5 Essential Elements for Effective Offsite Marketing Team Meetings
Marketing leadership success takes more than meticulously wringing the maximum ROI from your technology investments and media buys, using stone-cold data.
Like any business leadership, your ultimate job is to empower the success of your marketing team.
This is a daily activity, to be sure. But one of the key moments you can leverage as a catalyst for your team’s success is an offsite meeting.
Why Hold an Offsite?
The Power of Presence and Gathering
Distributed teams have become expert at working remote, using technology; but even the most powerful technology can’t replicate the complexly fulfilling experience of human interaction IRL (in real life). We humans are social creatures, and in-person interaction has an electricity — a vibrance to it — that no technology can replicate.
And it helps form a deeper bond.
I remember my first in-person meeting, working with a distributed sales enablement team. With all of the conference calls we had together, there was a picture in my mind of what each team member looked like. (In fairness, this was before widespread use of video conferences and LinkedIn.) Meeting them in person sometimes surprised me as to what they actually looked like or reaffirmed my notion. But in each case, it made me feel more of a connection to them during our remote work throughout the year, after that meeting.
Even if your team works together in person every day, there is a creative freedom imbued in getting outside the four gray walls of your office building and visiting an organic farm, a beach house, or even a city center hotel conference room. It allows your team to physically step away from the banal concerns of the everyday and get into a different mindset.
But like any meeting or conference, just getting offsite to a nice location isn’t enough. A successful offsite should have five essential elements:
5 Necessary Elements of Offsite Meetings
See Through the Eyes of the Customer
I wrestled with which point to start with, as they are all important.
But every marketing activity should start with customer-first marketing, so let’s begin there.
I’ve worked with marketing leaders who instilled operational excellence at their organizations and were great at keeping the trains running on time. But sometimes when you’re too focused on keeping those trains running on time, you miss the boat (pained analogy, I know).
For example, they would start an offsite with a team exercise focused around an operational spreadsheet used to help manage the department. But the spreadsheet was too company-focused.
And it makes sense why a leader would think to take that approach:
- Too Company-Focused Step 1: Here are our goals,
- Too Company-Focused Step 2: Here’s how we define potential customers at different stages,
- Too Company-Focused Step 3: What can we do to get them moving through the funnel?
But that company-focused approach will set the wrong tone for the offsite, and you won’t get the marketing team’s best thinking.
Empower your team to put the customer first. Step out of that company mindset for just a few hours, and (metaphorically) invite the customer into the room.
There are many methods to do that, so here’s an example of a customer-focused activity: mapping prospect conclusion funnels. You can see a verrrrry generic version here: Mapping the prospect conclusion funnel [includes free PDF example].
This keeps the meeting focused where it should be — on the customer.
Get Your Team Inspired
The marketing year (or quarter, depending on how often you have offsites) can be a long slog of data analysis and project management, budgeting, and vendor selection.
Don’t let your team forget why they’re doing these activities to begin with (hint: the customer). Make sure they walk away with a new spring in their step.
All of these activities should start with the company’s value proposition and its (hopefully customer-first) mission.
Start the meeting really hitting on the transcendent purpose of everyone’s jobs in the room (this may be too cheesy for your style, fair warning, I’m a cheeseball).
“Your tooth is killing you in the middle of the night. It’s all you think about. You go to the dentist the next day. And … there are no specialty diamond burs. They can’t take you as a patient. You never get your tooth fixed and walk around miserable all day. This is what life is like without our solutions company for healthcare professionals.”
“From accountants to body shop owners, from attorneys to organic chefs, most professionals don’t know how to hire the right employee. We do. And they hire best, and ultimately help people best, when we serve them with our human resources outsourcing services.”
“Your kid is struggling in school. You can’t figure out why. She seems to work hard. And then one day … She goes to an optometrist, gets glasses, and starts getting straight As. She just couldn’t see the blackboard before. Our optical chain creates these life-changing moments every day.”
This is your rallying cry throughout the year.
Caution: This can be abused and overdone. A running joke on the TV show “Silicon Valley” is how every startup claims to be making the world a better place.
“We’re making the world a better place with scalable, fault-tolerant, distributed, ACID transactions.”
Hey haters, back off. If your company isn’t serving a customer, then why does it exist? Does that mean every company makes the world a better place? Unless you’re Tesla or TerraCycle, that is probably an overclaim.
But your brand should be making your customers’ lives better, even in small ways. And your offsite is the best time to get your team fired up about that mission and have it ooze through your marketing, all year long.
Get Your Team Thinking Creatively
This is a major benefit of getting off site. Hit “pause” on operations and throughput for just a moment and think creatively.
For example, now that you’ve set an inspirational, customer-first tone, you might want to break your team out into groups and let them think creatively about how to best serve customers. Then have everyone present back to the group. Here are some questions you can use to get them started:
- What questions/challenges/opportunities do customers have that our product can help solve?
- How can we teach potential customers about how our product can serve their needs, considering they are heads-down focused in their busy day?
- What other challenges do customers have related to our value proposition that don’t tie to something specific we sell?
- How could we help them with it (perhaps with content marketing)?
Those questions should lead to a final output — map out that customer journey from initial challenge to final solution. Bring something to the offsite that gets your team off their computers, that is tactile, and encourage them to spread it out through the room. Something that I’ve found works well is those giant Post-It notes. Have people go wild with them, post them all around the room or rooms, and then let different teams walk everyone through the prospect conclusion funnels they came up with.
Another tool you might find helpful for a creative exercise is the “Introductory Guide to Developing Your Customer Theory.” It can help your team see through customers’ eyes, and realize that they are not as focused on your brand as your marketing team is. (Here’s an example of this tool in practice — “Customer Theory: How to leverage empathy in your marketing” (with free tool).)
When teams work together like this, and present to each other, you’re not only trying to get ideas from the ground up — you’re building camaraderie.
To that end, consider the invite list for your offsite. Invite key participants beyond just your marketing team. How about the CTO? The SVP of engineering? Sales leaders? The executive leadership team? Or program managers, account managers, communications managers, sales enablement, consultants, analyst relations, tech support managers, online community managers — the list could go on. Even vendors and business partners.
The right attendee list will be different for every company; but when you invite people from beyond the marketing team, you help build a natural rapport with individuals who are going to be key to marketing execution through the year. You help get them on board with your strategies, instead of being outsiders on corporate, branding, lead generation, and field marketing decisions (this is especially helpful with sales-marketing alignment). Plus, I’ve found that most other departments love going to marketing offsites, because marketers just tend to be better at planning and running fun, exciting meetings.
Another way to build camaraderie is to deeply experience the place you are holding the meeting. Marketing and sales professionals can travel a lot, and a conference room in one city can look a whole lot like a conference room anywhere else. What is special about the city you’re in, and how can you pull everyone together to experience it?
This can be especially important for field marketing teams or any other team where geos and territories matter. The leader of a field marketing team I worked with had different field marketing directors host the offsite every quarter and incorporate elements unique to their geo. This ranged from simple touches, like eating chocolates and cheeses in Montreal that weren’t available in the U.S., to a bay cruise in San Diego that brought us to the legendary Hotel del Coronado for dinner.
Every team and every budget will be different, but the upside of having different geos host the offsite is it allows them to present their hometowns to a team they work with remotely throughout the year. It helps the team get to know each other better. I remember the leader from Canada was particularly proud of getting to share his country with the rest of the team.
Don’t forget about those who can’t attend. Incorporating technology throughout the entire offsite can be distracting (especially when there are technical difficulties, like an old farmhouse with weak wi-fi). But you could create a specific session dedicated to including those who couldn’t physically make it to the meeting. For example, at Salesforce.com’s annual management off-site meeting, CEO Marc Benioff invited all company employees to participate virtually, using Chatter.
Have an Outcome
Once you’ve had a chance to inspire and get creative thinking from your team, it’s time to get more tactical and use a boring spreadsheet or whatever works best for your team to map that newly identified customer journey against your marketing and sales flow.
Also, start prioritizing. The best of these sessions come up with way more creative ideas than you can execute on right away. But it helps you start building toward something special. Communicate which of those ideas should be acted on right away, which should be executed in the mid-term, and which are blue sky and should be used to guide long-term thinking.
Be clear with your team on the next steps and how you’re going to carry these new inspirational ideas forward, and continue to reference back to them and put them in practice throughout the quarter and the year.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.