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What Two Potato Vodka Distillers Taught Me about Client Engagement

(L to R) Julie Shore, Doreen Ashton Wagner
and Arla Johnson
On a recent trip to PEI I had the pleasure of visiting the Prince Edward Distillery in the tiny hamlet of Hermanville, on the Northeastern tip of the Island.

There I met partners Julie Shore and Arla Johnson, and not only tasted their vodka (as well as their rye, whiskey, rum and gin!) but I also gleaned a few insights about what it takes to engage a client.

I had first driven to visit their tiny hotel, the Johnson Shore Inn, for a project I am working on for Meetings & Conventions PEI.  The Inn, it turns out, has now been leased to another couple to run so Julie and Arla can focus on the distillery.

It was on a whim that I decided to stop in at the distillery. After all, my site inspections focused on accommodation and meeting venues, and the distillery wasn't on my list since they don't have event space.

Before I knew it, I got a crash course in distilling, purchased a bottle of gin (which I never drink  I'm a scotch drinker!), and I was one hour behind schedule.

Lest you think I simply succumbed to their products, allow me to outline how they engaged me to the point I decided to write this post:

They have a story: I learned about Julie's North Carolina roots, where generations of Shores distilled moonshine.  Until Prohibition, that is.  Four generations later, Julie is reviving the family tradition, 2000 km North, on an island where her and Julie (who is from Florida) vacationed years ago.  They loved PEI so much they moved here..  

They are truly passionate about what they are doing:  While touring the production area, I listened intently as Arla described the six weeks during which she and Julie toured German schnapps distilleries, and met with manufacturers for the perfect still.  Julie ended up designing her own contraption, with an extra "column" because she had the hunch it would make a smoother-tasting product.

Their product is not unique but the way they are producing is:  Julie and Arla believe in partnering with local farmers.  The distillery began with potato vodka, but they soon added blueberry vodka because wild blueberries are an abundant crop on the Island.  And since farmers grow grains to let their land rest every few years, they got into the other spirits as well.  

They are having fun: Passion can turn some into fastidious, know-it-all bores.  Not the case with these ladies.  As I toured the facility, it was clear that these women know how to have fun.  I learned about how they feed the waste potato mash to the farmer's pigs next door ("There's often a bit of alcohol left in the mash... that makes for very happy pigs!").  How they joke around with male visitors who don't always think that two women should be in the distilling business (the still columns do have a phallic appearance...).  

They invited me to try their product the way host would invite a guest:  A big part of the experience of course is the tasting. The spirits are kept in the freezer, and only a tiny quantity is poured in a shot glass.  Just a little sip  really!  But I felt uniquely "pulled in," charmed, to give it a try (I had be careful, I was driving!).  Yet there absolutely was no pressure to buy.  Arla wisely asked for my drink preferences.  She correctly guessed that I would enjoy the rye (the taste resembled brandy). When she nudged me to try the gin, I thought she'd be wrong.  Not at all  I loved the light taste of juniper, and the hint of lemongrass.  I walked out with a bottle!

So there you have it!  The story of two American woman who braved the odds, moved North and are successfully running a business that attracts locals and tourists to their out-of-the-way part of PEI. Their success, in my humble opinion, is due to their outgoing, personable demeanor and they way they tell their story, one customer at a time.  

Julie and Arla's company does not have a great online presence. Their website doesn't even list their new products  rye, whiskey, rum and gin  and they do not seem to be on ANY social media. Yet their product is now available at the LCBO, available to Canada's largest provincial market.

Their philosophy is to engage, one person at a time.  Good luck Julie & Arla!

Is Your Inbound Marketing Mindset Dooming You to Fail?

There's no denying the shift the meetings industry has experienced in the last few years about the way meeting planners want to hear from, and interact with, suppliers.  Like me, you've probably seen and even participated in debate over whether "cold calling" is dead.

While the days of "dialing for dollars" are long gone, I respectfully submit that anyone who thinks the phone is an archaic means of communication is sadly mistaken.  Very rare are those for whom ONLY blogging and posting on social media will bring all the business that they need.


A successful inbound marketing strategy with some elements of outbound activity will even out the ups and downs of the sales cycle.  And yes, this may mean using the telephone.  

Except that now, using the phone looks like this:

  • With abundant information available online, you can build a list of prospects and approach them intelligently -- not "cold calling" but "warm calling";
  • With a regular lead nurturing program, where you have your prospects' permission to maintain contact via email, you can place smart follow-up calls whenever a prospect clicks on a link to download or access an educational resource you have produced;
  • Calling someone to reconfirm they will be attending your event or meeting you at an industry tradeshow (something that mitigates no-shows!).

Smart outbound activities may also sending them the odd mailing or handwritten note. If you think I'm kidding on the snail mail bit, check out this blog from my friend and meeting planner extraordinaire, Sandy Biback.

Inbound marketing without outbound activity is like expecting to meet Mr. Right with online dating, without going out on any dates!  It's possible, but likely a recipe for failure.  But your odds will be better if you are willing to maintain the relationship proactively too!  

Taking Pause - Wise Words for Busy Meetings Industry Professionals

This article was written by Betty Healey of RoadSigns.ca, a firm specializing in Conscious Communication and creating healthy, human work environments.  Betty and her partner Jim have worked with our team here at Greenfield Services for nearly 10 years, helping us have a more engaged and engaging  workplace.  We bring you this article because with the Canadian and US long weekends coming up, we believe we ALL could use a little pause in this meetings industry of ours. Enjoy...
  
We had been on I-81 for less than 30 minutes when I saw the SIGN -


I had the following reaction: Really! 

Sure enough, 5 miles later another SIGN: TEXT/REST STOP.

This is what it takes apparently to encourage drivers not to text and drive at the same time. As I assimilated this information, I looked to my left and sure enough there was a driver passing us and YES, he was texting. I was aghast as I find paying attention to the road and the other drivers enough of a challenge. 

At our first rest stop, I found myself sitting on the toilet listening in on the women on the toilet next to me having a conversation on her cell phone. Honestly, it felt like an invasion of privacy.

As I settled back in the car I remembered the vacations I took, pre 1995, when there was no internet, no cell phones, no access to the world other than what was right in front of you. I also remembered how these vacations rejuvenated me, how I would arrive home to see everything with fresh eyes and a new perspective, and I realized that today's escapes do not offer this same opportunity.

We arrived at our condo to discover that there was no WiFi - OMG. Near panic. No internet and we had chosen not to purchase an international plan for our cell phones. Of course you see the humour and the irony in this. I have attracted what I was wishing for. That said, there is a Starbucks, with WiFi, within walking distance. Whew!

BUT: When did life become so urgent, so immediate, so NOW?

Taking Pause
Vacation is of course simply a reflection of the life you have created, one dependent on being 'linked-in' to your devices, to e-mail,  Face book and Twitter or whatever social media you use. It has become part of a growing addiction, one to which I am not immune. I like my daily dose of connection through Facebook surfing. I have become reliant on it in many ways. AND I also resent the intrusion, the texting while driving, the cell phones everywhere, the need to be attached. I have forgotten how to unwind completely, disconnect, BE quiet, to take pause. I doubt that I am alone.

All of this has left me thinking, not only about vacation, but also how I build in the important 'take pause' time in my life, what I refer to as ME FIRST time.  I am left asking these questions, "Am I so addicted to doing, to being connected, that I have forgotten how to BE? When the NOW pre-occupies me, am I fully present to me?" 

Back to Basics
While I will not be texting while driving, I am not immune to the demands and expectations of today's reality. I am also aware that you and I can make choices to establish boundaries for ourselves and the degree to which we stay connected. A few suggestions:

1.   The 1% Rule
In ME FIRST, we recommend dedicating 1% of your day to YOU. Mathematically this represents 14.4 minutes, 15 minutes to make it easy. 
It is amazing to me the number of people who find this a challenge. Fifteen minutes just for me - what will I do? And therein lies the challenge as this is designed to be "BEING" time, not to be filled with reading, shopping, knitting or any hobby. It is a time designed for reflection, for taking pause. It is a time to simply check in with yourself, to breathe, to meditate, to daydream, to become clear regarding your intentions, to be grateful for your life. It is a time for you to be fully present to YOU.

2.    Big Rocks
This conversation has come up so many times recently, one that begins with, "there is never enough time", or "I am dancing as fast as I can and I still don't get everything done".
Here's the thing, you are not meant to get everything done. You are meant to get the important things done, what I refer to as the big rocks. The rest is filler, stuff that may not even belong to you or stuff that you are simply addicted to doing but when examined has little importance in the greater scheme of things. Use the 1% rule first thing in the morning and become clear on what is important for your day, name your big rocks, and plan your days accordingly.

3.    Time Expands
One thing I know for sure, is that my work, my busyness will expand to fill the time I give it. How many times do I look up to see that the hands of the clock on my desk are reading 6 p.m. and I am still in the middle of whatever. I have also reached the point of ineffectiveness as fatigue influences the quality of my work.
I also know that when I put time limits on projects, I achieve them. Lesson: be clear on your time boundaries and know that you can achieve what you need to within the time you assign the project.

4.    Know what is yours to Own
Be very clear on your YESes, what you agree to take on for others. This has been a fatal flaw for so many of us - we agree to take on issues or projects that do not belong to us. Somehow we believe we can do more efficiently or better. Yes and, they do not belong to us.
Remember, your taking on responsibilities that do not belong to you has results: you become overburdened while the other person does not have to own their responsibilities. It is a disservice to everyone. Not only that, our apparent goodwill holds others back - when they don't learn responsibility you also cheat them of growing confidence and self-esteem.

5.    Understand your Addiction
I am very clear that my 'doing addiction' is highly connected to my sense of self-worth. I suspect I am not alone with this. It may be time for you to understand your addiction as well, whether this is doing, being connected, being responsible, and so on. The unfortunate truth is, none of these doings, which are external to you, will give you the gift of self-esteem or self-worth. Their effect is temporary.

The only person who can give this to YOU is YOU - you are the voice in your head and your heart, self-esteem comes from within. Staying busy is driven by your ego and your fear of simply stopping and listening. It is when you take pause that you have the opportunity to see the greatness of who you are and to begin acknowledging the difference you make to the world around you. It is in the quiet that the truth appears.

Final Word
At the Awakening Festival in April I spoke about 'Cultivating Your Diamond'. The busyness that we have come to expect of ourselves allows no time for this. I encourage you to take pause, to identify time in your life for you and step away from the many distractions that so easily take up your time. You are worth the investment!

And by the way, when you are on vacation, make sure to disconnect! 

What the Meetings Industry Needs to Know about Canada's Anti-Spam Law

This article does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making decisions based on this material alone. Please consult a legal professional for more information pertaining to YOUR situation.

In exactly two months, on July 1, 2014, Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) will take effect.  This law was actually passed by Parliament in December 2010, and took over 3 1/2 years of industry consultation to bring it to fruition.

It's been so long that very little so far has appeared in the news about it. Thankfully for our industry, CSAE has done a solid job of informing association executives.  But the private sector appears to be completely in the dark about the CASL – meetings industry suppliers especially!

So here is a quick primer:

The CASL applies to any commercial electronic message (CEM, aka email, text, direct messages on social networking accounts) that promotes your organization, facility or service. Examples include soliciting a prospect to book your hotel or inviting recipients to sponsor, attend or exhibit at a conference or event.

Note that the "commercial" aspect applies regardless whether there is an expectation of financial reward.  A DMO or site selection company promoting its free service to source appropriate venues still would subject to this law, even though no money is exchanged.

The cornerstone of the law says that in order to send a CEM, the sender must have consent from the recipient.  

There are two types of consent:

Express consent is the communication agreement you have with an individual client, member, or exhibitor. These contacts have explicitly agreed to receive electronic communication from you. Express consent means they have completed a form, in hard copy or online, or told you verbally, “yes, I want to receive more information from you.” 

Verbal consent only applies if you can prove the conversation took place, with the date and time, supported with information that was shared for the specific purpose of validating the exchange, such as "what is the first letter of your city of birth?" 

With express consent you can continue communicating until you are told to stop.

Implied consent on the other hand is a tentative agreement between you and a prospective client, member or other stakeholder. This would include an online inquiry, an exchange of cards at an industry function, or an individual dropping their business card at a trade show. Such a person could be interested in becoming a client of your organization, but you are not sure. Since he/she has not specifically said “yes, communicate with me”, consent is only implied, and CASL says you can only communicate with them only for six months following their inquiry. 

Implied consent would also apply to anyone you have done business in the last two years, but where the recipient has not filled out a form or given you express verbal consent. 
Implied consent resets every time a new business transaction or inquiry is made.

There are a few "exceptions" where you can communicate electronically, without prior consent.  These are treated as implied-consent records and therefore should be OK to communicate with for a period of up to 6 months:  
  • When someone has published their email on a website or printed directory and not specifically said "I do not wish to receive unsolicited email":  These are considered "fair game".  But be careful to send only communication that could be seen as relevant to the recipient (e.g. if they are a trade show manager, it would be OK to send information about trade show displays, but highly questionable to email them about laser eye surgery, for instance).  
  • If you are referred by someone from within the targeted organization: if you contact an association where the planner has moved on, and you ask for their replacement's contact information, you have legitimate grounds to contact the new planner.  Make sure you mention the referring contact ("further to my conversation with your receptionist...");
  • If two companies have a relationship: An example could be a "master agreement" for special rates between a hotel company and a corporate account.  If you are the hotel sales manager you could send an email to their corporate meeting planner, pointing out the relationship, and asking about potential groups or meetings. 
The "must-have" elements of your message:

All email messages from your organization must contain the name of the sender and their contact information, including physical address and phone number, along with either an email address or website.  If your communication goes through a third party, such as a marketing agency, the sender must also identify who they are sending the message for.

Subject lines must be representative of the content of the email. Resist high-handed subject lines such as “Important News about your membership” or “Important News about the Upcoming Meeting” just for the sake of promoting open rates. Sensational or misleading subject lines are unacceptable.

All email messages must contain an easy, one-click unsubscribe option, which automatically ensures that the recipient no longer receives communication from you.

Other considerations:
  • Process all unsubscribes as quickly as possible. Immediately is best. Organizations that still send emails 10 days after consent has been revoked are more likely to be at risk with both the recipient and the law.
  • It is highly recommended that your email software be connected to your CRM. You may need to have an alternative way to send membership renewal notices, or upcoming meeting details, and other information as required.
  • In the event of a complaint, you will be required to prove that consent was obtained. This includes knowing the method or source of consent (as an example, if they filled out their preferences online), the date it was received, and what permission statement they consented to.
What it could cost you:

Penalties for non-compliance include $200 for each message (one unsolicited communication can count as a violation), and can reach up to $1,000,000 per day for individuals and $10,000,000 for businesses. This will be enforced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). As of July 1, 2017 consumers and businesses will have the right to take civil action against any violator.

For more information on CASL, contact me at 613-288-4512 (yes, I prefer a call... and if I'm not available my voice mail will give you my email address!).  Also consult www.fightspam.gc.ca.

Connecting on LinkedIn – the Right Way and the Wrong Way

Regular blog readers will know that I am very particular about requests to connect on LinkedIn.  I’ve had a strict policy of accepting requests only from people I know personally – e.g. People I had worked with, or collaborated with on a committee.

I wrote about this in Stop Polluting LinkedIn a couple of years ago, and commented against the practice of connecting with online acquaintances in various meetings industry chats on business development strategies.

Especially annoying were requests from salespeople who clearly wanted to push their products or services (do they even realize I’m not a meeting planner?). One thought I was “ripe for the picking” because we interacted on Twitter (one request read: You mentioned my company on twitter (PartyPix_CA). I thought it would be good to connect on Linkedin as well. I hope you'll accept my invitation.” Eww…). 

Yet another tried to make me believe we’d met before: “Was it not you that I met at the Tete A Tete conference last week here in Ottawa? Maybe someone else from your organisation?” – as if THAT was going to make me accept his invitation!

But lately a few people have made compelling arguments that made me realize that I was limiting myself, perhaps even acting selfishly.  The first was my friend Mitchell Beer, who commented on my rant about LinkedIn requests from strangers (see What To Do When Mike Lipkin Asks You To Connect).  Mitchell explained that he responds to out-of-the-blue requests by inquiring about the person’s interest in reaching out.  While most people don’t reply, he says he’s had a few good conversations about business opportunities.

Then I read the story of Kelly Blazek, a Cincinnati businesswoman who clearly over-reacted when she was approached by an inexperienced job seeker.  I believe in helping people out and this quickly made me realize my curt responses were not helpful.  Maybe I could offer those unwitting connectors a bit of coaching on how to develop long-term relationships in the hospitality business.

In addition to using Mitchell’s advice, I now look at the person’s profile more carefully… Because in one instance, when I asked for clarification on we knew each other, the person pointed out we’d worked together at a hotel!  Ouch, that was awkward…

Then a few weeks ago I received this LinkedIn request from Ann Ng, a young woman I had met at the CanSPEP breakfast:

Hi Doreen. Thanks again for sharing some important information on Canada's new Anti-Spam Legislation and Privacy Act this morning. It also looks like we have a few connections in common. It'd be an honour to connect with you professionally. Hope you had an amazing Wednesday. Thanks, Anna.

Anna is Manager, Graphics & Content at Hilton Suites Toronto/Markham Conference Centre & Spa.  I think she deserves a prize for being so genuine and engaging with her LinkedIn request!  Anna, seasoned professionals could take lessons from you about how to connect in social media.  Thank you for restoring raising the bar!

What do you think is the best way to connect on LinkedIn?  Any horror stories?

The True Value of Meetings – What Is Next?

Earlier this month the Meeting Professionals International Foundation Canada released the results of its latest Canadian Economic Impact study of the meetings industry.  It found that:
  • In 2012, there were 585,000 business events held in Canada, involving 35.3 million participants;
  • These events represented $27.5 billion (1.5%) of Canada's Gross Domestic Product; 
  • The economic activity of these business events supported more than 200,000 full-year jobs, nearly double the number in telecommunications and utilities.
Notable results, though if one refers to the last economic impact study, conducted in 2006, we have yet to return to pre-recession levels. We had fewer meetings and created fewer jobs in 2012, compared to 2006.  Back then,  Canada’s meetings sector was said to have organized 671,000 meetings, creating the equivalent of 235,500 full-year jobs.

Our firm was very involved with this study, as the data gathering partner, working with Maritz Research Canada, The Conference Board of Canada, and the Canadian Human Resource Tourism Council.  I know how rigorous an exercise it was to measure this industry.

And it's prompted a lot of questions in my mind: Are we having fewer meetings or are we meeting in other ways – meeting online, informally in smaller groups, using our own in-house venues (where the impact is not being reported in economic studies of this kind)?  

If we are meeting less, is that a good thing?  Some would say "yes"; fewer meetings have meant a smaller environmental footprint.  But others would argue that meeting face-to-face is a fundamental human need. One that allows us to get to know and trust one another.  To collaborate, innovate and create. If we're not meeting, what does this mean for the human condition?

I'm not sure we'll ever fully know the answer to that question, but we must try.  As an industry we should be focusing on the real impact of meetings, beyond the pure economics.  It's not that economic impact is unimportant; it is.  It was.  We needed to quantify our activities because that's how our world works.

But we now need to move beyond that.  Meetings have a hard cost, an impact on our environment. They use increasingly limited resources, at all levels.  If we are truly going to measure and prove our worth, how do we quantify engagement, learning, innovation?  It's back to the old question: how does the meetings industry report Return on Investment?

The answer lies not in the quantity of meetings, but in their quality: we need to have better, more meaningful meetings. 

Are are we up to the challenge?

When Even Your Friends Go Silent

As a salesperson, have you ever had a stretch where every client and every prospect you try to contact is unavailable?  A time when no one responds to your voice mails, your emails, your texts, not even your friends**?

I certainly have and I hate the feeling.  Many hotel, DMO and meetings industry colleagues have shared their story... Ms. Big-Wig has a tentative contract for a large meeting and she stops communicating.  Your boss is breathing down your neck to get the deal signed.  You've left countless messages.  You really don't want to tick her off (this could mean quota) so what can you do?

1.    Make it about them:  Your prospect could be going through a nightmarish period in their life (think catastrophic situation with their child or parent), could be out of the country on vacation, or could be having mobile connectivity issues.  All three situations happened to some of my clients recently, and their silence wasn't about me.  Don't take offence.  Make it about them in all your inquiries.  "Are you OK?" is a simple subject line that often works!

2.    Expect that it's temporary: There's no room for melodrama here.  If your prospects aren't getting back to you, it's no time to wallow in your sorrow.  Look at your approach, shake it off, but most importantly stay positive and know in your heart that it's only a matter of time.  Research by psychologist Dr. MartinSeligman shows that optimistic people, those who expect negative situations to be only temporary, do better in sales.

3.    Vary your touch points:  According to insidesales.com, leaving a voice mail and immediately following up with an email  boosts response rates.  If phone and email don't do the trick, and the response is urgently required, try getting a cell number and sending a text too.  A drastic measure perhaps (so make sure you don't "cry wolf" and overuse).  The point is, the more diversified your contact points, the more your prospect has a chance to understand and react to the urgency.

4.    Get creative:  A few months ago Jeremy Tyrrell of the Scotiabank Convention Centre shared with me how he got Ms. Big-Wig to finally sign his contract by sending her a video.  His phone messages and emails hadn't done the trick, so he posted a plea on YouTube and got other people to tell her about it!  Gutsy? You bet.  But what did he have to lose?  And now this meeting planner will never forget the extent to which he was willing to go to land her business!  (Click here to view a modified version of the video).

5.    Use humour: One our most challenging projects was the MPI Foundation Canada's Economic Impact Study of the meetings industry.  As the data gathering partner, we had to convince at least 650 meeting planners to take this long online survey and reveal detailed financial information about their events.  The email with the highest open and click through rates had the picture of a cute little girl in pig tails, with a quivering bottom lip; the subject line said, "OK, now we're begging." 

6.    Have lots of leads in your funnel:  Most sales experts will tell you the best way to remove the stress around closing business is to have lots of opportunities in the works.  This way you CAN walk away from that prospect who doesn't respect your time and effort by not responding.  (Read more about Greenfield's Lead Generation Resources here ).

**Yes, just recently, an old friend "went silent" on me.  I was really torn up about it.  
I had contacted her on a business matter.  When I followed up, I got nothing. I followed up again.  Repeatedly.  With a friendly approach, a business approach, a humorous "you-can-tell-me-NO-I'm-a-big-girl" approach, and even a pitiful "what-have-I-done-to-upset-you?" approach.  As it turns out, I should have applied rule #1; she was going through stuff, and she didn’t think I could be so insecure… J