Contact Us | 1-866-488-4474 |

The Difference Between Meeting Planners and Suppliers

For quite some time now I've been monitoring discussions in various LinkedIn groups. About half are planner-driven groups such as Meeting Professionals International (MPI), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and other event planning groups. The other half are supply-side groups: Hotel Sales & Marketing, Luxury Hoteliers, Canadian Hospitality Professionals, etc.

I've noticed striking differences in the level of discussions between the two types of groups. Planner forums are definitely more collaborative in nature. Planners will post helpful articles, questions they need help with, and other educational material. Other planners willingly contribute answers and comments. And suppliers, savvy in social media etiquette, also contribute insightful comments or resources.

In comparison the supplier groups, which are made up of senior hotel industry executives in sales and marketing positions, are woefully absent with any postings.  Most of those groups are dominated by misguided suppliers trying to flog their wares and services – anything from hotel televisions to Internet search engine optimization services.

Where are the hotel directors of sales and marketing who post questions or requests for help? Not in these groups!  Is that because they know all the answers? I doubt it. Is it because they have no idea what they could gain from participation in a quality for? Possibly. Or maybe they just don't have time to go "play" in such social media forums.

Whatever the reason this unfortunately means that for the most part they don't understand that sales has shifted to an inbound marketing model. Planners are drawn to destinations, hotels and venues by the quality of content that is available online, including through social media. If directors of sales and marketing don't know how it works how can they possibly devise the right strategies to attract new meetings and events business? There is a serious disconnect.

Caught in between are the sales people who know that traditional, push marketing is no longer effective.  They are getting frustrated by the lack of success in new business development and are pining for new means to forge a relationship with the ever elusive planner.

Their boss is pushing them to make more cold calls and they know this is not the answer.  But what can they do?

It's not that sales people are lazy. Some of them are, but certainly not all. It's that the market has changed. And sales and marketing leaders need to change their practices along with the times.

Meetings: The Red-Headed Stepchild of CVB Budgets?

Recently I was speaking with a favourite client who is the senior business development person for a major Canadian Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB)*. He shared with me his frustration with the budget process, especially the fact his Bureau has been allocating 94% of its marketing budget to leisure business and only 6% for meetings, conferences and incentive travel (MC&IT).  Yet the Bureau's own analysis showed that the measly 6% produced 70% of the business generated by the CVB's programs!

In conversations with many other Bureau sales executives, both in Canada and the USA, I've heard that MC&IT business rarely gets its fair share of marketing funds.

One might argue that spending on leisure advertising and other promotional programs is an essential part of creating awareness for a destination. The allure of the destination from tourists' point of view is a big reason why an event planner will decide in favour of one destination over another.

That kind of spending pattern might have worked fine a few years ago, when tradeshows were well attended, planners actually showed up for events or fam trips, and meetings were booked through fewer channels.

But now business is more fragmented and B2B buyers are not as easily swayed by routine advertising in meetings publications.  CVB sales teams need more support from their marketing departments because buyer behaviour has changed.  (We've described the reasons behind these changes in a Discussion Paper published earlier this year.  You will be required to enter basic contact information to download).

Buyers now want to have more information accessible from the web and from mobile devices. They want MORE than pretty pictures of nature sites or tourist attractions.  They want to know about how that destinations facilities and services will make their meeting a success.

They also expect to see destination reps active on social media, sharing useful content and engaging them in productive business conversations. They don't want to be "sold to"; they want to be drawn to a destination because of the suppliers' level of expertise in hosting a small meeting, a high-level conference, a major convention, or a once-in-a-lifetime incentive trip.

This requires CVB's marketing and sales departments to be more aligned.  Key elements include: 
  • An MC&IT-dedicated website or section of a website, designed and optimized with the meeting planner in mind
  • Educational content, with case studies and other thought-leadership pieces that showcase the destination, but also provide advice on how to maximize attendance, save money, plan more productive events, etc.
  • A social media strategy that appeals to B2B buyers, not consumers looking for the next vacation spot
  • And marketing automation integration geared to support proactive lead nurturing, fueled by the above-mentioned content!

What I've just described is an inbound marketing approach, one that attracts more inquiries and feeds sales teams more business opportunities.

Inbound marketing for MC&IT business requires increased investment.  With shrinking budgets and increased fiscal pressures, it's one more demand that CVB marketing executives probably didn't need. The good news is that ROI on MC&IT business is much easier to measure than with leisure. Let's hope more CVBs prepare to meet the shifting demands of the market.

* Note: In this article I have used the description "Convention & Visitor Bureau" or CVB, though I could have also used "Destination Marketing Organization" or DMO.  I hope my friends at DMAI will forgive me...

Happy Thanksgiving to all Canadian #Eventprofs

Turkey Singing
This weekend Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving.  It's a tradition we share with our American friends.  We always like to point out that we are first to do it (but only because in November turkeys are frozen solid here in Canada).

A BIG thank you to all our clients, employees and partners.  We appreciate your support and friendship.  Since we can all use more humour (or humor as you prefer), enjoy this funny video, courtesy of Business Week! (Sorry, Apple users, this is a Flash file...).

Lead Spam and the Commoditization of the Meetings Industry – Some Answers

Last week we discussed a disturbing trend observed in both the U.S. and Canada: the increasing number of multiple leads sent to hotels and CVBs, for the same piece of business, from competing third-party planners and site selection companies, often using multiple electronic channels.

This is what we’ve come to refer to lead spam.

It’s a situation that creates confusion amongst different sales contacts (for instance at a brand’s group desk and at property level), wastes time and often generates unnecessary work.  I see it as one more unfortunate move towards the commoditization of hotels, CVBs and even other meetings industry suppliers.  Soon, if suppliers don't wake up, organization will do away with sales managers and just replace them with people who can process electronic leads.  GONE will be the relationships so many meeting professionals love this industry for.

Scary scenario, isn't it?  But what can be done about the situation?

I questioned Kristi Casey Sanders, VP Creative/Chief Storyteller for Atlanta Metropolitan Publishing, publisher of Plan Your Meetings, billed as “a free educational and social resource for meeting and event planners.”  Kristi’s tweets were the ones that originally alerted me to this trend.

Is it ethical for third-party planners or site selection firms to field RFPs if they have not been given the mandate by the end user?
I'm not quite sure how this happens, but I don't see any gray area on this point. If you were not hired by the planner to source their meeting, intercepting the business and acting as a representative is confusing at best. I realize that the proliferation of non-professional planners in this industry may make some of them easy prey for this kind of poaching, but third-parties and site selection firms need to be direct about their intentions. And if they are going to send out RFPs on a planner's behalf, the planner should be contracted to them so they understand they shouldn't be asking other people to do the same thing.
Do end users – corporate, association and government groups – realize what burden this issue is placing on suppliers, potentially increasing the cost of doing business?
I don't think they do, unless they've been in an educational session that addresses it. They are outsourcing the work or using online systems where they can send as many RFPs to as many properties as they want. Or they're sitting by their email inboxes cursing hotels for not getting back to them, completely oblivious to the reason why so many RFPs go unanswered.
What are industry associations, MPI, PCMA, and others, doing to open up the dialogue and bring attention to the issue?
I know Mike Mason, the ZEO of Zentila is a tireless advocate for the end of lead spam. He's been leading sessions that address this and how to craft better RFPs for our 2012 PYM LIVE Events. He also is a prolific writer, who has written columns about this for different publications. But I don't know that this is on the association radar yet. The focus on education there tends to be mostly towards strategic meeting management, new trends in meeting design, technology and budgeting tips.
Lastly should the recipients of lead spam willing to DO to counteract this trend?  
I know that on the hotel side, a lot of properties are signing up with Zentila, an online sourcing engine that specializes in booking short-term meetings. The planners using the system are restricted to contacting only a handful of properties. Those properties see who they're bidding against and are notified when the business goes elsewhere, so it closes the loop and incentivizes hotel sales teams to reply to the RFPs within a 3-hour window. It was basically designed to solve the pain of lead spam and the circumstances that were creating it. 
I think on the planning side, meeting and event planners need to be more concise with their RFPs and stay involved in the sourcing process. Narrow your focus to what could work for your group instead of sending out a scattershot call for bids. 
If planners do outsource their site selection process, they need to ask their vendor how the RFP process is conducted.  Some large independent third party franchises teach their people to send massive amounts of RFPs out rather than targeting their requests with the philosophy that more options will increase the chance of securing lower rates. I think that all it does is perpetuate the lead spam problem and shows a disregard for what makes a group unique. That's why I (and many independent planners) draw a big distinction between these big-box third parties and boutique planning firms. 
Hoteliers often carp about how bad and incomplete the RFPs they get from planners are. But I hear the same thing from planners: that what they receive from the hotels aren't filled out or filled out wrong. The CIC tried years ago to standardize RFPs with APEX software to streamline the process, but the only really attractive user-friendly version I've seen is what Zentila launched this year.  
That's key: You've got to make things simple, easy and fun to use, otherwise the people planning meetings are going to continue to abandon this part of the process. When they do, it falls to the third parties and independents who are just trying to get business and make a commission, which creates the vicious lead-spam cycle.

We thank Kristi for bringing us these insightful comments.