Creating Successful Business Connections Virtually

September 16, 2020

VJ Mayor

VJ Mayor, CAE, joined the Association Services Group team in 2020 as an account executive working with the Southern Association of Wholesale Distributors. Prior to joining ASG, VJ worked for the National Confectioners Association and the Sports and Fitness Industry Association

Business as usual and 2020 are two terms that go together about as well as oil and water in today’s climate. To that end, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced associations to reassess the status quo of standard annual events. The Southern Association of Wholesale Distributors, a.k.a. “The Southern,” was no exception. Here’s how the 97-year old organization maintained the goal of its annual meeting and created virtual connections this past August.

A trade association representing convenience wholesale distributors in the southeast United States, The Southern’s membership spans from Texas to Virginia. Member companies have an annual gross revenue of $50 billion and represent nearly 50 percent of all convenience stores in the U.S. In other words, The Southern means business. And its Annual Meeting is a place where business gets done.

The signature event at The Southern’s Annual Meeting is called Ten-2-Profit. Essentially, Ten-2-Profit is a reverse trade show that hosts speed dating for businesses. At the in-person event, distributors would be seated at tables and remain stationary while vendors bounced from table to table presenting their latest product lines in pre-set 10-minute appointments.

There were two keys to preserve when transitioning this event into a virtual setting: buyer and seller interaction and 10-minute appointments. The reality of our situation was simple: schedule 900-plus meetings within a five-hour time span. So, we set out to choose the right software to meet these needs.

The most important thing to remember when planning a virtual event is to make it as easy as possible for your attendees. I repeat, make it as easy as possible for your attendees, not you as the event planner! It’s easy to want to go down the path of least resistance when it comes to virtual meeting planning, but your event will be much better off if you think of what’s the path of least resistance for your attendees.

Zoom Video Communications, Inc. won out, thanks to its ease of use and the ability to screen share video with audio. Not to mention, most people had about four months of Zoom training by the time of our event.

For distributors, we obtained 50-plus Zoom licenses and created virtual rooms for each distribution company. Typically, distributors would have its own table at the in-person event. With the virtual experience, all the distributors had to do was open their Zoom rooms and stay in it all afternoon as vendors would filter in and out.

For vendors, we sent each person a personalized schedule with a link to each distributor’s meeting room. All the vendor simply had to do was click on the distributor’s specific meeting link when it was time to meet. For example:

Joe’s Product Company Meeting Schedule:                                                                                     

1)  12:30 p.m. – 12:42 p.m.    Doug’s Company

2)  12:45 p.m. – 12:57 p.m.    Barrel Point Wholesale

3)  1:00 p.m. – 1:12 p.m.        Peter Wholesale

4)  1:15 p.m. – 1:27 p.m.       Suburban Grocery

5)  1:30 p.m. – 1:42 p.m.       Glide Distributing

We extended the appointment times to 12-minutes to provide both sides with more time. Two extra minutes may not seem like a lot, but when your original meeting is 10 minutes and there’s real business on the line, those two extra minutes might as well be gold.

We also provided a three-minute buffer between meetings to allow vendors time to close out of their existing appointment and move on to the next one. We assured both vendors and distributors that if a meeting did not take place due to technological difficulties, the association would reschedule the appointment at a later date.

Although we were confident we made the virtual event as seamless and straightforward as possible, we still wanted to cover all our bases. A few days prior to Ten-2-Profit, we hosted a Zoom tutorial for both vendors and distributors, showing them the ins and outs of the software and allowing them to test it on the computers they would be using for the event.

On the day of the event, The Southern staff acted as technical and customer support when the Ten-2-Profit kicked off. Fortunately, the event went off without a hitch as both vendors and distributors saw great value in the virtual event. Not one of the 900-plus meetings had to be rescheduled!

The virtual meeting was so successful, the association is now exploring hosting more interactions like these between their in-person annual meetings.

Although The Southern’s members missed the networking and social interactions of the in-person meeting, they will be the first to tell you that business was still able to get done…virtually.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? 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Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.