It’s hard to believe that it was just over a year ago when pandemic-related travel restrictions put a halt to any in-person interactions between buyers and suppliers, and remote meetings became a mainstay for everyone conducting business worldwide. ECRM quickly pivoted from its time-tested, in-person category program model by developing and launching its own virtual technology platform, ECRM Connect, in May of 2020.
Since then, we surpassed the milestone of 100,000 curated meetings on ECRM Connect. During that time, our team has had countless conversations with customers, retailers and brands, learning a great deal about the role they envision for virtual in CPG retail as we move out of the pandemic. The following are four key takeaways from these discussions:
1. Virtual has increased buyer engagement
One thing that has been made very clear to us is that virtual is here to stay. Buyers have developed a strong preference for virtual interactions that will persist post-COVID. They contend that the convenience, effectiveness, efficiency and cost savings are just too great to ignore.
Corroborating this is the fact that last year we saw a 23% increase in buyer participation from leading retailers over 2019 when our programs were in person.
2. More targeted sourcing opportunities are available
The fact that our retailers are no longer constrained by time and location has enabled them to launch customized programs to address specific sourcing strategies. For example, Schnucks and Meijer have each worked with ECRM and RangeMe to launch their first supplier diversity programs last year, and Staples worked with us to launch its Staples Connect Breakthrough Project to source products specifically aimed at the remote working and learning consumer.
3. More parties can be brought to the virtual table
The elimination of travel time and expense also enables more retail and supplier staff to participate in meetings. If needed, buyers can easily include colleagues from marketing or logistics into select meetings with brands, and brands can bring in product specialists or R&D scientists who normally would never attend an in-person meeting.
4. Virtual enables greater focus on what counts
During in-person meetings, sometimes the product becomes the sole focus of discussion between buyers and suppliers. However, in a virtual setting, where the buyer usually doesn’t have a product sample, buyers and suppliers are finding that their conversations are often higher quality, wider ranging and with a greater focus on how suppliers can help buyers meaningfully grow their category.
People, Process and Platform Drive Success
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the ECRM Connect virtual platform next month, we’ve been able to reflect upon the key factors driving its success. First, our platform has been specifically tailored to the precise needs of retailers and brands engaged in product discovery and category planning. We knew that something off the shelf wouldn’t provide easy access to RangeMe’s rich data, tools or utilities for customizing engagements, nor would it include resources that would help prepare for and follow up on meetings, which is why we felt the need to create our own.
Second, while our platform is incredibly intuitive, it’s the people behind it that really make the virtual experience seamless. ECRM’s service-oriented Client Success Team guides customers throughout the entire category program process, and we have a rapid response team on standby to assist customers whenever needed.
Finally, ECRM continues to curate and facilitate interaction and commerce between retailers and brands by matching suppliers’ products and capabilities to buyers’ specific requirements and buying process objectives. That’s what makes our category programs so valuable to our customers, regardless of whether meetings occur in person or virtually, and that’s what differentiates us from everyone else.
Greg Farrar is the CEO of ECRM