ANME/XBIZ Show: Pleasure Product Execs Explore Future of Work

ANME/XBIZ Show: Pleasure Product Execs Explore Future of Work

LOS ANGELES — You’ve been there: your presentation is flowing flawlessly as buyers sit in rapt attention, videos play without lag and the audio is crisp and clear. You’re about to close the deal. Suddenly, everyone’s face stops moving as the app crashes.

“You know, instead of dreaming of standing naked in front of a classroom, this is what I have nightmares of — a Zoom meeting freezing,” said Pipedream’s Rob Phaneuf during last week’s ANME/XBIZ virtual "Work From Home and the Future of Work & Collaboration" panel.

Speakers at the event included Phaneuf, VP of product development at Pipedream Products; Kate Kozlova, sales representative for Svakom; Tori McCrobie, USA regional sales manager at System JO, and Paul Reutershan, distribution and sales for Williams Trading Co. with April Lampert, VP of Hot Octopuss, moderating.

Phaneuf’s anxiety highlights one of the many challenges working from home has made so commonplace these past 12 months under the specter of COVID-19.

Within the first few minutes of the discussion, Kozlova zeroed-in on new technologies, at-home distractions, limited sales travel and social isolation as the main challenges the industry faces as more people work from home.

“COVID-19 shattered travel, sales and the nine-to-five in the office paradigm. Traveling was common in our business for decades. It's how we did business. That face-to-face meeting was so important. Now it’s gone,” noted Lampert.

Reutershan shared that, having worked remotely since 2014, he’s found that embracing FaceTime and Zoom early on were the key to his success. Sharing his experience and encouraging others, especially reluctant retailers, to tackle new technology is how he makes communication even easier.

Phaneuf echoed the sentiment, saying that he took it upon himself to work with smaller stores to get them on technology.

"If I have to teach them how to use Zoom or how to FaceTime with me, then that's part of my job now,” said Phaneuf. “When you teach a customer something new like that, it's just as good as sending them a product that sells at their store.”

He suggests starting the conversation by asking prospective clients about their preferred method of communicating and adapting to their wishes as much as possible.

McCrobie added that going above-and-beyond to establish and keep connections is important: “I met with a buyer that said that her store was not set up for virtual training and I said, ‘What do you need? Do you need a Chromebook? We can work on that. I'm open to hearing how to make this work.’”

Several panelists warned that there will be reluctant retailers who’ll refuse to adapt to new technologies like Zoom. In that case, sending them sample products with printed details about all the features and benefits, and scheduling a follow-up phone call, is going to be the best way to work with them whether it’s a sales pitch or a training session.

Kozlova suggested persistent encouragement as a way to convert resistant storeowners.

“Explain to them some positive experiences of your other clients. All these stores know each other. Tell them, ‘Hey, this customer was able to use Zoom training and now their sales are skyrocketing!’” said Kozlova.

If they come around, have step-by-step video guides ready to teach them how to make a FaceTime or Zoom call and make yourself available by phone to go over everything.

“From my perspective we have to teach them and encourage them to use these new technologies,” said Kozlova.

Phaneuf pointed out that several brands like Pipedream were already embracing technology and new ways of communication. The pandemic and lockdowns simply accelerated his company’s use of Zoom, interactive digital catalogs, videos and the sharing of original content on different digital platforms.

“I think this new environment, this new reality, has allowed us to spread our message a lot easier than before,” said Phaneuf.

Finding the space and the uninterrupted time to work and communicate is another challenge. Personal distractions like screaming toddlers or construction work outside the home can and do derail conversations and work days.

“It's been a huge challenge. Thankfully, the customers, or whoever is on the other end, are dealing with the same thing. And everyone, for the most part, is patient. Everyone is new at this,” said Phaneuf.

The panelists shared their tips for making working from home less stressful, less isolated and more productive:

  • Set up a secure space for you to do your work and hold virtual meetings
  • Create your own dedicated office hours
  • Establish boundaries with your colleagues, customers and family
  • Learn about the basics of audio and proper lighting and invest in the tools and supplies that’ll improve communications
  • Always keep Murphy’s Law in mind and roll with the challenges as best you can
  • Take regular breaks and indulge — without guilt — in self-care

The panelists emphasized the importance of taking time to focus on mental health as the boundaries between work and home blur dangerously close.

"Something that I didn't always embrace was self-care. That is, until I hit a COVID wall. That’s when I realized there was more on my plate than I could handle," said McCrobie. "When things get frustrating, take that half hour or more and do what you need to do and then get back to work. Embrace self-care."

Even with enforced physical distance between people, there are online networks within which industry professionals can socialize like the Pleasure Professionals Place (P3) and Sex Professionals and Manufacturers (SPAM) Facebook groups.

The panelists noted that the simple act of calling a friend or a peer cuts down on feelings of isolation.

“We all have our mental challenges, physical at times. And boy, does it help to talk to someone on the other end of the phone,” said Reutershan. “You always think that your problems are bad, but then you call someone up and you find out that they're struggling, too. They just couldn't pick up the phone because it was so heavy. But, you know, sometimes you need to be the lifter and help lift people up.”

For the foreseeable future, working from home is here to stay. Companies are already recognizing and reaping the benefits of keeping some of their teams remote. This is going to force brands, especially their sales teams, to think creatively about outreach.

Reutershan suggested companies invest in creating recorded content that can be streamed anytime, podcasts, or hosting webinars that can be attended by multiple retailers. He pointed out the success of "Williams Weekly," a YouTube channel highlighting new products that retailers can view whenever they want.

McCrobie points to streamable content like podcasts as another way to expand reach, citing the success of her show, "All Lubed Up (& Nowhere to Go)."

“Even though it's sponsored by System JO, it's not a 'JO show.' It's a 45-minute platform for us to talk to retailers. We put together some great resources for store owners and share them regularly.”

Lampert reminded panel viewers not to forget the consumer and suggested brands create and share entertaining, engaging and educational information in different formats for their audience.

“We want to make sure that everyone in this world is giving and getting orgasms,” she added.

Despite the challenges of working from home, several speakers pointed out the benefits of their new work environments, such as being able to stay close to friends and family during a virtual trade show, learning new skills and new business opportunities.

Reutershan credits the focused nature of one-on-one video calls as the key to opening new accounts.

Ultimately, the panelists all agreed that the future of working from home looks to be more digitally interconnected. As sales continue to rise and elements of retail and sales become more digitized, industry professionals will need to continue to learn, adapt and grow with the technologies peeking around the corner.

“We have to be thankful because we work in an industry that's skyrocketing. Sex remains one of the last pleasures,” said Kozlova.

“People need our products and we need to be there for them.”

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