GoldenGate Software realized its sales staff had gotten too big and dispersed to meet twice a year. So the summer meeting went virtual.
Founded in 1995, GoldenGate Software is on a roll. Its real-time data-integration software is selling so fast that the company has three times as many employees, mostly for sales and, than it did four years ago. What's more, the San Francisco-based company has opened sales offices in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, India, and Singapore.
Along with breakneck growth, however, come growing pains. GoldenGate felt those pains most acutely in the summer of 2007, as it finished the second of its two annual sales meetings, one of which is a multiday kickoff event in January and the other a two-day meeting in late summer.
“When an organization ramps up that quickly, two things you must do to succeed are to train sales reps from the organization's viewpoint, and also let them learn from each other,” says Jennifer Sikora, the company's director of field marketing. “We knew we had to get everyone together periodically to share experiences and war stories, especially with so many newer reps who could benefit from all that knowledge.”
But she and fellow executives knew something would have to change. “Flying the entire field sales organization — over 100 people — into one place more than once a year was becoming prohibitively expensive, considering both the event cost and the opportunity cost when reps are out of the field. We were sure we wanted everyone to come together at least once a year, so the January meeting would stay,” Sikora says. “But we didn't quite know what to do about the summer event.”
With just two months left before the August 2008 event, a decision still had not been made. Sikora remembers everyone starting to ask if they should book their travel. That's when the company contacted ON24, a San Francisco-based producer of online meetings that was already helping Sikora do dozens of marketing seminars for clients and prospects.
Sikora asked ON24 if it was possible to hold a hybrid meeting with about 40 attendees gathering in the conference room at GoldenGate headquarters while the other 80 attendees from the U.S., Europe, and Asia connected to the meeting from their offices via their computers and phones.
After setting up a registration page on the Web to ensure that only GoldenGate personnel could access the event electronically, ON24 worked with speakers and presenters who would be in the room in San Francisco, as well as various reps and managers around the world chosen to give slide- and video-based presentations from their remote locations. A two-person production crew came to GoldenGate's headquarters a few days before the event to set up and test the real-time streaming and the recording/archiving capabilities, conduct a practice run with remote presenters, and coordinate with GoldenGate's IT department to make sure that remote attendees would be able to watch, listen, and participate in real time through GoldenGate's Internet connections.
Then, using little more than a digital projector, a video camera, a screen, and a production person from ON24 at the site, GoldenGate took to the Web. The itinerary offered four hours of content the first day, plus four more hours on day two. “We tried to ensure that we didn't fatigue our remote attendees,” Sikora says. “Going for six or eight hours in one day would not have been as effective.” Also, GoldenGate used 20-minute breaks for every 60 minutes of meeting time, with “nice music playing during the break, followed by a countdown to the next session so people returned to their computers on time,” she adds.
Management had two concerns about meeting electronically: First, “We really wanted every attendee to be able to interact, or the benefits of the event would be compromised,” Sikora says. “With remote attendees able to watch via their Web connection and speak over the phone, we managed to have some great question-and-answer sessions.”
Second, they wanted to make sure they didn't lose the attention of remote attendees. The solution: intermittent electronic polls and tests. “We could tell that an overwhelming number of them remained involved,” Sikora reports. “We also made sure to involve many of the remote attendees in the agenda, not just through making presentations but also with some questions we planted among them in order to start the Q&A sessions.” And directing specific questions at certain remote attendees — who knew in advance that they would be called upon — kept them engaged.
ON24 set up a recording/archiving process so that if people had to take a call or otherwise leave the meeting for a while, they could go back after the meeting and find exactly where they left off. The meeting content is now online for GoldenGate employees to access right up until next year's meeting.
Feedback from reps was mostly positive. “People felt that they got the information they needed and wanted. And even though there's no opportunity for informal learning and bonding with this type of event, we make up for that with the in-person event in January.”
The hybrid meeting cost just one-fourth of the typical live meeting, saving the company “in the six figures on hard costs alone,” Sikora says. “And besides saving so much on meeting expenses, we also think we made our people more productive. They didn't have to leave home to meet with their colleagues.”
40 U.S.-based attendees meet in the conference room at GoldenGate headquarters, while 80 attendees from far-flung locations such as India and Singapore connect to the meeting from their offices.
ON24 virtual meetings
To keep remote attendees involved, the company conducted intermittent electronic polls and tests.