Businesses hold many events, covering everything from trade shows and board meetings to client dinners and fundraisers. Ensuring proceedings come together requires scheduling, coordinating participants’ transportation, securing speakers, finding and furnishing venues and more. Corporations would often rather hand that planning and management work off to professionals.
This demand is evidenced by the $5 billion the United States’ B2B and B2C events and party planning space generated in 2019. These firms do not operate in a vacuum, and plenty of companies are eager to supply the needed drapes, tables, seating and other furnishings. Such rental companies cannot hope that compelling arrays of goods will be enough to secure business — they must also ensure their offerings are easy to access, learn about and pay for, and that means having strong B2B eCommerce presences.
PYMNTS recently caught up with Lilian Shen, director of marketing at B2B furniture rental firm CORT Events, to learn more about how flexible, digital B2B sales channels and visual supports are key to sealing the deal with event planners. Her clients need to quickly receive pricing quotes and discover new items or risk falling behind schedule.
“Moving our business to the online space allows us to maximize our ability to serve our customers, reduces their downtime and allows us to provide them real-time updates to their needs,” she said.
Encouraging Purchasing Fast And On The Fly
CORT Events supports planners designing everything from 20-person executive meetings in remote locations to national conferences in major cities. Its offerings thus need to be accessible for event planners nationwide. Planning professionals are often moving between prospective venues or visiting different clients and must be able to rapidly browse and order items from the road.
Mobile services are needed for clients to easily do business with furniture rental companies, Shen explained. That includes supporting mobile checkout as well as using digital channels to provide design trends and product release updates or to quickly respond to client requests.
“A planner can be on a site visit and realize, ‘I need an account for this piece of the venue space,’ and can go online and adjust the order and get that change immediately,” she said.
Prospective customers’ speed demands have made self-serve eCommerce a valuable sales channel, she added. Event planners can easily check out online and pay with credit cards, rather than waiting to receive invoices and use paper checks. The company works with a major credit processor that handles payment data and its encryption.
“[Customers] typically pay with card transactions online through our systems. It’s the quickest way for them,” Shen said.
Going digital at checkout can also make documentation easier.
“[The credit card payment] is directly connected with the quotes we provide, so everything is right there,” she said. “It’s a single click. We try to keep everything compact and straightforward for the customer to digest.”
Event planners are not homogenous, however, and serving a wide variety of clients requires meeting many different needs, including offering invoices to those who want them and personalizing sales methods. Some clients prefer to peruse items online but then finalize by calling in their orders or submitting requests for representatives to contact them, for example, while others are eager to handle the whole process online without such interactions.
Making It Visual
B2B suppliers can also use eCommerce to leverage digital tools and help make the selection process easier for clients. Decision-making around furniture and decor is often influenced by visuals, with event planners wanting to project how everything might look on-site. CORT Events provides a spatial planning tool through which clients can create 2D and 3D virtual mock-ups of their meeting spaces and arrange models of furniture and other items. Converting this offering into sales requires a quick, smooth transition between the tool and checkout, Shen explained, so the company connected its visualization services to its shopping cart so customers can quickly rent what they model.
Reducing the steps between customers viewing items and checking out is a guiding principle for CORT Events — and it is currently playing a starring role in the firm’s eCommerce refresh efforts. The firm aims to develop “shoppable dynamic catalogs” that event planners can peruse to view photos or videos of items and events and then click on anything that catches their fancy to be immediately directed to the purchasing page.
“We really focus on developing media and that enhanced shopability, where a consumer can go through our inspiration gallery and see all the images of events past, of renderings that we’ve done, of ‘This type of event may do well with these pairings’ [suggestions and] the new trends, [such as] ‘Green is very prominent in 2020,’” Shen said. “It’s very visual. We want them to go there to enhance their knowledge in the design space while being also able to transition from, ‘That looks great,’ [to] ‘I want to rent exactly what that picture looks like. Put it in the cart. Give me everything and let’s go.’”
Encouraging prospective clients to quickly move from idea generation to payment could be especially effective in an industry in which 62 percent of event planning professionals have said finding fresh ideas is a top priority.
“Because of the ever-shifting industry trends, [customers] want somewhere they can go where they can get inspired and make [purchases] happen, too,” Shen said.
Planners work hard to get their events off the ground, making quick decisions and responding to any hurdles that pop up. These pressures make it all the more critical that event supply companies seeking to serve these planners provide flexibility as well. Mobile tools and platforms equipped with digital supports that seamlessly turn ideas into rentals can be critical for B2B furniture and decor providers. The right eCommerce offerings thus might be just what it takes to reach modern event planners and help them make corporate events a success.