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11 Things for the Meetings Industry to Look Forward to in 2011

As we say goodbye to 2010, here are the top 11 things we are
Moving Forward
looking forward to in 2011:
  1. Return to Healthier Business Levels – 2011 won’t be a banner year but most economic indicators point to a recovery.  According to latest MPI Business Barometer Report and the IMEX Global Insights Report, organizers are reporting increasing demand with the number of meetings and their associated budgets on the rise.  Hoteliers such as Marriott and IHG started to benefit in the latter part of 2010 with rising revPAR
  2. Changing Mindset – With business improving we also look forward to mindsets shifting from the negative “bunker mentality” of the last 2 ½ years.  But let’s ensure we remember the lesson the recession should have taught us: Never take business for granted!  Nurture and appreciate existing client relationships, but fill your pipeline with plenty new opportunities… just in case.  If you’re looking for ideas on how to do that, check out the resources at Engage Selling Solutions – we’ve hired Colleen Francis to coach our team!
  3. More Intelligent Marketing – Regardless of the economic rebound, the marketplace will continue to fragment.  One-size-fits-all, mass marketing no longer works.  More innovative and intelligent marketing practices will be required of meetings industry suppliers.  Increased focus on measuring social media ROI.  More customized, permission-based conversations with prospective clients.  We look forward to the implementation of marketing automation tools that will deliver higher-quality, sales-ready meeting and convention leads.  It’s been done extensively in the IT sector and we’re looking forward to seeing this applied to sales & marketing for the meetings industry.  To learn more, check out DemandGen Report.
  4. Better Mobile Applications – Whether it’s planners looking to attract attendees or suppliers touting their services, we look forward to the increasing shift to mobile applications.  According to fellow MPI member and social media consultant Cameron Toth:  “The most important thing that happened this year is the increased connectivity and speed of mobile technology.  From this moment on if we are looking to promote we must consider the mobile device user in our marketing plans.  From mobile friendly websites to event apps we are now looking at engaging our audiences differently and better than ever before.  New contracts will talk about cell phone reception and wi-fi.  If they don’t the attendees will.”
  5. Hybridization of Meetings – 2010 was notorious for significant disruptions to travel (see our 2010 Top 10 Events List).  But with increasingly sophisticated infrastructure, we look forward to improved virtual meeting experiences in 2011.  Click here to learn more about hybrid meetings. 
  6. Better Quantification of the Value of F2F Meetings – If the recession taught this industry one thing, it should be that we must do a better job of proving the value of face-to-face interaction.  We look forward to better quantification of how in-person meetings help establish the trust necessary for all sorts of human activity, from successful peace accords and major economic programming to  ground-breaking research.
  7. New Marketplace Opportunities – The North American meetings industry has been suffering from a dysfunctional business exchange model: the tradeshow. With IMEX and AIBTM making their debut in the USA, along with a host of other regional events by the likes of Elite Meetings and Meetings4You, we look forward to rejuvenated interactions between planners and suppliers.
  8. Rebounding Employment Levels – Cynics have said that the latest downturn was needed to cool an overheated market where younger employees were being too demanding.  We look forward to rebounding employment opportunities for all meetings industry professionals and the continuing dialogue between generations!
  9. Increased International Travel – We look forward to increased diversification of our meetings industry, with attendance from higher-growth countries such as Brasil, Russia, India and China (a.k.a. the “BRIC Countries”) as well as other developing countries.  More diverse cultural input and dialogue is what our world needs to solve its problems…
  10. The Release of the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards – They’ve been long in coming, but finally, in 2011, we should have universally accepted standards for meeting professionals to produce more sustainable events.  According to the Convention Industry Council, “The standards have completed the APEX consensus process and are now being balloted through the ASTM International consensus process, granting the standards recognition through an ANSI-accredited international standards setting organization.” For more information, click here.
  11. The New Ottawa Convention Centre – Yes, we admit it.  This is a bit biased.  But we’re looking forward to the re-opening of our Canadian capital’s convention facility, right here in our own backyard.  Under re-construction since September 2008, the redesigned and expanded venue will re-open April 2011.
What are you looking forward to in 2011?  Share your views with us!

Top 10 Events That Affected the Meetings Industry in 2010

Top 10 Events
This list started with my jotting a few events that stood out for me as industry-altering.  Then I reached out to colleagues and clients through LinkedIN.  The economy was at the top of everyone’s list but beyond the obvious, what other issues stood out?

The 40+ responses (thank you all!) I received reflect widely diverse views on events and the shifts in the way we may be doing business in the future.  Here is a summary of the most notable:
  1. Spotlight on Vancouver: Following Vancouver’s Winter  Olympics event producers around the world know it’s OK to be human after show maestro David Atkins redeemed his opener’s failed cauldron lighting with a funny mime routine during the closing ceremony.  In July, the city also hosted MPI’s World Education Congress, dazzling attendees with natural beauty and expert logistics.  Will the “Olympic Effect” continue to shine on Vancouver in 2011?
  2. Volcano Ash: In April, an enormous cloud from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland caused the worst travel disruptions since 9/11, stranding travelers on six continents.  Meeting and travel professionals were once again reminded of the need for contingency planning.
  3. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: Days after the volcanic eruption, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, sending oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.  Groups steered clear of Gulf state destinations, prompting tourism promoters and businesses to apply for financial compensation.  Will BP’s experience prompt more to seek corporate reparations from environmental disasters?
  4. Nashville Floods: Overshadowed by the oil spill, torrential rains and floods devastated Nashville.  The Opryland Hotel was under 10+ feet of water, forcing many to relocate their conventions.  At least one planner reported to Greenfield using a virtual tour because she had no time to fly to the new convention hotel.  Could this be the start of a new way to conduct site inspections? The Opryland re-opened in November.
  5. Meeting Boycotts: Headaches and relocations continued as the meetings industry became a political pawn with U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva urging groups not to schedule conventions or conferences in Arizona to protest the state’s new immigration bill, S.B. 1070.   While more controversial aspects of the legislation were struck down in July, one study pegged the damage at $141 million in lost revenue.
  6. The Rise of Mega Hybrid Meetings: MPI’s 2010-2011 Chairman Eric Rozenberg nominated SAP’s SapphireNow as an industry-shifting event which simultaneously connected 5,500 people in Frankfurt (Germany), 10,500 people in Orlando and 35,000 people on the web.  While this is not the only larger-scale live-virtual event that took place in 2010, few would deny that this new type of meeting is a game changer.  Will hybrid events help mitigate natural and man-made disruptions?
  7. G8 & G20 Meetings: Canada was abuzz with international attention again in late June as Huntsville, ON and Toronto, ON respectively hosted the G8 and the G20 gatherings. Combined these events represented the most expensive security operation in Canadian history, reported at almost $1 billion.  How will this demand on public coffers sour taxpayers’ views of international meetings?
  8. Mexico’s Annus Horribilis: Mexico started 2010 under the spectre of the H1N1 flu pandemic, and continued to struggle with gang violence.  While drug wars centred mostly in non-touristic areas, the country’s biggest industry staggered under the bad publicity.  Will our Mexican friends finally be able to focus on more positive developments, such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference which just concluded with an accord in Cancun?
  9. European Financial Crisis: First Greece, then Ireland and now perhaps Spain.  Europe is struggling under colossal debt.  In 2010 the Euro has plunged, making European travel and meetings more attractive.  Will North American incentive planners take advantage or shy away from the potential political unrest?
  10. TSA Security Crackdown: Just in time for holiday travel, the Transportation Security Administration stepped up inspections, prompting an outcry from travelers, civil libertarians and travel industry officials.   Will this added intrusion fade as just one more aggravation to put up with for the sake of getting to one’s destination?  Will some meetings stay away from U.S. destinations to spare attendees the humiliation?
Some contributions did not make it in to our top 10 either because they were local events or could be considered trends rather than specific events.  We’ll post those next week.

What were your top events in 2010?   Please share them with us.

In closing, let’s hope for more positive developments to make their way into our list next year.  Until then, may you enjoy peace, health and prosperity!

Getting connected…

Black Rotary Phone
Talking on the phone for a living is not everyone’s cup of tea. Sure it sounds easy, just about anyone can pick up the phone. But how do they sound? Would you be nervous? Would you get tongue tied?

It’s true I have a call outline for every project I work on. But you can’t follow a script when you’re talking to real people.

What happens if the contact asks a question that isn’t rehearsed? And if I wrote something that sounds natural coming out of my mouth that doesn’t mean that ten other people could say it fluidly. That’s why I like a call outline that gives me the flexibility to make it my own.

But my job is more than that. I have to be able to pick out the most important things while weeding out the extra bits. I have to be able to jump from one line of questioning to another because that’s just how the conversation makes sense. And I have to make it sound like I’m not checking off boxes as I ask each question.

Not only do I have to connect with the contact, but with the person they are. Rapport is a big part of what I do every day. Sometimes you connect through humour other times it might be empathizing with a struggle the planner is having, which in turn could give you an opportunity to help them.

You have to be good at dealing with all types of personalities and knowing the differences between them. For example if you’re speaking with someone who is very laid back and has a lot of time to go into detail, you have to be ready to take the time. On the other hand if you’re speaking to someone who is reluctant, you have to be accepting of that and help them to elaborate in a way that isn’t offensive.

Something I like to do is research each project I’m working on to have a better understanding of what I’m promoting. This makes it easier for me to speak comfortably on the phone. But at the same time I have to be willing to admit my shortcomings and know when to say, “I just don’t know, but let me find out and get back to you with that answer.”

The important thing to remember is; you’re not just talking on the phone. You’re building relationships.

Strategies for Doing Business in a Challenging Marketplace

MPI Convivium Round Table
Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop at Convivium 2010, the biennial conference of the Montréal-Québec Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI).  The learning objectives of the sessions were to share market research, brainstorm and exchange field-tested advice and start participants on their own business growth action plan.

The session was attended by a total of 24 MPI members and guests.  The first order of business was a group discussion of the factors that have changed the meetings industry marketplace in the last two years.  The recession and the price/value consciousness of customers were of course at the top of everybody's list.  Other reported factors were not necessarily related to the economy.  These included:
  • Airport security concerns & passport requirements
  • Short-term group bookings
  • Smaller meetings: less revenue, same work
  • Doing the same/more with fewer resources
  • The impact of social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • Virtual meetings (Go to Meeting, etc.)
  • The "Expedia Effect": planners & attendees expecting same/lower rates than online, not understanding yield management
  • Access to information/customers being better informed
  • Planners' service expectations: there are no second chance
  • Planners' increased demands for concessions and contract flexibility
  • The need for relationship building with customers
  • Strategic Meeting Management (SMM)
We also discussed three main research papers of major consumer trends:
The discussion then turned to how changing trends and adverse market conditions should spur innovation.  Participants were challenged to brainstorm and come up with tactics that they could implement in their own business.  I shared 10 of the most effective tactics we have used at Greenfield to grow our business and our clients' business:
  1. Web presence not an option: with customers looking for more and better information online, businesses must invest in their online presence through Search Engine Optimization and client-focused content.
  2. Work your existing clients:  since tougher times make clients less inclined to try new suppliers, make sure you make the most of your existing customer base.  Ask for referrals and use client testimonials to build trust with new customers.
  3. Go out & network: rise to the challenge and go see customers in person!
  4. Build your social media profile: this tactic is especially important for sales reps within larger chains who do not have any say in their company's web content.  Build your professional exposure with a 100% complete LinkedIn profile!
  5. Offer value upfront: in this age of open source, rise above being "just a supplier" by providing customers with advice on how to do their job better.  They will love you for it!
  6. Know your numbers & get a coach: professional athletes and many entertainers have coaches and people to help them improve their performance.  My coach is Colleen Francis of Engage Selling.  She's held me accountable with my annual sales goal, breaking it down to "chewable chunks".  In my opinion, all salespeople should have a coach!
  7. Communicate every 30 days: another one of my coach's valuable advice.  If you don't communicate with your customers at least once ever month, you risk losing a minimum 10% of their awareness of your hotel/service.  The key is to vary the ways you touch customers each month.  A phone call, a personal note, a visit to their office, an email newsletter, an invitation to an event... Be creative!
  8. Create alliances:  participants at this session agreed readily that alliances should be forged not only with people who can refer you business, but even competitors.  One independent hotel sales rep mentioned how he has landed business by reaching out to his larger chain competitor around the corner.  And how else do you create alliances except by networking?  (see #2)
  9. Show gratitude: we can never do it enough.  Say thank you in a personal way.  Not by email.  Express yourself with a hand-written note, preferably on nice stationery or blank card.  You don't have to splurge for a gift, but if the matter was considerable, then by all means send flowers, chocolates or other choice item.  Just make sure the person is allowed to accept a gift, and that it is as personal as possible.
  10. Avoid the feast or famine cycle: prospect all the time!  I'm a living example of this practice.  Ensure you grow your business by keeping your funnel as full as possible.  This also helps when a client cancels unexpectedly or tries to negotiate a little too aggressively.
This was my first Convivium, and the first MPI Montreal event I had attended in quite some time.  I enjoyed myself so much that I need to reconnect with my new colleagues soon!

Objections? Overruled!

Overruling Objections
Can we possibly anticipate every objection? No, we can’t, but we can at least be prepared. Start with what you know. I ask myself “What would I object to?”  By being able to answer my own questions, I have a head start. I also take note of the objections I hear and work out an answer after I get off the phone.  That way I have a good response on hand for the next time it comes up.

What ever the objection, there is nothing wrong with asking for clarity. Let’s say you get a flat out refusal that they could never consider your property. There is no shame in asking why. So many times I’ve had calls completely turn around just because I asked, “may I ask why?”

A good example of this would be a call I had the other day. I was working on a project for a hotel group, and the person I was speaking with thought I was referring to one particular property. The objection turned out to be a misunderstanding!

Remember, objections aren’t always founded. Perhaps the planner only plans one event per year or their meetings are fairly small. Assure them, all events are important regardless of size and frequency. How can you go wrong by making your prospective client feel important?

Then there are the times when the meeting planner is “just blowing you off” because they’re not taking you seriously. Be prepared to prove you have credibility. I like to know something obscure or unique about the property I’m talking about, and often that helps me pique a planner’s interest.

There are also times when even though you’ve asked for permission and it’s been granted, you can hear impatience in the person’s voice. This might be a good time to ask what the most important things are they look for when considering a venue. I’ve had success with this as it gave the planner a chance to elaborate on what they look for and me the chance to prove my interest as well as their importance.

Not every objection can be overturned, but you can’t know that unless you’ve addressed them.

What's on the Meetings Industry Horizon for 2011?

horizon, binoculars
In the last few weeks I have been speaking with many hospitality and CVB sales & marketing executives about how 2010 was for them, and how they foresee 2011.  Here's what I have been hearing:
  1. Demand is improving. Since most hotels had severely downgraded their expectations going into the year, most managers are telling me they will either meet or slightly exceed their budget this year.  Regions across North America are reporting modest increases in demand, especially in the latter part of 2010.  This trend is reported by a recent Starcite e-newsletter and the U.S. Travel Association.

  2. Rates stay flat, at least for first half of 2011.  During most of 2010 meeting & event planners were able to drive a hard bargain and in most areas, they got what they wanted.  While suppliers in the Northeast and Canada are still cautious for the first quarter of 2011, many have told me they will be pushing up rates for the second half of 2011 or sooner if they can.

  3. Fewer concessions. What seems to be taken off the table already are the concessions.  In our Benchmarking Study this fall, planners were reporting getting fewer value-added perks.  Most affected seemed to be those who have higher meeting-space-to-bedroom ratios.  Throughout 2009 and most of 2010, they were able to find suitable space for their groups.  Now many hotels are holding the line and refusing to give up precious meeting rooms for small blocks.  For those planners, finding suitable space has replaced budget as their primary concern.

  4. Will planners still be able to pull things out of the hat? As the market shifts to a sellers' market and occupancy is tightening up, several meetings industry pundits were wondering recently how planners' ability to "pull things out of the hat" during the recession might come back to haunt them.  In the last few years senior executives were able to call last minute meetings, often for fairly large groups.  Planners would scramble, but usually succeeded in finding suitable space and at good rates.  One Helms-Briscoe Director I spoke to last week admitted that he hopes his meeting planner clients don't suffer their corporate bosses' wrath when space is either unavaible or at much higher prices.
What are YOU seeing on the horizon for 2011 and beyond?  Let us know what you think!

Database Management Tips for Meetings Industry Suppliers

Data Cleansing
With the dozens of data cleansing projects we do for hotels, CVBs and other meeting industry suppliers, I am often asked for tips on how to manage a sales database. Here are a few best practices:
  1. Reduce the number of accounts your sales reps are responsible for: We did a LinkedIN poll last year and found the majority of salespeople who responded had more than 250, some even 500+ accounts under their initials in their company’s CRM. That is way more than anyone can effectively manage. CSO Insights reports that 100 accounts is probably the maximum number of actively managed accounts a rep can handle PER YEAR. If you want your data to be better maintained, cut back on the number of records assigned to each person.

  2. Size should not matter: Do not allow a sales manager to earn a badge of honor for entering a ton of business cards after a tradeshow or event. Choose quality over quantity. Before ANY record is entered, make sure it is qualified; interest does not mean the ability to buy.

  3. Have a mechanism to track & flush: If your CRM is also used to send out regular communication to prospects and you must enter the data before it is fully qualified, make sure you assign a source code and date. That way you can easily send dedicated follow-up messages (e.g. Thank you for stopping at our booth…). This also allows you to query your CRM to assess response to any campaign, organize a follow-up call campaign and eventually delete the data if there is no response.

  4. Make sure to nurture: Communicate with your clients and prospects often and through varied media (not just email; snail mail too!). How often? At least every 30 days (click here for a great article about this). Maybe that big planner who was interested in your hotel for their annual incentive next year just got let go. How would you know unless you call as soon as you find out her email bounced? Make it the responsibility of one admin person in your office to call and update any undeliverable email record or address. (Do NOT assign this to the salesperson. You pay them to close.) When you do this monthly the task is less overwhelming.

  5. With your regular communication, offer incentives to self-update: Ensure all your eblasts offer an opportunity to update their information online. Publicly thank people who have updated (e.g. “Congratulations to Planning Office XYZ on their recent office move, and thank you Sally for updating your information. There’s a Starbucks card in the mail for your efforts!).
Keeping a database current is not a complicated thing to do. Unfortunately it is often the simplest things that don’t get done… If you are looking to organize a larger-scale clean up effort, check out our data cleansing tips. To ensure success, do the basics regularly and keep your database CLEAN.

Staying motivated

Team Huddle
As Meagan stated in her post “It’s not just about the money… ”, at Greenfield we start our day with a positive focus, to share something we liked about our previous day. This could be something that made us smile or brought us personal satisfaction. I’ll admit that at first I didn’t really see the point but as time went on I began to appreciate it; at least one person will make me smile. So I take that smile and make it last. I’ve had my share of days where I had to “fake it ‘til I made it”. But I made it.

Remaining positive is sometimes easier said than done. We’ve all been in situations where we had to really search for something nice to say about someone or something.  Take Seinfeld for example; the episode where the gang went to visit their friends who just had the ugliest baby. Do you say the first thing that comes to mind or do you focus on the best feature? The pediatrician’s comment was, the baby was breath taking and judging by everyone else gasping when they saw that baby, it certainly was.
You can use the same tactics at work:
  1. Find the one thing you really like about the project you’re working on or the hotel you’re representing and elaborate on it. Plain and simple: it’s easier to promote something you honestly like.

  2. Another thing that really works for me is goal setting. Depending on the project I’m working on, I will either set a daily or a weekly goal. I try to set different goals and keep them attainable but not too easy. A small goal may be reaching my completions for the day or making one really good connection. A larger goal would be getting more leads for a project than forecasted. To stay motivated, I keep in
    mind that no matter what happens on each call; go into the next one with a smile and a clean slate.

  3. Another tactic to staying motivated when prospecting is to imagine that you are the best call your contact is going to receive today. That you’re bringing them something they may not have considered or something they didn’t think could be done. Who knows, maybe its true!

  4. Find something that makes you happy, work-related or not, and make it a part of your day. If you really can’t think of anything at all, talk to someone, maybe they have something you can borrow until you find your own happy place.
So was I crazy about it when we began sharing positive focuses each morning? No.
Did I change my mind after I saw the result?  Definitely.

It’s a very simple thing to do and takes almost no time and little effort but it can make a huge difference on how you go about your day. And I highly recommend it.

Booking a Blitz? Remember to Qualify…

Sales Blitz Booking
When booking a blitz (or, Sales Appointments) to meet with prospects at their office & discuss future potential, a question often arises:  Quantity or Quality?  It can be answered a few ways.  An argument can be made that if you see and speak to enough people, you will end up getting some qualified business potential.  While this certainly is possible, some may say that this is like throwing things at a wall and waiting to see what sticks…

Personally, I believe that Quality is better.  Our projects of late show some interesting stats.  To book appointments with companies that have not shown activity with you in a few years, or that would be entirely new business, it takes 20-30 times the number of contacts to book 1 appointment.  What does this mean?  If your want a salesperson/team to see an average 5-6 appointments per day over a 2-day blitz, then you could potentially have to contact 360 contacts to fill their days with 12 appointments.  Now, multiply that with several Sales Managers, properties, etc.  The numbers can be daunting.
To create a successful blitz, you have to create a successful plan.  Consider the following steps:
  1. Identify your timeframe early.  Reserve the dates in your calendar, and reserve back-up dates if you can.  This will be helpful should you come across unexpected barriers (industry tradeshows, provincial holidays, etc).
  2. Know the markets you want to meet.  Whether it is Association, Tour & Travel, or a mix of everything, identify them and prioritize them!
  3. Find your data.  Whether you pull from your CRM, or you are purchasing a list, you will need to secure it early, because….
  4. Start qualifying calls early – 6 to 8 weeks out, even 10 if you can.  Confirming whether the contact is still the same, identifying if they want to meet and if the dates selected are a viable option.  Ask them on their business potential – all very important – the more you qualify the better!
  5. Nurture your prospect.  Between the initial call and securing the appointment, nurture them with a series of emails. Start with a thank you email (for the initial conversation) – start including links to your website and/or helpful information on your product/service.  The final email could re-direct them to book their appointment online, or to advise them to expect your call to secure the best time.  Once you have re-connected and booked the appointment, offer to send them an appointment for their calendar.
  6. Reconfirm appointments.  If you have someone doing this for you, or if you are unsure which participants are going to be on what team, ensure that you call them back to let them know who will be coming to meet with them.  I also recommend calling a few days before to reconfirm the appointment, so both can be done then!
Doing these things will help ensure that the meetings are valuable for all parties involved.
And, if you still have a few time slots open during your blitz, arm your salespeople with  prospects located near your existing appointments.  If your sales team has spare time, they can drop in, gather some information from the receptionist or even the contact herself and leave some information behind.  That’s the power of face-to-face meetings!

Show You Appreciate Your Clients

Show Your Appreciation
Large or small… they ALL matter. That is the key message, and the one thing many people overlook.

Recently, I attended a Client Appreciation Event hosted by Cornwall Business Machines, which inspired me to write this post.

This event is held annually, and I have attended the last 3 years.  They go all out: limo pick up and drop-off, champagne & hors d’oeuvres, and a casino night.

It was a nice evening, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  But what really stood out for me was that they greeted you at the door, rememberedeveryone by name and came around several times during the night to ensure that you were having a good time and that you had everything you needed.

So…. What can you do?  While I am sure that events like these can be budget busters in some cases, there are things you can do to ensure your clients know they matter.

Send a thank you note at the end of the contract.  Handwritten notes are rare these days.  Thanking them for their business in this way will stand out.  Along with the note (and, if budgets allow), send a gift, based on your product/service.  We recently completed a Benchmarking Survey with meeting planners where we asked “what was a memorable way that suppliers reached out to them?” This came up a few times in responses, and I think it’s great!

Make a follow up call.  Sounds simple, but initiating the satisfaction conversation before they come looking for you shows you care.

Repeat clients are great to have, but don’t assume they will come back in 2011 just because they have for so many years previous.  Be proactive in delivering the most important message – they matter.
It goes a long way to ensuring that your relationships remain solid in the future.

Getting Around the Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper Doorman
One of the most frustrating things you can come across is the gatekeeper you can’t get past. You know there is potential there but you just can’t get through to the appropriate person.

First thing to remember is they are just doing their job. Ah, there’s the key phrase – their job. Now taking that into account, when do they do their job? If the office hours are 9 to 5, try calling at 8:45am or 5:02pm.

If you don’t know your contacts extension then you can use the name directory. I know we all think that we should wait until our prospective clients are in for the day and settled with their coffee and give them a chance to listen to their voicemail and check their emails.

That’s actually a great time to reach the contact. The early morning call when they aren’t overwhelmed with other calls or having someone dropping by their office or being pulled into a meeting. The after hours call, when they aren’t struggling to get everything done that they need to before that conference call at 3pm or meeting some other deadline.

Maybe they just found out about a sales meeting that’s coming up or haven’t had a chance to even think about the managers meeting and would appreciate someone calling them up and assisting them, taking some of the burden off their shoulders. Or try calling mid day when there’s someone else answering the phones, even receptionists need to take lunch I’ve connected with meeting planners who didn’t mind talking through their lunch, as it was the only chance they were going to get to drop a few details and let me take over the leg work for them.

What you naturally assume is the worst time to reach someone may just be the best time. I’ve picked up the phone and dialed out of time zone and reached Directors at 7:30 in the morning who had forwarded their office calls to their cells.

People who were actually glad to hear from me because there aren’t enough hours in their day to juggle everything they do. Especially when so many people are covering more positions. For more information regarding the best/worst time to reach someone you can refer back to some previous blogs such as; When Is the Best Time to Prospect? Everyday! And Only a Few “Good” Hours Per Week to Prospect.

Another tip is taking the email address of the person you want to reach and plugging it in to Google.

Often you will get a direct number for the person you are trying to reach and sometimes you will even be provided with the name and number of their assistant. If you don’t have their email address, try the basic formats such as first name dot last name at the name of the company dot com. It takes seconds and could be the difference between not getting passed the gatekeeper and making that connection.

Hosted Buyer Programs – Changing the Landscape in 2011

Busy director of sales & marketing doing his annual budget
This is the time of year that meeting industry suppliers sequester themselves for days to hammer out their annual budget and marketing plan.  With the changing landscape for meeting industry tradeshows in 2011, I wonder what hotel, CVB and convention center plans will include?

New U.S. Tradeshows

MPI will no longer have MeetDifferent in the winter, and its World Education Congress in July will not have a tradeshow component.  Instead, MPI has thrown its support behind IMEX, a hosted buyer program to be held Oct. 11-13, 2011 in Las Vegas.  ASAE and DMAI have endorsed this new show.

The Convention Industry Council and PCMA have lent their education support to the Reed Travel Group, organizers of EIBTM (Barcelona, Spain); GIBTM (Abu Dhabi, UAE), CIBTM (Beijing, China) and AIME (Melbourne, Australia) who are bringing their hosted buyer show format to North America; AIBTM will be June 21-23 in Baltimore.

But it’s not a clear-cut MPI vs. PCMA situation as PCMA is also listed as a “supporting partner” for IMEX.  SITE, ICCA and AIPC seem to be playing safe too by supporting both events.

Pricing for the new shows is not for the faint-hearted. At $92-$110 per square foot, IMEX is the most expensive.  AIBTM is listed as a mere $68 per sq. ft.  These prices of course are “plus-plus” with shipping, drayage, electrical, furniture rental, and all the other usual tradeshow costs.

But as fellow meeting industry blogger Jeff Hurt asked in a recent post, “Are hosted buyer programs just reinvented timeshare prize promises or are they the magical silver bullet for an ailing tradeshow industry?”

While I do believe something needs to be done to revitalize the way business is done in the meetings industry, the hosted buyer format is not a silver bullet.  (Is there ever such a thing?) The biggest change I think needs to take place with suppliers expecting that just showing up at a tradeshow should guarantee them business. The biggest improvement with these new shows I think will be that the appointment format will force suppliers to put more time into pre-show preparation, something they should have been doing in the first place...

Jeff also asked if hosted buyer programs are “ethical and worth attending.” I remember that a few years ago, with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation hoopla, many corporations would not have even allowed their American buyers to attend a hosted show.  But I guess now the recession has made it OK for many to save money by being hosted…

But let’s not forget that the hosting is not a guarantee; planners must meet minimum business criteria.  So I wonder where this leaves smaller buyers or those who cannot plan meetings outside the U.S.? (IMEX says that hosted US buyers “should place business internationally as well as domestically”).

And what about the smaller suppliers?  Those who cannot afford these big shows?  Will we see a resurgence of smaller tradeshows or showcases?  Will local MPI chapters use this as an opportunity to organize regional tradeshows? Maybe CVBs will opt to organize sales missions or host events in planners’ own cities?
I see a lot of fragmentation ahead and my thoughts are with those poor DOSMs who must sift through it all!

Reaching Planners in a Saturated Marketplace

Saturation in Communication
On Thursday, July 15, SPIN Planners ran a webinar titled, A Rare Look Inside the Buying Process of Senior-Level Planners. Participants included third-party meeting planners Kimberly Ruby, CMM, of Ruby Meetings, Blanca Diaz of BND Meetings.  Association planner Stefanie Simmons of IAAM.  Moderating the discussion was Shawna Suckow, CMP, the Founder of SPIN.

Here are their recommendations on how hotel, CVB and other meeting industry sales representatives should reach out to planners like them:
  • About cold calling:  while all planners universally hate pushy, “telemarketing”-like cold calls, they admit that the telephone is a necessary tool of business.  Do your homework, they advise – which means make sure you’ve checked out the types of meeting and destinations they have executed in the past.  They also warn to make sure you ask permission when starting the conversation.
  • A pet peeve: cute, but useless giveaways and leave-behind gifts, said Kimberly.
  • Because of their frequent business, all panellists report having close relationships with national sales office (NSO) reps.  In their opinion, CVB reps are not visible enough and don’t convey the often free services available through their bureau.
  • About industry events and supplier receptions: planners will attend your event if it is in an unusual or new venue, or features a new food or theme, asserted both Blanca and Stefanie.
  • About familiarization trips: “no more fams without an educational component!” they plead.  Optics are such that planners must justify fams to their bosses and clients.  Suppliers should include at least one educational opportunity in their program, and consider giving Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from a provider approved by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
  • When asked by this author about regular, old-fashioned mail, panellists admit they open hand-addressed mail or other unusual, personalized email.  Shawna recalled a speaker at a past MPI event who asserted that “lumpy mail gets opened.”
  • Be careful about email: Mass eblasts seem too impersonal, panellists said.  But a direct, personalized message inquiring about interest or through a group on LinkedIn is OK.  One supplier suggested sending an Outlook appointment, requesting a phone appointment.  Even if it’s “at the planners convenience” planners judged this to be intrusive and even “creepy.” Says Kimberly, “being a planner, I’m a control freak.  I want to choose when I speak to a new supplier.”
  • How else should a supplier get known to planners?  Be visible at industry events, volunteer with industry associations such as MPI or PCMA.
Not quite earth-shattering advice, but the good news is that business is picking up.  And those suppliers who find ways to balance personal touches and a professional, consistent approach will be successful.

When Is the Best Time to Prospect? Everyday!

Friendly lady with headset
Being in the business of creating business development campaigns for hotels, CVBs, and other meetings industry suppliers, I often get asked, “when is the best time to call prospects?”

I used to want to answer this question with empirical data.  I had read some studies which indicated that calling between 4 and 6 p.m. lead to slightly higher connection results.  In 2008 we measured our connection rates and found that, in Canada, we connected with more meeting planners in the summer months and from mid-November to mid-December than at any other time of year.  Our assessment at the time was that planners seemed to be in their office (and not travelling, or attending meetings).  Even if some were on vacation, they often were more willing to have conversations shortly after their return.

Since the economic downturn, however, I have revised my tune.  Just like trying to time the stock market is often a recipe for disaster, waiting for the “best time” leads salespeople to make up all sorts of excuses and never pick up the phone.  Successful salespeople prospect consistently.  They know it’s always a good time to call prospects.

One of the best resources that drove home that point for me is downloadable poster called “Everyday” from sales blogger Paul Castain.  You can download it for free at .

His insightful observations inspired me to re-write it for meetings industry sales representatives:

Everyday . . .
A new business is born that requires a venue for their company launch.
An “accidental planner” is asked to plan the next meeting and he/she needs your help.
A sales rep goes M.I.A., leaving a jilted planner ready to be wooed.
A business moves into your area, needing a nearby hotel for their visiting employees and clients.
A new meeting planner is promoted and is looking to make a name for him/herself.
That old decision-maker, who used to favour the hotel across the street, may have left.
A vendor screws up the client’s conference, creating an opening for you.
A supplier takes the client’s next event for granted, creating opportunity for you.
A rep fails to offer an idea that you have that could improve your prospect’s meeting.
A meeting planner just doesn’t like their sales rep.
A buyer feels like they have to continually “babysit” their convention services vendor.
A planner is managing too many hotel/supplier relationships and needs a “one source solution.”
A planner hates the contracting (and invoicing!) process with their convention hotel.
A planner wants to deal with a travel supplier who isn’t just about the commission cheque.
A planner feels like they are over paying for the AV services they are getting.
A rep misses the RFP deadline.
A rep fails to communicate convention centre construction news, giving you an opening.
A volunteer committee needs the benefits of your CVB services to help them streamline their site selection process.
An association needs to improve meeting attendance . . . your idea can help.
A company needs happier customers, employees and shareholders . . . your venue is a perfect spot for their event!
A buyer wishes they could find a caterer that would “get it right the first time”.
A referral from the group that just checked out is there for the taking . . . you need only to ask for it!
A “low ball” competitor can’t sustain quality in their service delivery.
A sales rep gets caught in a lie and loses credibility.
An existing supplier implements some stupid, non customer friendly policy.
A competitor raises their rate, making the planner re-evaluate their site selection.
A planner needs to find out about your awesome new resort to make them look like a rock star!
A planner gets FED UP with surprise extra charges on their hotel bill!
As Paul instructs us, "Our job is to find these people!" Happy selling!

Follow-Up Strategy to Speed Up the Sales Cycle

Recent research indicates that B2B sales cycles have lengthened.  In the meetings industry, hotel, CVB and other hospitality industry suppliers are telling us that they have to “chase” clients more than they used for that signature on the contract.

In our post last week we promised to share a strategy we have implemented in our own lead generation process as well as client projects.

This approach was taught to us by our “sales coach of record,” Colleen Francis of Engage Selling Solutions.  We use this when we have discussed a business opportunity with the person and have tried to follow-up on at least 4-5 occasions, with no success.

First message: “Hi Sue, it’s Doreen from Greenfield Services.  Sorry I missed you.  I’ll call you again on Wednesday, at 10:15.”
  • Choose the date and time before you leave the message so that you are sure to be available.  I recommend choosing a time that is a little unusual – e.g. 10:15 instead of 10 a.m.  It stands out more.
  • Protect the time in your calendar right away.
  • At the appointed date & time, make your call!  This is a crucial, trust-building step! If you don’t get the person (and assuming you have dialled 0, tried with the assistant, etc.), leave another message:
Second message: “Hello Sue!  It’s Doreen calling from Greenfield Services.  I promised to call you today.  Sorry we didn’t connect.  I will call you again on Friday at 2:45.”
  • Remember to keep your tone light, never accusatory (guilt is a good thing only if the prospect feels guilty because you’re so nice, not because you sound like their mother).
  • Always apologize for missing them – it’s your fault not theirs (this helps with the guilt factor!)
  • Pick a different time frame for each message and let at least 2-3 days go by between calls. To help me keep track, I enter a note in my CRM each time I call, with the date & time I said I will call again.
  • I’ve tested this dozens of times in the last three months and I get a return call 2/3 times before my third attempt.  But if you don’t hear from your contact, try one more time.  Again, set yourself a reminder, and call at the chosen time:
Third message: “Hey, Sue.  It’s Doreen from Greenfield.  I’d promised to call you today and heard you were out of the office.  It sounds like I’m really lousy at guessing when it’s a good time to reach you!  Because I don’t want to be a “sales pest” I will send you a quick email, and perhaps you can let me know how you wish to proceed regarding our proposal?  Looking forward to it!
  • If you feel comfortable using humour (as I am), go ahead.  The point is to be yourself.
  • The above gets a couple of important points across: first, it shows that you have held your end of the bargain.  You are a trustworthy salesperson, and you deserve respect.  Secondly, it shows that you empathize.  Stuff comes up all the time and you’ll earn brownie points with the potential buyer when you tell them you understand.  It also lets the prospect off the hook if he/she has chosen another option or the business is not happening.
  • Realizing that sometimes people hate to deliver bad news, I follow up with an email:
Follow-up email: “Hi Sue.  I hope you had a great long weekend.  I’m sorry we haven’t been successful in connecting last week to discuss the proposal I forwarded on May 14.  I'm imagining that perhaps this no longer fits into your plans, or that other priorities have come up. Either is OK.  Can you just let me know whether it still makes sense for us to hold space for you for next month?  I really appreciate it.”

Recently when I sent the above to a repeat client who’d “gone silent,” I received a “thanks for understanding” email.  He was very apologetic for not getting back to me sooner and he promised to phone me with an update.  He called when he said he would, and now all is well again.  It was a relief for both of us!

In closing, keep in mind that you will also speed up your sales cycle if you have more business opportunities in your funnel.  Find time to prospect more often and you won't have to wait by the phone for that prospect to call you back.

Let us know about your strategies to speed up the sales cycle or whether you have any questions & comments!

Sales Efforts Making You LOSE YOUR RELIGION?

R.E.M.'s biggest U.S. hit Losing My Religion
Some think the 1991 song "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. is about unrequited love while others maintain it’s about a Southern expression meaning "at my wit's end." Both interpretations are appropriate for those of us in hospitality sales who have lost faith that our efforts are paying off and that clients just don’t love us anymore.

Before you throw your hands up in the air, read on about what the experts are saying:

It’s not you

Contacts not returning your calls?  Hot prospect suddenly gone cold?  Even with business picking up, hotel sales managers and CVB account rep report having to chase buyers longer to get a commitment. Frustrating exercise, but the silver lining is that this is happening all over the place, not just in the meetings industry.

The Aberdeen Group and CSO Insights both have published extensive papers about how sales cycles have lengthened since the recession.  One possible explanation is that in rough times, buyers become more conservative; they stick with who they know even when they have not been completely satisfied with their current supplier.  With leaner staffing levels, it’s also likely there are fewer people to get the work done and meeting planners and tougher to reach!

At her April 2010 Sales Mastery Workshop, sales trainer Colleen Francis reported that, across various industries, closing a new B2B client now takes an average of 7 to 11 interactions with the customer.  That’s 7 to 11 conversations or meetings – not just one-way emails and voice mail messages.
So stop taking it personally.  It’s not you, it’s the way of the marketplace right now.

Be persistent

In a 2008 blog article, Brian Jeffrey describes that 81% of sales are made after the fourth call, by which time 90 percent of salespeople have quit calling.  Similar numbers are reported by Stanford University research whereby 85% of clients buy after the fifth meeting and 95% of sales people give up after the fourth.

Sales experts agree: be persistent, without being a pest (for tips on the latter, check out Brian’s article).

Have more leads in your funnel
From personal experience, it’s easier to have faith in your sales process when you have more opportunities in your pipeline.  Fear sets in quickly when you only have a few tentative pieces of business on the books…

The only antidote to this fear: prospect more to increase your volume of potential business.

Chewable Chunks

Start with past clients, or prospects you know you have a closer connection with through industry membership such as MPI, PCMA, etc.

When we haven’t prospected in a while it’s easy to get overwhelmed with a long list of overdue traces.  Start small: commit to reaching out to 10 customers in one hour.  On average at Greenfield Services, our Business Development Specialists connect with 1-3 live prospects in an hour (that’s the meeting planner – not the receptionist!).  Be prepared to leave a voice mail, and if you know the client well, follow-up your message with an email.

Next week, we’ll explore voice mail and email tactics we have successfully implemented in our Greenfield LEAD Generation Process.  Have a great week!
Contacts not returning your calls?  Hot prospect suddenly gone cold?  Even with business picking up, hotel sales managers and CVB account rep report having to chase buyers longer to get a commitment. Frustrating exercise, but the silver lining is that this is happening all over the place, not just in the meetings industry.
The Aberdeen Group and CSO Insights both have published extensive papers about how sales cycles have lengthened since the recession.  One possible explanation is that in rough times, buyers become more conservative; they stick with who they know even when they have not been completely satisfied with their current supplier.  With leaner staffing levels, it’s also likely there are fewer people to get the work done and meeting planners and tougher to reach!
At her April 2010 Sales Mastery Workshop, sales trainer Colleen Francis reported that, across various industries, closing a new B2B client now takes an average of 7 to 11 interactions with the customer.  That’s 7 to 11 conversations or meetings – not just one-way emails and voice mail messages.
So stop taking it personally.  It’s not you, it’s the way of the marketplace right now.
Be persistent
In a 2008 blog article, Brian Jeffrey describes that 81% of sales are made after the fourth call, by which time 90 percent of salespeople have quit calling.  Similar numbers are reported by Stanford University research whereby 85% of clients buy after the fifth meeting and 95% of sales people give up after the fourth.
Sales experts agree: be persistent, without being a pest (for tips on the latter, check out Brian’s article).
Have more leads in your funnel

From personal experience, it’s easier to have faith in your sales process when you have more opportunities in your pipeline.  Fear sets in quickly when you only have a few tentative pieces of business on the books…
The only antidote to this fear: prospect more to increase your volume of potential business.
Chewable Chunks
Start with past clients, or prospects you know you have a closer connection with through industry membership such as MPI, PCMA, etc.
When we haven’t prospected in a while it’s easy to get overwhelmed with a long list of overdue traces.  Start small: commit to reaching out to 10 customers in one hour.  On average at Greenfield Services, our Business Development Specialists connect with 1-3 live prospects in an hour (that’s the meeting planner – not the receptionist!).  Be prepared to leave a voice mail, and if you know the client well, follow-up your message with an email.
Next week, we’ll explore voice mail and email tactics we have successfully implemented in our Greenfield LEAD Generation Process.  Have a great week!

Only a Few “Good” Hours Per Week to Prospect

Blocking Calendar for Prospecting
Being in the business of creating business development campaigns for hotels, CVBs, and other meetings industry suppliers, we often get asked, “When is the best time to call prospects?”

Analyzing this empirically, we can now say the best time to prospect is on Wednesdays between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m.  Have a look:

While a year is 365 days, there are only 261 weekdays, though not all productive work days for prospecting.
Since it’s pointless to prospect around Christmas and New Year’s, that cuts out 15  days.  Take away 10 federal U.S., three Canadian holidays, plus another five religious holidays, we’re down to 230 days.

All Fridays before long weekends and Tuesdays after a long weekend should be off limits for prospecting.  Actually, come to think of it, prospecting should be banned from all other Mondays and Fridays throughout the year because Mondays everyone is grumpy and Fridays no one's at their desk.  Now we’re down to 130 work days.

July and August are a write-off; who wants to do business in the summer?  And let’s not forget the week when kids finish school in June, when they go back after Labour Day and off course the week of March/Spring Break.  That leaves 84 work days.

Then there are those other fun holidays and miscellaneous celebrations.  Who wants to be cold calling on Super Bowl Monday, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Mardi Gras, or Halloween?  Let’s not forget patriotic days like Flag Day and Election Day!  Only 77 days left.

The average North American also takes two weeks’ vacation per year, and we all know it takes at least one week to prepare to go away, and one week to catch up after we return.  Another 20 works days gone.
Let’s not forget sick days!  According to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2004 Benefits Survey, the average North American is off 11 days for sickness, whether it is for themselves or to take care of someone else.  This means we only have 46 days left for prospecting.  A meagre 3.83 days a month, or less than one day per week.

Of course on that one day, probably mid-week, we can’t call too early, or over the lunch hour, or too late in the day.  Doesn't it make sense then that the best time to prospect is on Wednesdays between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m.?  But with voice mail, meetings and people travelling, is it even worth picking up the phone at all?

OK, by now you know what I’m up to.  I apologize to all of you who were looking for the silver bullet solution.  It doesn't exist.

If we try hard enough we will always find excuses why it’s not a good time to prospect.  This is a guaranteed formula for no sales!  Sure, there are days that are likely not as productive as others to be prospecting, but there are always people looking for a new supplier, no matter what the calendar says.  The point is to have a system and to do it consistently.

Do you have any success stories when you reached a prospect at an “odd time” and had a great conversation?

Planning Your Lead Generation Program

 Whether looking to venture into a new  market or mining for new opportunities  in an existing market, lead generation  begins with having a clear picture of  who is your perfect customer.

 Perfection is rare in this world, but the  better you understand  your ideal target, the better you can  focus your new business development  efforts so that your lead generation  program will bear fruit.  As famous  American football coach Vince  Lombardi once said: “Perfection is not  attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Whether you are looking to generate leads for a hotel, a convention venue, CVB, and independent meeting planning firm or other meetings industry supplier, questions you should consider include:
  • What is my ideal group size and arrival/departure pattern? (for a hotel, your answer may vary according to seasons; what is ideal for you in the summer may differ from other times of the year when you have more business travellers in-house)
  • What is the ideal range/extent of meeting space requirements? (e.g. size of main meeting room, average number of breakouts or room-to-meeting space ratio)
  • What are your ideal customer’s food & beverage requirements? (do you offer special menus that might attract certain groups?)
  • What are your ideal customer’s AV/connectivity requirements? (as a planner, maybe you’re very comfortable with meetings requiring heavy technical components – note it down!)
  • What are the ideal rates/fees paid? (ranges may be provided, allowing for variability according to seasons/months)
Clarity about qualitative aspects of your perfect customer is also important. One of our clients wanted to work with organizations with Corporate Social Responsibility mandates.  They had done great work with socially-responsible organizations in the past and wished to leverage this success with prospects.

Are there certain companies or industries for which you have executed particularly successful programs?  Use your expertise to attract new business in that field.  Target the competitors of your best clients.  If you recently had a great product launch for one pharmaceutical giant, why not seek relationships with more?  According to sales trainer Colleen Francis, by making it clear that you understand the challenges pharmaceutical groups have to deal with, you build trust: “If your company has worked with them, then you understand what we need.”

If you are responsible for business development for a CVB, consider the less obvious attributes your destination offers.  One city focused a group lead generation project around the fact they had the highest number of engineers per-capita in North America.  This helped raise their awareness and receive RFPs from professional associations in the engineering field.

Documenting and refining your Perfect Customer profile with your sales team is an exercise that will help focus your business development activities and identify niches you may not have considered in the past.

Growing Your Business: 11 Principles of Business Development

Gardening and owning my own business are two passions of mine.  As the weather warms up and I get my hands back into the dirt, I realized how much growing a business is like gardening.
The process of developing business includes both marketing (establishing your brand, creating awareness opportunities, offering products & services that appeal to your target market, etc.) as well as sales (prospecting, building relationships, closing business, etc.).

I humbly submit to you my 11 principles of business development, with a green-thumb twist:

#1 - Time & Effort: Like growing your own vegetables, developing business takes time and effort.  To underestimate this is a recipe for failure.  I often get calls from hotels, CVBs and other suppliers looking to “buy leads.”  I explain that while we can help them clean-up a database or prospect a new list, we don’t magically materialize leads.

Business development is a process which, through ongoing communication with our clients, we can make smoother and more productive.  But expecting a silver-bullet solution from an outside source is unrealistic.

#2 - Plan for the entire process: Just like you would not want to plant a garden without a plan, it is unwise to jump into a business development endeavour without planning for the business development process.
Several years ago we worked with an Ottawa-based custom-steel manufacturer.  Because they designed extra-deep sinks and stainless counters, they wanted us to target pet grooming centres.  We usually stick with the meetings industry but this was a special project for the father of an MPI friend…!

We generated an appreciable number of leads for this client, but when I followed up after our campaign, I was told they did not have the sales capacity to continue working the leads!  We were so focused on getting the campaign started that we had not discussed what would happen once they had the leads and how they would close deals.

The lesson: look at your entire process.  Whether you handle a campaign in-house or you outsource, be clear about where you’re going to sow the seeds (your message), how you’re going to care for your growing garden (lead nurturing), and who will be in charge of the harvest (the close).

#3 - Pick the right seeds for your soil: Consider the communication about your products or services as your “seeds”.  If you want your message to bear fruit, then you must ensure it has the appropriate tone, content and delivery mechanism.

Most hotels and CVBs are doing e-marketing nowadays.  But is email the right way to get your message across?  With spam filters your message may not get to your intended recipient.  And because planners are getting so much email, if you expect a response, as in the case of an invitation to a client appreciation event, consider reverting to mail or even making a call to follow-up.

#4 - Make your soil a priority: If your company’s offerings are the seeds, then the soil is your market.  Make sure your database offers fertile ground for healthy business relationships.  Are you targeting the right prospects?  Have you segmented by geography, industry, demand period or other client attribute?  Do you have the right list or do you need to boost your database (fertilize!) by adding new records?

#5 - Biodiversity: Variety in the garden is a very good thing.  Similarly, ensure you appeal to a variety of markets with different types of messages… This way, if one of your crops fail, you have other sources of business.

During the recent economic downturn, we observed shifts in target marketing.  One high-end hotel chain started actively soliciting family reunions and events such as dance contests, bridge tournaments, etc.  That was not their traditional market, but when other business waned, they shift focus quickly.  They dropped their rates but they did so with groups that appreciated getting a deal and who wouldn’t expect the same pricing for years to come.

#6 - Cultivate: When business relationships begin to take root, they’re still very fragile.  You need to strengthen and nurture them.  According to sales training expert Colleen Francis of Engage Selling Solutions Inc., for every 30-day period that elapses after an initial contact, a prospective buyer’s recall is reduced by 10%.  As Francis puts it, “Ten months of no contact with your customers means your list is worth nothing…and you might as well start cold call again.” (For more information please see “Engage Selling Sales Training Tips – Getting Inside the Vortex” at

What mechanisms do you have in place which will keep prospects informed and engaged until they are ready to buy?  Do you send out a regular e-newsletter?  Do you direct mail information to announce new programs or renovations?  Have your considered sending out cards for “different” holidays?  Around Chinese New Year I received a lovely card announcement from Mandarin Oriental.  This card had been sent out to clients, as well as partners and suppliers.  Nearly three months later, that card is still pinned on my bulletin board.  Think of how you can be top of mind with your brand, on the planner’s desk.

#7 - Consistency: With time, an untended garden will perish.  Sprouts (leads!) get choked by weeds (competitors!).  Mature plants may die for lack of watering and fertilizing...  The same goes for business relationships!

During the recent recession, those salespeople who consistently prospected continued to fill their funnel.  The rest sat back dazed and confused, and looked for silver-bullet solutions to find them business.
Live and learn: business development is not just a seasonal thing.  It should be done consistently throughout the year.

#8 - Fertilize: Just as you need to boost plant growth, sometimes you need to bolster your business development efforts with outside sources.  Look for creative ways to boost your exposure.  Partner with other non-competitive firms (e.g. hotels with AV companies, CVBs and speakers’ bureaux, etc.).  Pool your lists together and do co-op mail or email programs.  Host client events together.  If you’re an independent hotel in one city, is there another independent in another city that you could work with?

Even competitors can work together!  Recently we saw two Florida CVBs, one on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast of the state, work together to target clients in the U.S. Midwest.  They set aside their differences, and realized that many groups could in fact alternate between the two coasts.  The result was more client appointments and potential business for both bureaux.

#9 - Pest & Weed Control: Pests and weeds can be a minor nuisance or a major problem.  Your garden invaders may be the new hotel that just opened its doors across the street or the public’s perception that all resorts host boondoggle meetings (think AIG effect).  But pests and weeds are a fact of life.  Your preparedness to deal with the situation is what may dictate the severity of the problem.

A great example of dealing with perception problems is those resorts who dropped the word resortfrom their name (see Wall Street Journal article).

Any other examples of pests and weeds you’ve had to deal with recently?  Share them with us by commenting!

#10 - You can’t control the weather: And you can’t control the economy either.  But you can prepare for that too! When the weather man forecasts frost after I’ve planted my tomatoes, I cover them.  This last recession was likely predicable though it caught many of us by its seemingly sudden arrival.  We know the economy is cyclical, so what can be done to mitigate damage in the future?

For one thing, make sure you keep your team primed with sales training and coaching.  I can’t tell you how many really bad cold calls I’ve received in the last 18 months.  No wonder planners tune out salespeople!  Training and coaching is an essential part of sales, regardless of seniority.  If your veterans insist they don’t need training, that’s a sure sign they are jaded in their job.

#11 - Be ready for the harvest: This too would sound straight-forward except that it isn’t always.  How many times do we really get busy servicing business that we forget to make time for more business development?  A good gardener can really extend the season with successive sowings… yes, spreading out the harvest so that stuff ripens at intervals.

Remember to gather seeds to plant for the next harvest.  In your post-sale, ask for the business again.  And really great business cultivators also ask for referrals to other planners in the company or other contacts in the industry.

With these 11 principles I leave you with words of wisdom from Ancient Greek philosopher Plato, “Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.”

Sustainable Marketing for the Meetings Industry

Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a roundtable discussion at the March luncheon of the Ottawa Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). The topic was "Growing Your Business with Green Marketing: Sustainable Practices to Make Your Business Memorable and Sales Driven". When I volunteered to lead this discussion my objective was to generate conversation about sustainable marketing, what works and what doesn't.

But what is "sustainable marketing" or "green marketing"? Many think it’s the marketing of green products. Others maintain it’s marketing that is more respectful of the environment.

Others say it’s what serves an organization’s triple bottom line of people, planet, and profitability. Peter Korchnak defines sustainable marketing as what aims to: “empower communities by enriching their social capital (people), protect and restore the environment (planet), and generate prosperity for the organization and its stakeholders (profitability).”

While the latter definition was in synch with MPI’s Corporate Social Responsibility objectives, I think we too often overlook the "sustainability factor" for the marketer himself or herself. Are your marketing practices working? Are they bringing in leads for your sales team? Do you have the time and energy to keep up what you're doing in a sustainable way?

At the lunch, after everyone introduced themselves and gave an overview of their current marketing activities, it became clear that we were all struggling with the same tug-of-war: how should meeting professionals "green" their marketing activities, keep within budget, and maintain their sanity in the process?

Much of the frustration seemed to focus on the role of social media in the marketing mix. How should a hotel or venue use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites? Does a presence on any of those sites bring in enough business to warrant the time required to manage them? The consensus at our table seemed to be that while some presence may be warranted, especially on the individual travel or leisure side, but that group leads were far from pouring in…

Rather than settle that debate, our conversation shifted to other activities. Sustainable marketing ideas included:
  1. With over 95% of all B2B transactions being researched on the web prior to a sale, make it easy for planners to do business with you. Put your sales materials online where they are easy to download.
  2. Consider “gating” your more detailed online resources (banquet menus, policies, theme ideas, etc.), asking prospects to enter their name and e-mail address so these resources are forwarded to them. This can be done automatically through many content management systems. You may lose some prospects who do not want to provide their information, but you quickly gather a list of interested prospects with whom you can continue the sales conversation.
  3. Invest in Search Engine Optimization to improve the volume or quality of traffic to your website via “natural” or un-paid search results.
  4. Direct mail: Junk mail is definitely out, but personalized direct mail is in! Make sure your piece is addressed to a qualified list of prospects. Choose Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified/post-consumer recycled paper and print with vegetable inks. Better yet, support a cause by using cards from non-profit organizations such as UNICEF.
  5. If you’re going to personalize any marketing campaign, make sure your list is accurate. Account management experts say the average salesperson can only manage about 250 accounts annually. If your list is larger, cull it back. Most salespeople cannot stay on top of more than that. For tips on how to clean up your list, see our blog post on Keeping on Top of Your Database.
  6. Make your direct mail piece a "keeper". Provide tips (“top 10 ways to save on your next banquet at…”), checklists, or other resources that planners will want to pin to their wall and remember you every time they see your logo.
  7. Send out handwritten cards. Again, make sure they are the greenest possible (Pistachio cards are great products, available at Chapters/Indigo).
  8. Get out of the office! Too much is done by email. Lasting, sustainable client relationships are fostered in person. Aren’t we in the meetings industry, afterall? So pick up the phone, make an appointment and make a sales call.
  9. If you choose a giveaway for a tradeshow or as a leave-behind gift for a sales call, consider items made by a local artisan, perhaps even using recycled materials. Think about potted plants or flowers (Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days). Edibles, such as cookies, chocolates or squares are always a hit, especially if you attach the recipe!
Isn’t it interesting to note that 6 of the 9 ideas listed above are actually “traditional” marketing practices, only with a greener mindset? Happy selling!

Keeping on Top of Your Database

When I was mailing out holiday season cards I felt quite smug because our list had been updated just six months prior to the mailing.

I mailed 230 cards this year, and six where returned as undeliverable. Only six, you say? That’s a rate of 2.6% – I was appalled! Being in the data business I am fanatical about keeping information current.

None of the cards were returned because of an undeliverable address since all addresses had been verified and certified with our address correction software. The six returns included two from the same organization whose office had moved just five months earlier (and I guess they didn’t feel it was worthwhile to pay the $$ that Canada Post charges to have the mail follow to a new address…). The other three had left their organization and one had been transferred.

In spite of my very best efforts, 2.6% of my data had gone bad within six months. According to industry standards, this is a very low percentage. The average database perishes at a rate of 15-25% per year. This rate accelerates when the economy is in turmoil, when an industry is growing at a fast pace or is facing consolidation.

So what to do if your database is a mess?
Here are a few tips:
  1. Unlike me, accept that the minute you’ve finished updating your database, something in it will be obsolete. It’s the circle of life!
  2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water... The data may not be current but if the list includes relatively large companies and phone numbers, chances are you can re-coup some data with a little time and effort. Buying new data isn’t cheap -- Dun & Bradstreet, Hoover’s, InfoCanada, charge anywhere from $0.50/record for a simple list to $3-$4/record for detailed data. And it’s no guarantee that those lists will work for your purposes because the meeting planning function isn’t one that is collected by list brokers and agencies.
  3. Update in small chunks. Set aside a few hundred records, get those updated, and feel good about what you’ve done… And keep this part of the database clean from hereon!
  4. Be brutal. If a record can’t be updated in a pre-determined number of phone calls, archive it, delete it, or do whatever, but get it out of your regularly accessible records.
  5. When you make a call, start at the top – the executive assistant to the President often will know who plans meetings. To get by a particularly tenacious receptionist, ask for the Sales Department. Sales is a great place to start since it's the department that has client events, incentive programs, and sales meetings.
  6. Organize a "data cleansing party": I remember the days when the boss would have us stay late, ply us with chocolate and coffee and have us purge hundreds of files over an evening or on the weekend (I’m seriously dating myself here… that’s when we hadpaper files!). Pull from your departments that may be seasonal or under-employed in winter, like reservations. Set them up in a room with the phones and access to only those records that require updating. Give them a short script, and let them dial!
  7. Offer an incentive to keep the data up to date, and be creative! Send out an eblast with the help of a professional firm so that the message will have a better chance of passing by spam filters. Offer a free service, a heavily discounted rate or even a gift if the person clicks on the link to update their information.
  8. Make sure you continually replenish your database. Plan to keep your funnel full by topping it up with new sources of data. Upload that list from the tradeshow, or cross-reference the new MPI membership list you just received. Enter the new contacts in your database and start marketing to them!
  9. What should you expect? Using the telephone and the internet to look up phone numbers, an experienced person should be able to update 10-15 records per hour, depending on whether they are only updating the contact information (the easy part) or if they have to seek the person who plans meetings and events (a more difficult task as we all know).
Some much wiser person than me said that "it’s the simple things that are difficult to do, but those simple things are often all that it takes to be successful." Data cleansing isn't rocket science but it's time-consuming and requires consistency. Remember that clean client and prospect data will make you a more efficient hospitality sales and marketing organization!