Sep 17, 2020 Loren Heinzeroth

How to Lead a Successful Virtual Meeting with Retail Buyers

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How to Lead a Successful Virtual Meeting with Retail Buyers

"With online meetings we consistently miss one very important thing" states one of our agency's clients recently. "We totally lose the ability to show our product advantages in person, giving buyers a chance to touch and feel the products."

This particular client was talking about Product Line Review (PLR) meetings with retail buyers at Home Depot, Lowe's, Menards and other major DIY retailers. There's a lot riding on those meetings which in pre-pandemic days were almost always done in person. PLR meetings often make all the difference in determining which brands will be on the retailers' shelves next season.

This absence of an experiential element caused us to think about ways our creative team can help companies come out on top in those meetings, even when the obvious limitation is that all things being discussed are on a computer screen.

While not all of these meeting tactics are appropriate for certain product categories and brands, the ideas are intended to broaden the spectrum of things you might try give your brand the edge. These concepts are based on observations related particularly to Product Line Reviews with large retailers. If that isn't your business, you may still find some of the tactics applicable for other online presentations.

Access our free guide, "How to Prepare for a Product Line Review."

Before The Meeting

Is the buyer attending your virtual meeting from home or from the office?

Ask permission to send a few physical samples in advance to that location. You can refer to the samples during your online meeting, calling attention to particular pluses such as superior materials, weight, feel, intuitive design or other features.

One of our clients mentioned that his products have subtle differences that are best appreciated by handling them. For example, the company's tubing is heavier and tougher than the competition, yet stays flexible. It is also textured on the surface for easier grip when you attach fittings. "It really helps when the buyer has actually compared the products."

When sending samples, also consider tagging the features you want the buyer to notice. Remember that you are far more familiar with those fine points than most buyers. Over the past few years, buyers have tended to change departments frequently, underscoring the need for product education as an integral element of the meetings. 

Of course, if buyers will be in their company offices at some point and have access to the planogram or sample room, you may be able to set up your proposed program before the meeting. Some retailers allow vendors to come in for that setup work. Be sure to ask if that is permitted. Even though you won't be there to go over it during your virtual meeting, having it in place will go a long way toward showing the breadth of your product line and how it is merchandised. We've heard many times how buyers routinely do a walk-through with senior merchants, obtaining their input before or after the actual line review meeting.

Along with that thought of setting up your planogram, be sure to have other things in the planogram room if approved: end caps, quarter pallets, new product displays, video players or other merchandising ideas.

During the Meeting: Go For The Unexpected

Field Reports

In a virtual meeting, you have the ability to include more members of your team. And they can be located anywhere, much like field reporters on the evening news. Try a little theatrics (without overdoing it) by having someone actually installing/using your products, offering comments about the experience. The buyer may not sit still for too much of that. But it may be perceived as a fresh way to present your story. Just keep the reports short and to the point.

With all of the focus on supply chain shortages today, you might also consider showing a live or recently recorded walk-through of your factory and distribution facilities to stress your investment in production. If you have a strong story, support it with graphs showing data such as monthly labor hours, inventory value, or shipment projections.

Echoing the need to show progress with availability of products, another client mentions, "The pandemic has certainly changed spending patterns and right now the home improvement industry is benefiting. Until we get caught up, the only thing buyers want to talk about is fill rate."

A June 2020 study by The Farnsworth Group for the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) also indicates that "product selection and availability" has risen to be a top buying consideration across all DIY homeowner age groups in determining where and how they shop for home improvement products.


Source: Farnsworth Group/June 2020 Home Improvement Research Institute Study: Shifting DIY Channel Behavior 

Video Comparisons

You might also cut away from your slides to show pre-recorded video demos of your products. Edit them down to quick segments that illustrate something which simply must be seen to be understood.

Are your products heavier and more durable? Show a side-by-side comparison in the video.

Are your products easier to shop? Show a pan of in-store messaging on your packages vs. competition.

Are the ingredients of your products better or safer in some way? Shoot video closeups of package ingredients lists.

Is your packaging easier to open? Definitely, shoot side-by-side comparisons of effort required.

Recorded Customer Reviews

The subject of customer reviews is always of interest if there has been significant activity on the retailer's website. Summarizing the positive and negative reviews with charts has been done before in line review meetings. But it isn't quite as common to show video comments of professionals that are experienced and often the most critical reviewers. If your products are used by pros as well as DIYers, this may work for you.

Such interviews with professional painters, plumbers or other contractors may come across as more genuine, less "staged" than consumer reviews. Pros will tend to tell it like it is, sharing what they do and do not like about a product, why they shop at the retailer for the product, how they use it, etc. Many retail buyers, especially hardware and home improvement merchants, are interested in doing a better job with their professional customers and may not have those insights. They will appreciate the effort. In the interest of keeping this brief in an online meeting, you might share just a short clip or a slide to represent the thought, mentioning that you will send a link to video reviews after the meeting.

High Quality Photography and Renderings

Once again, with remote meetings expected to be the way things are done for the foreseeable future, investing in high quality photography of your products is critical to making your presentations engaging. For higher resolution views onscreen, consider exiting your Powerpoint when showing important photos. Go full-screen with originals to dramatize the quality features you want to impress upon your buyer. You can easily toggle back to your presentation. Get comfortable with making those transitions with plenty of practice in advance.

Renderings of your planogram can be done in the same fashion, going full screen and zooming in as you talk about product selection and organization. Additional specifics such as shelf strips, headers, take-home brochures and other elements might also be emphasized with separate renderings. Such details are harder to see when nested on a Powerpoint slide.

Dramatization of the Online Shopping Experience

The HIRI study also confirms what we've all been experiencing: continued strength in online purchases as well as use of curbside pickup services since the pandemic began. With that higher percentage of purchases going out-of-store -- more than 25% of home center business -- presenting a plan for improving your online content should now be part of every meeting with retail buyers.

Source: Farnsworth Group/June 2020 Home Improvement Research Institute Study: Shifting DIY Channel Behavior

Create a new vision for the online shopper, presenting page layouts for potential educational content as well as for individual product pages on the retailer's website. Discuss how you intend to maximize the website platform with more photos of products, products in use, marketing videos, installation videos, instruction manuals and other enhanced content.

Also take screen grabs of Google search pages as well as on the retailer's website. Trace where the links lead within the website. Discuss how shoppers with differing experience levels may wish to find various content quickly. Paint a picture of each customer type (persona) and show how you will help the retailer connect with each of them more effectively with stronger online content.

After the Meeting

Rather than send the usual thank-you email, pepper your email with links to everything that was discussed. The buyer might appreciate having everything in one place for ready access, and possibly, for sharing with others in the organization. We suggest not attaching everything to create a massive email. Links are much easier to access. You can place videos for private sharing on YouTube or Vimeo. Other large files such as high-res images can be on placed on a Google Drive or other cloud storage, enabling controlled access for only those you wish.

Another tip: In your email, be sure to name the links in a way that is easy to reference and remember.

Example link descriptions:

  • Video (15 seconds): Why Product A Lasts 2x Longer than Competitors
  • Planogram: 2021 With Ten New Products
  • Report: Line Fill Data Jan – June 2020

Virtual meetings are expected to be the way we do a lot of our business for some time to come, possibly forever as some predict. Home Depot has indicated that many of its merchants will continue working remotely until a vaccine is proven and widely used. That dramatically shifts the playing field for incumbent brands as well as for others who wish to gain shelf space.

If you have a line review or other important meeting scheduled in the future, we'd welcome a conversation with you to identify how your meeting can be made more effective. Heinzeroth Marketing Group specializes in the DIY channel, with success stories in many aisles. Contact us for a free consultation.

Published by Loren Heinzeroth September 17, 2020
Loren Heinzeroth