In-Person Sales Meetings Return to Industry
One of the biggest ways that business changed for brands due to the COVID-19 pandemic was holding company sales meetings virtually, instead of in person.
For an industry based on personal relationships cultivated by spending time with one another – on the beach, on the slopes, at a dinner, at a party, in the shop, or hanging at a sales meeting – virtual wasn’t ideal. However, the shift offered a suitable alternative, allowing teams to still interact and learn about new product lines and brands’ efforts to launch them.
Almost three years later, business is slowly returning to pre-pandemic ways. Some brands have recently revived their in-person sales meetings, while others have found the video format is still appropriate in the near term.
SES talked to several brands about the benefits of getting back to in-person meetings, while also hearing from others who still see some value in virtual.
In-Person Meetings Return
Salty Crew is one brand that returned to in-person sales meeting in 2022. Tom Ruiz, Salty Crew Global Sales Director, said getting their team back together in person had been long overdue. “It had been three years to the date,” he said. “A lot had happened in three years, with lots of change and opportunity ahead.”
BN3TH headed to Cabo San Lucas in November for its first in-person North American sales meeting in three years.
According to Vice President of Sales Matt Keenan, it was the first time he’d met some of the staff in person since taking over as head of sales almost three years ago.
“It was wild seeing some of our sales team for the first time ever,” he said. “Our people are the core of the brand, and we want to make sure to fuel their souls with amazing interactions and adventures.”
Roark held its first in-person sales meeting in Cabo last May, meeting for a few days of presentations, surfing, group breakouts, group runs, and meetings chock-full of product, strategy, guest speakers, and a couple of tequilas, said Vice President of Sales Drew Dolkas.
“We feel that it is critical to get our territory managers, international distributors, and internal team together in person to dig into the business,” he said. “We set strategic plans in motion, get deep on product review and education, and rally the crew as we continue to grow into the next stages of the brand and the business. It is important to get everyone on the same page and on board with our plan. We are setting the table for the future and thanking the team for their efforts. After being strictly virtual for a bit, we definitely saw a lift post-meeting.”
Salty Crew also felt one of the key benefits of getting together was connecting and aligning the brand’s different departments.
“There isn’t anything more motivating than getting the teams together and connecting at a personal level,” said Tom. “Having sales, marketing, design, customer service, and production all in the same room learning firsthand from the brand leaders about brand direction, vision, product, and the opportunities ahead.”
For BN3TH, Matt said getting the team in front of the new products was key for his company.
“We had a ton of great innovations and new categories launching in 2023 and that impact is lessened over Zoom,” he said. “We wanted to focus on the three P’s that are the foundation of the company – product, process, and most importantly, our people – and it’s important to do that face to face. Bringing first-to-market innovations really just doesn’t cut it unless you can see it, feel it, and talk about it all under the same roof.”
Cultivating Brand Culture
Dakine held its first post COVID in-person sales meeting for North America in San Clemente, Calif., last May and its first European in-person sales meeting in Sicily, Italy in June 2022, according to Vice President of Global Sales Shane Wallace.
He said it was a way to cultivate the brand essence. “In-person is essential for culture and unity,” he said. “Our brand and our industry are founded on rich culture and unity. Without culture and unity, our magic is gone.”
Bonding and Motivating
All agree, the industry is based on an exciting lifestyle. Tom of Salty Crew said there’s some enjoyable relationship-building that takes place around the meetings.
“Throw in some fun bonding time at the dinner table, the boat, a surf, and the pub, and that’s where the magic spark really happens,” he said.
Everyone agrees the end result of holding in-person sales meetings is a more informed and motivated staff. “Our sales reps went home knowing everything about the brand, our business plans, and our position in the industry,” Tom said. “They got a road map for the next 12 months. On top of that, they met all of the people behind the scenes who are supporting them. That is when your sales team turns into a sales force. Then they spread the stoke to the shops. It’s an invaluable experience that Zoom will never replace.”
Last year’s meeting went so well, Salty Crew has another planned for this May that will include a full day of meetings followed by an overnight fishing trip to San Clemente Island.
Matt says BN3TH’s leaders and team were buzzing after their meeting last year. “It was incredibly rewarding to see the actual expressions on our team’s faces and be able to feel the energy in the rooms and dig into the things each and every one there was really passionate about,” he said. “It was the very first time we were able to see the future of the company realized and tangible right in front of us. That alone was insanely valuable.”
Changing The Format
While brands are excited to hold sales meetings in person again, Shane said Dakine’s sales meetings weren’t the same as they were pre-pandemic.
“For Dakine, I’d say we accepted that luxury sales meetings are a thing of the past. We enjoyed being riders and surfers, and drinking out of red cups versus fancy hotels and excessive bar bills. Dakine took it to the surf and trails, along with preparing our team with tools and strategies to serve our customers. The opportunity to press the flesh, split a peak, and be personal, in-person, at a go-to-market meeting is a gift, and one of our most important returns on investment.”
This year, Dakine decided to tweak the format further, opting to host smaller gatherings with Dakine management and key retailers. The gathering included meetings at Dakine headquarters, a flight to Mammoth for a day of riding and bonding, a big party, and then more meetings between reps and the product and marketing teams to review market needs.
“For the same price as a sales meeting we effectively reached our customers, our sales force, and our industry,” Shane said.
Roark also seized the opportunity to mix up their sales meeting plan last year. “We set out to host a true sales summit, modernizing the format, having interactive components and unique group events, along with morning surfs and runs,” said Drew. “We brought a couple key accounts, hosted fireside chats, and invited some world-renowned keynote speakers.”
Roark is planning another in-person meeting this year, which will include camping prior to the meetings and then a three-day sales summit, Drew said.
“We will host the internal Roark team, all of our domestic territory managers, international partners, and a couple of our top-tier accounts,” he said.
Remote Sales Meetings
In 2022, O’Neill still utilized virtual meetings, but that is changing this year.
“We are adding one in-person meeting in May to launch our Spring 2024 line with our partners at O’Neill wetsuits,” said O’Neill GM Mark Tinkess.
And in calendar 2024, Mark said it’s likely O’Neill will return to two in-person sales meetings a year.
However, O’Neill did find some benefits to the virtual meetings as well.
“During COVID, we utilized two sales meeting formats: the pre-recorded presentation and the live webcast presentation (also recorded),” Mark said. “Both formats were effective, though we preferred the webcast format.”
In addition to presenting to O’Neill’s sales reps and staff, recording the webcast presentation added benefits for the brand.
“The line presentation portion of each meeting was made available on the Elastic B2B platform, so our retail partners had access as well,” he added.
Roark also still sees value in digital meetings, and will hold one virtual meeting annually.
“Digital is efficient, cost effective, and it works for sure,” said Drew. “But we still value an in-person meeting and were grateful to pull off an epic one last year.”
BN3TH will also hold one virtual sales meeting and one in-person this year.
“It’s a great way to manage budget expectations with a sometimes-evolving retail landscape,” Matt said.