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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!