MATCHMAKING, OR DIGITAL FUTURES FOR (B-to-B) EVENTS.
Together with Filiberto Amati of Amati & Associates, we had the privilege to speak with Paris-based, former financial investor and digital entrepreneur, Aurelien van Berten, COO and co-founder of Wabel and NEEDL.co, both very successful global scale ups in the realm of digital matchmaking for B-to-B business development, with particular focus on FCMG and packaging.
WABEL offers global consumer goods buyers a total sourcing solution. With pre-scheduled targeted B2B meetings on the SUMMITS and its platform NEEDL.co, buyers discover new matching business partners and suppliers reduce their time to market. In this respect, after a late 2020 online fatigue phase, the global marketplace, where Aurelien operates, is positively receptive to digital tools. In this respect, a trend is developing, not triggered but surely amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, whereas commercial relationships are created thanks to online matching through meetings and events. Professionals may sit in their living rooms, in their homes, however even undefined and blurry needs already benefit from digital matchmaking. The ways of working have deeply changed for both buyers and sellers, especially in terms of niches, where costs and Return-on-Investments drive increasingly demanding dynamics where time is scarce, and cash is even scarcer. This changes the business development funnel in terms of ways it is conceptualized, with performance at its core.
Within this deeply changed business context, B-to-B events that are traditionally designed, with relatively undefined focus and generic networking opportunities, might simply result in inefficiency in terms of both costs and results. A business meeting during an event almost always requires a follow up meeting, with relatively low chances to connect to actual decision makers. In this respect, the analogy with finding a needle in a haystack might be valid. Business events might therefore restructure as a sector, with two extreme polarities: a) major fairs with trendsetting speakers and features, where professionals primarily meet to network, e.g. with clients and existing relationships; b) online platforms that optimize the opportunities of efficient and effective matchmaking. In particular, investments in exploratory meetings and events where the focus is on generic introductions might be an outdated format, whereas personal encounters might be appealing and actually required to finalise deals and contracts in the “last mile” of contracts.
Reach, conversion, ROI. These are the keywords that will dictate the future of B-to-B meetings and events. Here, the emerged need through 2020 is to enable the best preparation first, and the most effective execution of any event. When it comes to networking, this is therefore enabled by matchmaking, and not the other way around as some might (still) think in the event industry. “Networking” as a business and specifically B-to-B activity is increasingly under pressure also when it comes to learning and training, where online solutions are more and more available to HRM and management. Here, human contact is not driven, as opposite to educational and didactic formats with functional focus on knowledge, competence, and performance.
Beyond B-to-B events, a more general indicator of change is the absence from B-to-C fairs by leading manufacturers from trade shows, that was simply unthinkable a couple of years ago. Of course, for branding purposes this is still an arena that might be required, in terms of presence. Also, this is a world that might be mission critical to keep track of trends in the industry, in the sector, or in the wider cultural context. On the other hand, social selling and other faster, easier platforms and tools might increasingly. Here, social media campaigns might drive the actual driver of brand presence, where B-to-C brands will be required to play a role in terms of presence, profiling, and promotion. A possible scenario is the blurring of media and events, with content being professionally produced on location, to be broadcast online to many. Within this possible scenario, the “happy few” might have access to location, whereas the mass audience will enjoy -but also be limited- to online access, eventually in synchronous mode. This might be particularly true with events in the luxury domain, where personal relationships drive markets and online might simply not be enough.
Business events used to be attractors at socio-cultural and informal networking levels, however the inefficiency of random meetings on fairs or design weeks might not be at the heart of industry events in the future. One might expect a higher degree of concentration and a natural restructuring of the B-to-B event sector. Within this specific universe of research, efficiency, Return-on-Investment, and other pragmatic considerations of budgetary nature will drive the development of new platforms, new solutions, and ultimately new opportunities.