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Death of Salesman – The Meetings Industry Version

For some time now I have worried and written about how the relationship between meeting planners and suppliers has become commoditized.  The role of the salesperson – of sales in general – is increasingly being challenged.  In fact, here are the seven reasons why I think the traditional sales role is basically on life-support:
  1. Fewer people are using their phone to talk:  Have you tried to reach someone at their desk lately? You almost always get voice mail.  And now there’s word that some companies are doing away with voice mail altogether. And ironically, with the move to cell phones, fewer people are using their devices for voice communication; just this past June phone manufacturer Ericsson released a study affirming that only 30% of time spent on all smartphone apps is on communication.  The fact we’re not talking means we’re not establishing relationships…
  2. We’re more connected but less responsive: Recently a planner acquaintance made a plea on LinkedIn for a return to the “good old days” when suppliers aimed to return calls and answer emails within a set standard of time.  But I hear a similar complaint from the sales side too; planners push for quotes to be turned around within days or even hours, but don’t return the supplier’s call for weeks!  Have we really become too busy to be professional?
  3. We’ve gone RFP-crazy: According to a meetings industry survey by The Hive Network earlier this year, 41% of suppliers said the number of RFPs they receive in one week has doubled in the last 5 years.  Twenty-four percent (24%) say it has tripled and 5% say the volume has quad-rupled!  Only 30% of those surveyed say their RFP volume has decreased or remained the same.  All we’re doing it seems is sending RFPs, completing RFPs and analyzing RFPs… To the point there is a movement to reign us in; check out the RFPSmart Pledge!
  4. Brands trump personality:  This point definitely focuses on the hotel sector.  There are fewer and fewer true independent hotels these days.  A 2013 Wall Street Journal article reported that chain hotels then represented 70% of rooms (vs. 56% in 1988) with predictions showing chains growing to 80% within 10 years.  And the growth of brands comes with an increase in standardization (because it cuts costs), and the loss of individual freedom at the hotel level. Freedom to reflect a property’s unique attributes for meetings.  This makes some planners think of their meeting venues as a commodity.  During focus group research a few years ago, one planner insisted she hated to have to speak to a rep… “Why can’t someone make an Expedia for meetings?” she lamented.
  5. The revenue management and “maximization mindset”: With more chains, the hotel business is increasingly run by revenue managers whose job depends on maximizing revenue for the property owner.  Hotel group pricing is being set by someone who often never has met the planner.  That person is like that infamous “manager” in a car dealership… Is it any wonder planners treat hotel rep like (used) car salespeople? There is no relationship!
  6. The rise of third parties: What came first? Did site selection companies come about to help customers navigate the tricky waters of the commoditized accommodation sector? Or is the accommodation sector being commoditized because of site selection companies?  This is one issue that I am bound to get flak for… but I maintain: site selection companies would not exist if hotel companies were seen as keeping their customers’ best interests at heart.  Like unions formed to protect workers, site selection companies first came about because they did a better job of finding and negotiating hotel space.  So yes, these third parties have commoditized the industry.  But did we deserve otherwise?
  7. The inability to create online content for nurturing and inbound marketing: treating prospects the way they want to be treated means that hotels, DMOs and other meetings industry suppliers would stop interruptive marketing (like calls, emails and the like) and have everything available online, only a click away.  But the reality is that most suppliers barely have enough time in a day to do their work (probably due to #3 above!), never mind create online content on an ongoing basis!  And budgets rarely allow for outsourced content creation.
For better or worse, the world has moved away from an outbound marketing model that favoured the traditional role of meetings industry sales rep as the “wheeler-dealer”… Now salespeople are squeezed between the client they so desperately wish to solidify a relationship with, and their number-crunching masters.  With consumers increasingly wanting to be in charge of the sales cycle itself, what is the future of the meetings industry salesman or woman?

I am not quite sure, except for this: I personally no longer feel that I can be part of this commoditized environment.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have moved on, and so has my company of 17 plus years... As of a few months ago, Greenfield Services Inc. has ceased to offer lead generation and inbound marketing services to the supply side of the meetings industry equation.

Yes, in part because we could see the "writing on the wall" but also because we just weren't having fun anymore... and what is there to life if we don't have fun?  Therefore this is our last post on this blog.

Rest assured that we have not abandoned our beloved meetings industry.  We are continuing to grow our association management practice, and refocused our energy on consulting services that support association and non-profit organization growth:
  • Membership Marketing and Engagement
  • Event Marketing 
  • Engaging Meeting Design
  • Sponsorship and Exhibit Sales
As of November 1, 2015, this blog will no longer be maintained.  Instead, check out our new blog on the newly re-designed Greenfield Services website!

Many thanks for your ongoing support since 2010... see you soon!

Farewell, iBE - You Were a Class Act

Yesterday the Co-Publishers of Ignite Magazine announced that there will not be a fifth installment of their annual show, Ignite Business Expo (click here to read the full text).

Some may say "ah, the other guys won," or "see, there's no room for two business events shows in Canada." There may be some truth to that.  But in an industry that is not always known for drastic innovation, I think Rich Elliott and Debbie van der Beek and their team should be congratulated.

Greenfield Services team
Doreen & Meagan at iBE 2012
Praised for pushing us to create more visually-appealing trade show environments, as well as magazine layouts.  Lauded for challenging us to focus on the experience of business events, not just the sale.  Recognized for taking a risk that ultimately may not have paid off for them, but benefitted the entire industry.

Greenfield had participated in iBE since inception in 2011.  I know that it was because of what we experienced there that Greenfield Services' own production team for the Engaging Associations Forum focused such energy on the décor, the design, on the feel of the event. 

Thank you for pushing us to do better.  We need more folks like you in business!  And we can't wait to see what you have in store next.

How Much Do You Really LOVE Your Job?

We hear it all the time in the meetings industry, "oh I love my job -- I get to travel, meet great people, stay at great hotels, not to mention the food...!

But do you love your job enough to be working when you are dying?  Enough to be showing up at work even though you've been told that you likely won't be around a year from now?

That probably gave you pause, didn't it?  I love my work -- most days -- but when my friend Jeremy told me early in the New Year about his diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma, I was shocked to hear about his illness, and even more shocked that he was choosing to continue to be on the job.

"If you only have a few precious months, just a year to live, why the heck would you want to be working??" I thought.

Well that is what's different about Jeremy.  He loves his work; maybe not all aspects of his job (I don't know really because I've never asked him in detail).  From what I see Jeremy gets to do what he loves and what he's really good at: talk to people, make them think, make them laugh, help them feel what is real and important.  That's just what he does in both his jobs.

You see, Jeremy is not just the Director of Sales for the Scotiabank Convention Centre.  He's also a Deacon in the Catholic Church.  I've never heard any of his sermons, but I've read his blogs and social media posts.  And we've talked about our faith, about stuff that you don't expect to talk about with a meetings industry colleague.

With Jeremy, what you see is what you get.

So he shows up, having made the choice to be living with a life-threatening illness.  He is not dying.  He is here, with us now.  Living and breathing.  A regular guy doing what he does as best he can and writing about it (check out his blog to see what I mean).

Come to think of it, it's probably not just his job he loves.  It's because he is doing his life's work.

I promise I won't try to be a mindless cheerleader, sending out platitudes about the reality you are living, Jeremy.  I can try to imagine what you are going through, but the truth is that I really don't know.  Yes and, I respect and salute what you are doing.

Carry on, my friend, because you are a living reminder that it's not just about the job, it's about our life's work.  We thank you for that.

Marriott Buys Delta Hotels - Initial Thoughts from #Eventprofs

The news hit the meetings industry like a bomb last week: Marriott Hotels and the B.C. Investment Management Corp. made public plans for the American hospitality giant to buy Delta Hotels & Resorts.

Still subject to approval by regulators until April 1st of this year, there was little doubt in anyone's mind at the CSAE Tête-à-Tête Show in Ottawa: the sale, most said, will go through.

Some of the show attendees I spoke with were saddened to see the "last true, pan-Canadian hotel brand" be bought out by a large American concern.  They had wanted Delta succeed on its own, offering an alternative to the big global brands, especially after Delta's hard-fought battle to re-brand and upgrade its facilities and services across its 38 properties.  Others felt that it was inevitable, "hotel management is really all about real estate these days," observed an association planner.

Some of the Delta sales reps I spoke with were quietly welcoming the news, especially those who have sales responsibilities in the US.  "No one knows what a Delta is in the US.  They think we're part of the airline!  This at least will give us credibility," declared one rep, clearly delighted at the opportunities this would also present to her professionally.

A seasoned site selection specialist heartily welcomed the announcement. She said she hopes that Marriott ownership will mean Delta will apply Marriott's rules about paying commission only to planners who have gone through Marriott's training and qualification program.

Officially both Marriott and Delta sales leaders say it's "business as usual" until April. And even then, they say, Marriott likely will keep Delta as a stand-alone brand.

Time will tell how Canadian meeting professionals will be affected by the sale.  What are your thoughts, Eventprofs?

#Eventprofs: Are You Marketing Like It's Groundhog Day?

Last week I returned from a major Canadian meetings industry show with a handful of business cards, having had a few good conversations, but no qualified leads to speak of.

Chatting with fellow exhibitors, I heard a similar refrain. Lucky for me, I own my company so I get to determine whether a particular marketing activity showed return that I'm satisfied with, or not.

Unfortunately my booth neighbours don't have that luxury. Whether they are hotels, destination marketing organizations or other meeting services firms, most of them report to a boss, a set of partners or a Board, none of which are usually known for risk-taking or innovation. Return-on-investment is constantly on their minds.

The problem with that of course is that most of my fellow exhibitors aren't free to really be creative, creating marketing activities that make them stand out. They are marketing like it's Groundhog Day.

They go to a show because the competition will be there. They attend an event because everyone else is doing it. Is it any wonder the meetings industry has become commoditized?

If we are doing things like everyone else, then we will be seen like everyone else. Just one big crowd of undifferentiated, indistinguishable set of vendors. (If you’re a true marketer, that’s a really *bad word*!)

Remember how Phil Connors (a.k.a. Bill Murray) broke out of his predicament and won Rita's heart in the movie Groundhog Day? Once he figured out he was in a rut, he took the opportunity he was given each day to learn a new skill, to exercise a new talent, to do things differently. In the end, it greatly improved his circumstances.

So, eventprofs, ready to break out of Groundhog Day?

Keeping on Top of Your Database Post-CASL

With the passing of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) last July, the world of database management has changed for Canadian marketers. No longer can we simply email a list of prospects, weed out the bad addresses and follow up with the good ones to ensure our database is clean. If an email is sent to someone who doesn't want to be on your list, it can land you in trouble!

(Read more about the do's & don'ts of CASL by downloading this Greenfield CASL overview).

But what should you do if your database is a mess? Here are a few tips:
  1. It's the circle of life!  Accept the fact that the minute you've finished updating your database, something in it will be obsolete.
  2. Resist buying data.  Even if a list seller says they have email opt-in, don't believe it!  Legal professionals tell us email permission is not transferable; it rests only with the entity who obtained permission in the first place. A list seller would have to send the email for you in other words.  So be careful and buy only from reputable entities.
  3. Focus first on the data you do have.  Set up a phone campaign. Have the list cleaned the good old fashioned way. 
  4. Update in small chunks. Set aside a few hundred of your best records, get those updated and feel good about what you've done. And focus on keeping this chunk of data pristine. Make it your A-Team and work from there. 
  5. Be brutal! If a contact can't be updated in a predetermined number of phone calls, archive it, delete it, or remove it, but get it our of your regularly accessible records. 
  6. When you make a call, start at the top. An Executive Assistant to a President will know who plans the meetings within the company. To get past a tenacious receptionist, ask for Sales. The Sales department is a great place to start since they will be hosting a number of the meetings. 
  7. Keep your funnel full by topping it up with new records.  This means systematically adding to your database as you acquire new leads from a trade show, and inbound inquiry, or a networking event.  Ask your new prospects if you can keep in touch via email, and send them an email with a formal opt-in request they can accept right away.
  8. Email regularly. Don't be afraid of email just because of CASL. Moving prospects from implied to express consent can be simplified with an opt-in campaign via e-blasting, so why not do it? And for those who have opted in, they have given you permission to email them regarding specific topics. Why not woo them with great email content and keep them coming back for more?
Data cleansing isn't rocket science but it's time-consuming and required consistency. Remember that clean client and prospect data will make you a more efficient hospitality sales and marketing organization and ensure you are follow all of the new rules!

Meetings Industry: Back to a Seller's Market in 2015?

As 2014 draws to a close, many meetings industry suppliers have reported to us here at Greenfield that they believe it definitely will be back in a seller's market.

This prognosis seems to be supported by a number of surveys and forecasts from travel companies and industry associations:
So suppliers, what are you seeing in your city for 2015?  Planners, what are you doing to mitigate the rising costs for your meetings and events?