“So, where are you from and what kind of business are you in?” I lead with this question when I go to any networking event and meet somebody new. It’s always a great way to learn about the world (literally) we operate in and the people who make it interesting. Sometimes, it gets so interesting I don’t even work my way around to talking about my business but, that’s OK, the most important thing in networking and sales is listening.
Recently, I attended a conference and met several people outside my normal circles. We were all attending because we had a common interest, eCommerce. I spoke with a VP of a pool supplies company who was struggling with cross platform representation of his product. “How do we keep our branding and product features consistent and correct when our retailers use so many different platforms in so many formats?” The conversation took many turns but in the end, I asked, “What are you doing for your distribution pipeline?” He just looked at me puzzled. I asked if his company provided branded photos and up-to-date descriptions for use in mobile ecommerce. I asked if they had established an online portal for their distributors and retailers to pull in centralized data that his company always kept fresh. Hmmm… Light bulb! I learned about a unique company and he took a fresh look at an old problem. We both had a productive lunch.
Another chance meeting at breakfast found me talking to the Director of eCommerce for a large, nameless pet supplies company who claims they are very smart. She had been in the business for years. I asked her what her primary interest was in the conference and she indicated global ecommerce was one of her focus areas. I asked how her company approached the challenges of new markets around the world. She indicated they really had not ventured into foreign markets much. Just too complicated for quick decisions within a large company. I learned a lot about the challenges of selling pet supplies online. Market saturation, cultural challenges and shipping were all common issues, none of which a deal breaker but when brought together, caused serious questions on whether certain markets were worth it.
I asked about Amazon and if they sold on the platform. The young lady’s response was that while the company is certainly positioned to be a direct supplier, they were not able to participate at that level due to Amazon having an in-house program for pet supplies. As conversation continued we came to an agreement that Amazon might still be useful as a test market by selling limited amounts through FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) in target markets just to see if fully operational sites made sense in the future. It’s a quick way to test a market with very little resources required.
Other acquaintances were made from a web design firm specializing in Magento in New York to retailers from Russia and Ukraine. Clothing companies in Texas and software engineers from Florida. Everyone had a story and a challenge or two and everyone had a solution. And the great thing was, all I had to do was ask one question and then listen!