The Trade Show Dilemma 

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Man having a conference call with his business team online, telecommuting, remote work and business communications concept

There are many industries that continue to be impacted by COVID-19; some will be changed or possibly eliminated for good. B2B trade events, conferences and trade shows, which contributed $101 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2019, were the primary source of face-to-face business for many.

In March 2020, the business world came to a grinding halt as brands were setting up exhibits at The Natural Products Expo, South By Southwest, and other notable and anticipated seasonal events. Health and safety took priority over business, as it should. Events worldwide were canceled through spring, and before summer even started, B2B trade show and exhibit companies started to introduce virtual platforms.

Excitement for these virtual connections was palpable as brands were desperate to get back in front of buyers and buyers were struggling to navigate the needs of consumers and alternative ways of shopping that required access to newer, more appropriate products that consumers wanted and purchased.

Most of these trade events have pivoted to offer robust webinar-style education programs that help satisfy the thirst for more knowledge, guidance, training, predictions, and best practices.

On the other hand, exhibit halls have been a bit trickier to replicate online, and have in many cases become directories through which companies need to arrange their own appointments.

Ninety percent of the work that goes into any networking event should happen before it starts. Making new contacts and keeping up with them is a year-round effort.

It could take months to set up meetings; weeks to have the meetings, and—with or without trade shows—travel can come with hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra costs.

Fortunately, ECRM has developed a means for buyers and sellers to conduct face-to-face business effectively from home offices without travel through its proprietary ECRM Connect platform.

“ECRM enhances face-to-face business with exclusive technologies that allow buyers and sellers to have a higher volume of meetings,” said Kurt Repola, SVP of ECRM. “This includes tools specifically developed to enhance the productivity of their meetings and deliver participants a tremendous cost and time savings. Unlike generic video conferencing platforms, ECRM Connect was built from the ground up around the way retailers and brands interact.”

If you’ve experienced an ECRM program prior to COVID, you’d know it can’t be categorized as a trade show. Traditional trade shows are built on quantity. They provide opportunities to meet a lot of people. The hard part is often figuring out who is who and who is your customer and why. ECRM isn’t as random. It uses data, analytics and science to pair the right buyers with the right brands. ECRM uses knowledge, relationships and insights to bring brands into focus for buyers exposing them to the right people, information and connections that drive business.

The new ECRM Connect platform is the first market web-based technology that keeps business moving, efficiently and effectively. It has hosted over 34,000 meetings to date since the launch of the virtual program in May of this year.

“I was very leery going in,” said Todd Gean, Candy Category Manager for Hy-Vee. “But the first day I had 12 meetings and I will tell you, I fell in love with the system by about the second or third meeting. There is no way I’d be able to pull this off on my own and it is absolutely the way that I would recommend that we go as a company.”

ECRM’s matchmaking services extend to RangeMe, a digital selling platform it acquired prior to COVID-19. With over 160,000 brands, RangeMe curates and aggregates products based on relevance, what’s new, what’s trending and what buyers are responsible for. RangeMe was helpful before this crisis and has become even more prominent to the business industry.

“As I’ve talked to buyers during the virtual session, I could sense from the conversations that they feel the virtual platform is very convenient and it’s very effective,” shared Craig Harlan, VP of Sale for Earth Friendly Products. “So, I think we’re going to see a paradigm shift to more of these. Face-to-face is never going to go away, but I think virtual is here to stay.”

ECRM has mechanisms in place to help build continuity season after season, ensuring the buyer and seller relationships continue to grow.

Currently, most of ECRM’s planning sessions for the first half of next year are being scheduled as virtual, indicating that virtual will play an increasingly large role within service offerings, even when large, in-person gatherings are feasible once again.

Brands and buyers are showing an on-going preference for virtual services and plan to reserve large, in-person gatherings that are achievable for specific occasions based on customer demand.

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Nancy Trent
Nancy Trent is a writer and speaker, a lifelong health advocate, a globe-trotting trend watcher and the founder and president of Trent & Company, a New York-based marketing communications firm with an office in Los Angeles. Trent & Company, which launched many fitness brands, grew out of Nancy’s personal commitment to helping people live longer and healthier lives. A former journalist for New York magazine, Nancy has written seven books on healthy lifestyles, serves on the editorial boards of several magazines and travels around the world speaking at conferences and trade shows on trends in the marketplace. She is a recognized expert in PR with more than 30 years of experience creating and managing highly successful campaigns. Nancy can be reached at (212) 966-0024 or through e-mail at nancy@trentandcompany.com. You may also visit www.trentandcompany.com.

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