Vladimir Rakov: “The most active and creative gets the maximum benefits in the online format”

Due to the global challenges of the pandemic, business is mastering new formats of work. This influences on decision-making, changes plans, expectations, and forces to look for convenient models of cooperation.

Vladimir Rakov, the ITC National Consultant in Ukraine, has participated in several online trade shows and forums in recent months.

We talked about the experience of participating in these events, asked him about the secrets of success at online events and how Ukrainian companies can adapt to work in new conditions.

ONLINE FORMAT: PROS AND CONS

It is impractical to compare online and offline trading events. Everyone has their pros and cons. And they cannot and should not fully replace each other.

These are two effective tools that modern business can use in parallel, just as companies trade traditional channels and developing online sales. For beginners, the online format requires a high level of mastering Internet technologies and marketing tools. There are also several important aspects to consider:

  • It is more difficult to establish social contact with the buyer in the online format. A minimum knowledge of English is important.
  • It is impossible to show and give to try samples of products during communication. You need to take care of it in advance or send samples after the event.
  • The time difference with other exhibitors requires the allocation of additional working hours to assigned employees.

But the benefits of the online format outweigh:

  • Participation in online trade show is much cheaper. No travel, accommodation and meals. The cost of the virtual stand is lower.
  • More representatives of the company can work at the stand and be visitors of the exhibition at the same time.
  • You do not need to print ads and take them back.
  • Meetings with more customers can be scheduled in advance and prepare for them carefully.
  • Opportunity to visit more exhibitor pavilions. The traditional offline trade fair has physical distances from hall to hall, and their passage time is limited. The online exhibition runs for almost 24 hours.

The main lesson of past events – the maximum benefits in the online format gets the most active and creative. It is inefficient to stand behind your “counter” and wait for visitors. It is important to be constantly present on the platform, to participate in parallel events (forums and round tables), to visit the stands of competitors, to declare yourself.

I recommend paying attention to the online format for those companies who would not be able to participate in the traditional trade fair. They have good opportunities to find trading partners. And they can not be lost, because the virtual format is gaining momentum and will be used at least as a supplement to offline events. And some exhibitions are already translating it into a year-round venue, for example – United Fresh LIVE! 365.

ONLINE PLATFORMS

Let’s compare the platforms of the three trade shows. They differ in their approaches to the format of the participants’ work:

United Fresh LIVE in the USA provided the maximum opportunity for interaction between exhibitors and visitors. Both categories could transparently see who was on the platform at the moment and could communicate directly with each other through built-in chats. This also applied to the exhibitors’ stands: anyone could see who else was on the stand beside him, look at the business card and write a message to someone else. It was possible to meet a potential buyer at the stand of a competitor, even in the status of a simple visitor or to turn to another visitor of the event, seeing his business card.

Macfrut Digital in Italy took this experience into account and decided to limit the transparency of the platform. An ordinary visitor could saw only exhibitors and could communicate only with them. Wider functionality was provided only with VIP status. In these conditions, B2B meetings, which were previously appointed by those who registered on the platform in the previously mentioned terms, became especially important.

The Canton Fair in China, although a manufactured site, can also be a useful example. Participation was held in the format of an online catalog. Each participant can create their own profile, view profiles and products of other companies and interact with stakeholders through built-in online chats.

Platforms are evolving. Their functionality changes, on the one hand, to take into account the wishes of participants and visitors, and on the other – to provide the organizers of the event maximum management of interaction channels of target groups on the platform, which guarantees organizers the opportunity to sell different participation packages for different categories of participants.

PREPARE AND UPDATE INFORMATION

It is important to ensure the full presence of dedicated employees who will not be distracted by colleagues or superiors on a daily basis. It is necessary to take into account the difference in time zones with the trade show and with participants from other regions.

Representatives of the company must have a stable Internet connection, phones with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp – alternative communication channels.

You need online marketing materials in English, pre-uploaded to cloud storage or available in real-time, and organized in a clear manner quick and easy to use during online B2B. We are talking about:

  • the site with current information;
  • live pages in social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn);
  • YouTube videos about the company, its work, product tests, etc.;
  • photos of production, products, companies;
  • catalogs in pdf format;
  • feedback from real trading partners;
  • online video broadcast via the Internet from shops or fields.

By the way, testing Macfrut Digital as a buyer, I noted easy access to social networks of exhibiting companies. Banners or links to them were placed on the main pages of their stands. Thanks to this, I could immediately see the business and life of the company, which immediately created social involvement and credit of trust.

TO FORM A TRUST

It is impossible to taste and “feel” the product online. But for a new company there is no other option. You can get out of the situation like this:

  • sending samples by mail before or after the event;
  • personally visiting the buyer with samples;
  • conducting an independent examination.

For experienced companies there is an opportunity to refer to previous business contacts at real trade fairs and the quality of products that are already supplied to familiar buyer markets.

For both categories, it is important to create a credit of trust in your company and products. This is easier to achieve by showing your active work and products on real photos and videos on the site, on social networks, through a broadcast from the shop, warehouse or farm in live videos.

BE FLEXIBLE. EXPLORE NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Restrictions on the freedom of movement of goods and people, as well as increased requirements for the safety of foreign products in the target market, create difficulties and gaps in international supply chains. Therefore, local suppliers are especially important. Unsurprisingly, export-oriented companies in Ukraine need to pay attention to strengthening their positions in the domestic market.

This will increase the economic security of export-oriented enterprises. How to achieve this:

  1. Increase the competitiveness of the product (price, quality, packaging, marketing) compared to imported counterparts and gradually take their place in the domestic market.
  2. Ensure the stability of the supply of products during the year by increasing the shelf life of its own products and imports of additional volumes in order to close the empty “windows” in its supply calendar.
  3. Master new types of products, including imported to diversify its range and close seasonal sales failures in its country’s market.
  4. Pay attention to new target groups of buyers: HoReCa, army and government agencies, processing plants, etc.
  5. Explore the potential of work with cooperatives, which will reduce costs, consolidate production and finance, and more confidently meet current challenges.

As for exports in current restrictions, it is important to learn how to effectively use online promotion tools such as:

  • advertising on Google and marketing on social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn);
  • registration on international online trading platforms and catalogs;
  • work on the analysis of target markets and search of foreign partners via the Internet.

All these methods of online work are known, but not all used them actively before the crisis.

An alternative to direct deliveries of the finished product for export – integration into the international value chain of production of a final product.

To assess such opportunities, I would recommend:

  1. Organize trade missions visiting foreign partners, the potential of which has been identified as a result of domestic online research and remote negotiations. Contacts within the target country will help here: associations, CCIs or private sales agents.
  2. Use the potential of social networks with many industry groups where potential trading partners communicate. For example, the LinkedIn network, in which business contacts are shown with the recommendations of other participants.
  3. Invite the partner’s sales representatives to show them your work and products.
  4. Organize work through trade missions or chambers of those countries that have representatives in Ukraine.
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