What is the ECRM Session Experience Like? Here's a Step-by-Step Overview. 11/17/2023
So you are new to ECRM, or maybe you have only participated in our virtual Sessions. Now that we are returning to a full schedule of in-person Sessions in 2024, we’re getting lots of questions about them: What should participants expect? How does each day unfold? How are the in-person meetings conducted? What networking opportunities are offered? How should brands and buyers best prepare? And, most importantly, how can one get the most out of the entire in-person experience?
We’re going to answer all of the questions and more for you. But first, for those who may not be familiar with ECRM, here’s a quick overview of who we are and what we do. Then we’ll get into the details of the Session experience from beginning to end!
ECRM is different than a trade show
ECRM’s Sessions are a completely different animal than your typical expo or conference. ECRM is all about making sure that the right retail and foodservice buyers are connected with those brands that meet their category needs and objectives by providing tons of opportunities for quality facetime together.
This facetime is broken up into two parts: First, there are the highly-curated, private, prescheduled face-to-face meetings between buyers and brands, during which there are no distractions or interruptions. Prior to the Session, we learn each brand’s products and capabilities and then match them up with the buyers’ needs and objectives for the category, creating a schedule of meetings in which buyers and sellers are perfectly aligned. The number of meetings can range anywhere from 20 to 50+, depending on the category.
In addition, there are tons of opportunities for networking and building relationships with each other outside of these meetings, such as during meals – which are held on location – as well as cocktail receptions, live entertainment and offsite dinners at some pretty cool places! So here's what happens and how it all works, from start to finish.
Before the Session: registration, prep and your Client Success Manager
When a buyer or seller registers for a Session (there are 68 category-specific Sessions in 2024), they are assigned a Client Success Manager, who quickly sets up an introductory call to learn about their business, explain ECRM’s process and format, and then take them through the ECRM portal, which will be their central point of organization for all things related to the Sessions for which they are registered. (Yes, you heard that correctly – each participant gets their very own real live human being who is always on hand to answer any questions they may have and to ensure that they get the most out of the experience – we really offer white glove service!)
Participants use the ECRM portal to prepare for their meetings prior to the Session, to take notes and track their meetings during the Session, and to follow up from their meetings afterward. Prior to the Session, suppliers upload information about their brand and images of and information about the products which they will be presenting, as well as the link to their RangeMe profile. (Suppliers that already have RangeMe accounts can select products from them).Buyers provide information about their organization as well as their needs and objectives for the category. This way, as schedules are finalized weeks prior to the Session, each side can use this information to prepare for their meetings.
The preparation site also includes a wealth of best practices content for brands on a variety of topics related to meetings, such as how to prepare for a buyer meeting, tips on pitching, and how to best engage with buyers during a meeting.
Arrival day and supplier setup
ECRM Sessions are hosted at beautiful hotels and resorts, with the goal of keeping all participants together for the duration. All meetings, educational programming, meals and cocktails are held on location, with the exception of the occasional offsite dinners (but everyone is together then, too). The goal is to provide TONS of opportunities for participants to connect with each other during and outside of the meetings.
The first stop on arrival day is the hospitality area. This is the hub of all the activities happening during the Session. It’s staffed at all times while the Session is in progress, and is where participants can relax and grab beverages and snacks – maybe catch up on emails – between meetings (ECRM provides free wifi access).
For buyers, arrival day is pretty simple. They check into the hotel and get their sleeping room (ECRM picks up the airfare and hotel for qualified buyers) then head to the hospitality area where they pick up their badges and are given a printout of their schedule, and our team members give them the lowdown on where everything is and what activities are happening.
Once suppliers check into their hotel rooms (sleeping rooms and meeting rooms are included with their registration), they head to the hospitality area to pick up their badges and learn the location of their meeting space.
There are three types of meeting spaces, and below is how each works:
- Planning Sessions: These are 20-minute meetings held in private rooms at the hotel – either sleeping rooms with the beds removed or small ballrooms, depending on the hotel. (Brands get their meeting room key at hospitality when they check in).
- Innovation pipeline. These are 10-minute meetings held in a ballroom. Each supplier gets a 10-foot x 10-foot pipe-and-drape space which they can set up however they like.
- Discovery Hub: These are also 10-minute meetings that are held in ballrooms, only instead of pipe and drape booths, each brand gets a tabletop. This is for first time participants and is an economical way for new participants to get the ECRM experience.
Suppliers can set up their meeting space however they like, from simply just having their products sitting on the table to a setup that includes signage and elaborate displays, all of which are shipped to the hotel beforehand and waiting at their meeting space when they arrive. (See the video below for some advice on setting up your meeting space). There are no freight companies to deal with; suppliers ship their packages directly to the hotel or resort and ECRM’s freight team brings the packages directly to your meeting space.
Buyer-seller meetings in action
The core of each Session – what all of the participants come for – are the face-to-face meetings between buyers and sellers. The meetings take place in the meeting spaces assigned to each brand based on their type of registration.
During the meeting times (generally from 8 or 9 am through 5 pm), buyers go from one brand’s meeting space to another for their pre scheduled appointments, during which the brands pitch their products. To ensure that every meeting begins and ends on time so that each participant gets their full time allotment, ECRM has Client Service Representatives (CSRs) at each of the meeting spaces.
The CSRs role is twofold: First, they make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be during their meetings, and they have the schedules and meeting locations laid out on proprietary software. Second, they are the point of contact for suppliers in case they need anything.
For the Innovation Pipeline and Discovery Hub meetings, which are held in ballrooms, there is usually one or two CSRs with a microphone, who announces when meetings begin, gives a two minute warning, and when meetings end. For Planning Sessions, there is generally one CSR for every 10 meeting rooms. They will physically go to the rooms, and knock on the doors for a three-minute warning and to announce when a meeting ends.
If for some reason a buyer is late or misses a meeting appointment, ECRM’s scheduling team will reschedule it for later that day or the next day. This way everyone gets every single appointment they are promised.
Tech keeps all the info at their fingertips
While buyers and brands receive a printout of their initial schedule when they check in to the hospitality area, each is also given an iPad so they can access the ECRM Portal during the Session, which has their up-to-date schedule as well as information about the location, amenities, ECRM contacts and information related to the people with which they are meeting. As noted above, both buyers and brands can take notes on each of their meetings, assign follow up timelines, and even rate each meeting – which can help to organize their follow ups. They pick up their iPad from the CSR handling their first meeting, and once they are finished, they hand it off to the CSR near their last meeting.
Networking for success
In addition to the meetings, participants have ample opportunity to connect and build relationships throughout each Session. All meals are included in both buyer and seller registrations, and are held in ballrooms, with live entertainment at dinner. There are also occasional store tours, and offsite dinners at top restaurants or venues like Top Golf or Pinstripes. Sometimes we'll throw in some extra fun like Casino Night, games like Jenga and cornhole, or – in New Orleans – a Second Line Parade to the House of Blues. There is a networking cocktail reception each night as well. Plus there are always those serendipitous meetings that occur in the hospitality lounge, in the elevator, etc.
The overall goal is to keep the participants together at the Session location, so that they can engage with each other beyond the meetings. In addition to getting to spend additional time with buyers during meetings, brands also find value in networking with other brands, during which they can share best practices and experiences with each other. By the same token, buyers enjoy getting together to share war stories as well. Our goal at these Sessions is to create the ideal environment for this all to happen.
ECRM Sessions also offer several opportunities for education, primarily in the form of thought leadership presentations from industry experts such as Circana, NielsenIQ and other leaders in the field, or panel discussions featuring category buyers.
We also have roundtable discussions at each Session. These consist of several concurrent discussions – each touching on a key industry topic – during which buyers and brands have casual, off-the-record moderated conversations about the challenges and opportunities around each topic.
Here’s how the Roundtables work: Participants are notified about the roundtable topics in advance of the Session (there are typically from four to five topics). When they get to the ballroom, where cocktails are served, they select the table topic of their choice and sit for a 30 minute discussion. When time is up, they break for two minutes, refresh their drink, then select another table topic for a 30 minute discussion. In this way, each guest gets to chat with their peers on two topics. And so that nobody misses anything, we do quick video interviews with each of the moderators covering key takeaways from their particular tables. These also get posted on ECRM’s social media.
Wrapping up: the recap meeting
Each participant meets with an ECRM team member toward the end of the Session for a recap meeting. This is our opportunity to spend some dedicated time with our buyers and brands, thank them for their time with us, and learn how we can continue upping our game in creating an awesome experience. This is extremely important for us and following the Session team meet to discuss this feedback from all of the recap meetings and put steps in place to act on it. We have done this at every Session since the beginning, and is why ECRM continues to hit new levels of customer satisfaction each time.
What are you waiting for? Register now!
That’s it – that’s how the magic happens! If you’d like to see the full lineup of Sessions we have coming up, head over to the ECRM Sessions page of our website. You can check them out by these or by individual Sessions. Of course, if you would rather speak to a person, you can reach out directly to our EVP Sarah Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org and she can connect you with the appropriate team member for your category!
Below is a video interview I did with a long-time ECRM Session participant, Jack Savdie, SVP of Global Beauty Care during his participation at ECRM’s Skin Care, Cosmetics, Bath, Natural & Clean Beauty Session. From him you will hear what it’s like in his own words to participate in one of our Sessions, as well as some great advice on getting the most out of the experience.