The ECRM Virtual Session Experience: A Q&A with Overstock's Kate Soffe 5/28/2020
Kate Soffe, Category Manager for Beauty & Wellness for Overstock, was one of more than 70 buyers who participated in ECRM’s Healthy Living, Vitamin & Nutrition Virtual Session. As an e-commerce retailer specializing in home goods, furniture, jewelry, health and beauty, pets, kids and a variety of other categories of products available at affordable prices, Overstock’s mission is to “provide dream homes for all.”
Kate was originally registered for the in-person session in March, but of course that was moved to May as a Virtual Session due to the pandemic. I caught up with Kate after the session wrapped up to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted her day-to-day operations, and how the virtual session is helping her to continue on with her product discovery and category planning efforts in the face of travel restrictions. Below is a Q&A excerpted from the interview. You can (and should!) listen to the full interview by listening to the podcast or watching the video, both of which are embedded in the post below.
Listen to the full podcast interview (view the video below)
ECRM: Obviously, we have all been impacted by Covid-19, particularly when it comes to travel and in-person meetings. How has that impacted your day-to-day operations?
Soffe: Covid-19 has derailed our entire travel schedule for 2020. I had planned on attending several events and an ECRM session, and was planning to bring on some new suppliers this year and so we've had to really readjust our plans. So when ECRM reached out and said they were going to reschedule and allow us to do our session virtually, I was really relieved because this was my only chance at connecting with suppliers this year other than just cold calls and following up on leads. So it was a great opportunity to be able to get to meet some new suppliers.
ECRM: Even though you can't travel or meet people in person, you still need to find new products and plan your category.
Soffe: Now is a really important time to actually be looking for more ways to vary your business. At Overstock, we have seen historically high traffic and sales. So we're frantically looking to fill assortment gaps and bring on new partners to add to our business because we just have so many customers who are looking for so much. We're looking to bring on as many partners who can fill those needs as possible.
ECRM: Let's talk about the experience itself. How did our team work with you to get you prepped for the session?
Soffe: They were really thorough. Since we were already registered for the in-person session, they transferred the supplier appointments to the virtual session schedule. They then set up a run-through on the platform to show me how to use the system. So we got to basically meet face to face as if I were the buyer and they were the vendor. They showed me how to use the notes, how to contact help if I needed it, showed me the countdown clock. It was really streamlined and straightforward, and I was really impressed with that.
ECRM: Did you use the various platform tools during the meetings?
Soffe: It did. I used the notes really heavily. I thought that was really nice because then I could just indicate when vendors fit my criteria and incude follow up items. It was really easy to go back into the notes afterwards for my follow ups, as everything is in one place. It wasn't scrambling to make new notes in my OneNote document every meeting as it was all there and I can just go back and reference it when I need to. The star ratings was cool too, because it enables me to sort based on the number of stars to locate my top opportunities. And all of their contact information was right there also. In our case we just sent follow up emails the day after we were finished; we didn't even wait for the vendors to reach out to us.
ECRM: I'm sure the vendors really loved that. Normally, if you're at an in-person event or one of our sessions, you need to travel home and then catch up on emails before following up. With the virtual sessions, as soon as you're done, you can jump right on it.
Soffe: It can takes days or weeks after an event for me to get back to these vendors.
ECRM: You mentioned that there was one point when a supplier didn't show up. Can you talk a little bit about what happened, and how that was resolved?
Soffe: It was my last vendor meeting. I was waiting, but no vendor showed up. So I figured I would just give them a minute in case they were running late. So I took us a few steps away from my computer and started doing something else, when someone from ECRM jumped in to check if everything was okay. When they saw the supplier was missing, they contacted the supplier and they joined the meeting 30 seconds later and we had our meeting, so it worked out great. I didn't even have to ask for help.
ECRM: Our team has a dashboard that displays all of the meetings, the number of people in each, as well as any contact support alerts so they can jump right on it. They probably saw that there was only one person in your meeting and knew that someone was missing, which is how they jumped on it proactively. It’s a fact of life in this virtual world that issues are going to happen – you are dealing with hundreds of computers, wi-fi connections, audio connections, and the like. The key is how fast an issue is addressed, and our team makes sure that it’s lightning-fast. Moving forward, how do you see virtual playing a role in your sourcing efforts?
Soffe: I personally love the idea of being able to do these sessions virtually. I'm a mom with a 10 month old baby, so it's a lot to travel for work. This was great because I could just stay home. But I also see the benefit of in-person, so I'm sure there'll be a healthy mix of both for me in the future. I still will attend sessions in-person, but I'll be able to participate in more of them if they're offered virtually as well because it was so seamless. I was really impressed with the process and how many actual qualified vendors I got to meet with. So I would love to see both formats.
ECRM: We will have a mix of both virtual and in person even after the pandemic passes for just that reason, the convenience that it provides. It also enables users to easily bring in additional team members if needed, or for training purposes.
Soffe: Absolutely. That was how it worked out with our business development manager. She could make the first day’s meetings so she was able to jump in when she could.
ECRM: What makes for an ideal virtual supplier presentation in your opinion? What aspects or presentation style?
Soffe: I love having a lot of details about their capabilities up front, such as pricing, lead times, their eCommerce capabilities, speed of shipping, as well as their marketing and content capabilities. I don't need to know as much science fluff. I do want to know what adds value, and how you're going to be a partner with me, why their product is unique.
ECRM: Any preference to them using a slide deck or holding up products into the screen, or does that matter?
Soffe: I feel like the slides helped me. It was nice to have a visual with metrics and product content. I also like when they have a physical product to show me. I think it just depends on what kind of product they're selling. But most partners that I spoke with had decks, and that was really helpful.
ECRM: What about enthusiasm and passion?
Soffe: Those are both very helpful. The first vendor we spoke with, she was so excited. She got right into it, and you could tell she cared so much about the health of consumers. She was making health supplements and was just so excited and really, really sold her product to me. So that was really fun and was probably the most memorable vendor we spoke with.
ECRM: I think that's key. And that really comes through on the screen.
Soffe: For sure. You could tell the difference between those who were just reading metrics off of an office slide, compared to someone who was talking about how she founded this company and here's why everyone should have this product. Some people were really great at articulating that and it definitely stood out.
ECRM: It almost makes you feel like you are in person with them.
Soffe: Definitely. And this one supplier had a whole backdrop of products and it looked like you were inside her shop basically. That was really fun too, because she was just showing me one product after the other and how they were packaged and how the delicious they were.
ECRM: I think I know exactly who you're talking about and I'm actually interviewing her later on this week. She's fabulous. Kate, thank you so much for this. I'm so glad you had a great experience and I do hope to eventually meet you in person one of these days at a future session.
Soffe: Yes, absolutely. Take care and stay safe. Thank you.
Thanks for the valuable insights on the virtual sessions. I will look forward to being "educated" by my ECRM manager prior to the event. I feel it's going to be great. Kind Regards, Leanne
Thanks for all the insight into the virtual sessions. It will help me to prepare for my meeting. Looking forward to manifesting a forward movement with the buyers. Thanks, Monica Blalock