s key events is the Champion Awards dinner, a night designed to recognize the top AT&T business resellers from among dozens of firms in a variety of sales categories.
At the 2011 Kickoff in Dallas, AT&T faced anew the same challenge of any company in its position: how do you run an awards show that entertains your resellers, makes them feel appreciated for the past year’s efforts, and gets them excited to sell your products and services in the coming year?
Making a collection of four hundred grizzled sales veterans feel entertained, appreciated and excited enough in one evening to last a whole year isn’t an easy task.
It means getting everyone emotionally invested in selling AT&T’s products and services over selling those of their competitors.
It means squeezing a year’s worth of good vibrations into a single evening, so the vibes linger when resellers return home.
It means making resellers confident that if they represent AT&T well in the field all year, their efforts will be recognized and appreciated at next year’s Champions Dinner.
How, exactly, do you do all that in an evening?
The answer isn’t trivial; there’s a lot riding on those resellers. They represent AT&T in the field to key business customers. Their sales represent a big chunk of AT&T’s business. Gaining or losing even a few of those sales can significantly affect AT&T’s bottom line.
AT&T had already built a relationship with Spark Presentations, having booked Andy the previous year to write and deliver a game show for its Channel Partners Conference trade show booth and deliver Spark’s booth staff training the previous year.
AT&T turned to Spark again for a master of ceremonies services and got Andy involved.
So how did Andy inject the fun and silliness that AT&T wanted to convey into the proceedings?
Andy had already designed and served as emcee for the previous year’s Champions Dinner. He’d built the evening around an Olympic theme (AT&T sponsored the upcoming Winter Olympics that year) that included a torch lighting ceremony, a “Parade of Regions” for AT&T’s regional directors, and reseller award categories linked to daunting Winter Olympics events.
This year, AT&T and Andy went fishing for a different theme that would suit the event, resonate with the audience and allow them plenty of room to play. They found it in Super Bowl XLV, which would take place in Dallas two weeks later.
Andy and AT&T built the evening for maximum good vibration by inserting this popular competitive event around every aspect of its dinner program.
Andy embedded powerful football analogies throughout the evening’s scripts.
This example, from his Welcome Speech, expresses AT&T’s admiration and gratitude for resellers’ efforts through the shaky economy of 2010:
“You put on your pads and grit your teeth and pointed yourself down field and pushed and scraped and clawed for every single yard.
Some days you found the opening and gained some distance, and some days you held your ground at scrimmage.
But no matter where you landed, you got up and you pushed again, keeping your gaze fixed relentlessly on those big yellow uprights in the distance.
And in that effort, you demonstrated your character, you built your greatness, and you found your glory.”
Next, Andy inserted several football-themed theatrical bits to lighten the mood. He unveiled each of AT&T’s RSLs (Regional Sales Leaders) by introducing them as the leaders of three conferences and nine divisions in the fictitious “AT&T Football League,” using his booming announcer’s voice and mentioning a sales category in which that region excelled.
As he did, each division leader, wearing an AT&T football jersey in their “conference” color, ran through the crowd to the strains of college marching band music, high-fiving the resellers and then jumping on stage.
Later, Andy scripted a bit in which an AT&T staffer dressed as an NFL referee marched on stage calling a penalty on him for “improper use of award points” and commanded him to increase reseller prizes.
He even orchestrated a fake “Gatorade dump” in which AT&T executives poured orange Gatorade buckets full of confetti over the heads of the evening’s top winners to wrap up the festivities.
Andy conducted “sideline interviews” of key resellers in the audience at their table, asking them to brag about their sales prowess from the previous year.
Each one shared unique, successful selling strategies with their fellow resellers.
Andy squeezed more inspiration from football. He mimicked the live telecast format by inserting “commercial breaks” and running memorable AT&T television commercials from the 1970s to 1990s on the big screens.
The ad series included samples from the memorable “Reach out and touch someone” and “You will” series, each bringing a warm touch of nostalgia to the proceedings (and amusement; did AT&T really think in 1993 that we’d videoconference on a pay phone?)
It’s hard to measure the impact of a warm, fun approach like this.
How many more sales do you generate from hundreds of resellers in a calendar year when you make them laugh and show them the acknowledgement they feel they deserve?
I can’t quantify it exactly. What I can tell you, watching it all from the stage, is that the resellers had a lot of fun, the AT&T staffers who played along had more fun, and the AT&T executives in the room watched it all with big smiles.
And if the money AT&T invested in Spark’s program caused each of those hundreds of resellers to sell just a little bit more for AT&T over the course of a year, it was money well spent.
What does this mean for you? Who represents you to the wider world, and what kind of event could you create to generate maximum warmth and connection?
If you’re not sure, ask us by leaving your question in the Comment field below. And if you’ve got your own success story, share that too. Together, we’ll make sure your event is a touchdown. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)