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Six tips to make your client events more impactful

This post is by guest contributor Cara Tracy, CMP, CMM.  Cara is a meetings industry professional who has been on the supply side of the industry, as well as the planning side.

red carpet image
You hold client events to show your current and potential customers that you appreciate them, right? To make sure you are effective, there are a few things to consider before rolling out the red carpet. It starts with the invitation and ends with the follow up.
  1. Double check your invitation list
    Unless it is an overnight event and you are providing transportation and lodging, make sure you are inviting only local customers. I am based in the Phoenix area and have been invited to luncheons in DC and ballgames in various cities around the U.S. Sure, I can just toss or delete the invitation—which I do—but why make a customer think you aren’t on top of things? If you know a specific customer travels frequently to your area, send them an invitation with a personal note that says “I know you live in Phoenix, but if you happen to be in our area...”
  2. Make it easy to RSVP
    Allow the client to simply respond to the email or include a hotlink to respond “yes” or “no.” Don’t make them fill out a complicated form to say they aren’t coming. If you want to get updated information from them (title, address, etc.) give them the option.
  3. Details, details!
    Provide as much information as possible in the invitation (or a confirmation letter well in advance of the event.) Is there a dress code? What is the agenda? Are there specific parking instructions? Are guests allowed? What costs are being covered? Remember, we are planners and we like and need details!
  4. Follow up with those who have special needs
    If you ask registrants if they have special dietary or other needs, do something with the information! Share it with the hotel or venue, find out what accommodations will be made, and let the attendee know. I attended a client event a few years ago and indicated on my registration (where asked) that I require gluten-free meals. When I arrived at the event, no arrangements had been made and I was on my own to track down a chef who could let me know what I could and could not eat.
  5. Make attendees feel appreciated, not sold to
    Sure, you want to get future business from the attendees—just don’t make it so obvious. I attended a client dinner for a major hotel company a few years ago. At each course, the hotel representatives moved to sit with another client so the salesperson and client could each be exposed to the maximum number of people throughout the evening. It was nice that the clients didn’t have to move, but all night long I got asked by my new tablemates, “So, do you book meetings in XYZ city?”
  6. Keep the good vibes flowing
    Hopefully, your attendees had a great time. You want them to keep those positive thoughts in their mind. Send a link so they can download (for free) photos taken at the event, or a follow-up video recapping the fun time everyone had. And review your mailing list so you don’t send the follow up to people who did not attend.
As with any event, put yourself in the attendees’—your client’s—shoes and think about their experience. What kinds of things have you appreciated or disliked about customer events you’ve attended in the past?


Hospitality & Tourism Suppliers: Create Value or Else

Team Values
Recently we had opportunity to plan a sales mission for long-standing Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB) client. This was a three-day sales blitz that brought representatives from the Bureau plus hotel, attraction, and other partners to visit tour operators in a particular feeder market.

As this is work we have done for number of years now, both the client and our team felt quite confident that meeting the number of required appointments.

But we noticed a shift. Whereas in the past years operators readily agreed to an appointment during one of the requested days, this year they started asking: What will be talked about? What's new? Why should I make time to meet with you?

This kind of shift has been noticeable with other markets, such as in the corporate or association markets. But this is now happening in tour and travel as well.

What does this mean to hospitality and tourism sales representatives?  From our experience, it is more important than ever to be prepared to demonstrate what VALUE you/your organization bring to the table. Unless you can show that you have market intelligence, creative ideas, cost or time-saving advice, then be prepared to be told by clients and prospects that they don't have time for you.

And rightly so. You shouldn't be wanting to see a client just to meet a sales call quota or filling out timesheet. Create value and clients will want to see you.

Handwashing and Green Meetings

As I wrote in my blog last week (see a Newbie’s View) my first-time attendance at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference was one that led me to a lot of thinking about how the hotel and meetings industry needs to clean up its act.

One challenge is that we seem to have two groups in this industry: those who are at the forefront of the green meetings movement, and the rest of us.  When you mention "green meetings" many planners and suppliers in the second group think they have it covered. But do they really?  Just reading a few articles in an industry magazine won't make anyone an expert.

One of the presenters at the conference, Julie Baylor, made a very good case for how hotels need to go beyond just getting a “green” certification.

Maybe all this "green meetings fatigue" is because we don't know where to start. I know I felt like that. So when I came back from conference, one small thing I vowed to change was the number of disposable coffee cups that my staff are using.  Every Friday, when we took out the recycling, the bin was full of Tim Hortons cups and lids. Surely we could do better, I challenged our team.  And now the volume is reducing...

The success of any habit changing initiatives starts with simplicity. That's why I believe those in the green meetings industry need to consider the work of Joe Smith. Joe lectured at a TEDx Conference recently about the use of paper towels when handwashing. Viewing his video made me change the way I wash my hands!

If you haven't seen his lecture, please take the time to view it. You'll never forget it.

Could we not find excellent communicators like Joe Smith to teach us what to do and what not to do in our meetings and in our everyday work at the office to make a difference?

The End of an Era: The Sutton Place Hotel Toronto

Frank Giavroutas Delivers Moving Speech To Both Past and Present Employees
As The Sutton Place Hotel Toronto's longest-serving employee Mr. Frank Giavroutas delivered a moving speech to the assembled audience of current and former employees. 
Last Thursday I attended a party for the current and former employees of The Sutton Place Hotel Toronto. The occasion was a nostalgic one as the hotel is about to close on June 15. It felt somewhat like a high school reunion, except that not everyone had moved on… A bittersweet affair for employees like Frank, Harvey, Izzy and a few others who have worked at the property for 40 or more years since it opened in 1967.

 One of the original owners of the hotel, David Dennis, recalled that when the Sutton Place opened its doors during Canada's Centennial, Toronto was still a young, unsophisticated city; “Hogtown” compared to its cosmopolitan neighbor in Quebec.  The Sutton Place Hotel quickly rose in fame as the city evolved. Aside from people losing their jobs, the closure of the hotel is a sad location because:

  • it's going to be transformed into a condominium… It will be just one tree in a forest of high-rise, high-density residences.  A "disease" according to many Torontonians.
  • Doreen Ashton Wagner with Tracey De Groot
    pictured left to right: Former Sutton Place Toronto employees Doreen Ashton Wagner, former VP Marketing; Tracey deGroot, former Director of Catering; Cathy Leavens Smith, Director of Sales & Marketing 1993-99.
  • it's the end of an era.... in its heyday the hotel did very well with the celebrity market and competed admirably with the Four Seasons Hotel.  It was the home of countless film productions and the Toronto International Film Festival. It was the epicenter of what became known as Hollywood North. Its star undoubtedly was its general manager, Hans Gerhardt.  He even wrote a book about his time at the hotel.   Now the city doesn't host as many film productions.
  • it's the demise of another independent hotel. With globalization and the staggering growth of global brands, smaller, independent hotels have had a tougher time to compete. When I joined The Sutton Place Hotel in 1993 the property had fallen on hard times, a victim of the recession of the early 90s. It was bought for a mere $30 million and we worked hard to bring it back up to standard. We still had the celebrity market, the relationship was
    Nick Vesely and Werner Schneider
    The last General Manager of The Sutton Place Toronto, Nick Vesely and CFO Werner Schneider.
    more tenuous. Our new owners were not craving the media attention and the bottom line was all that mattered.  Still, we had a good brand name on our hands and we spread it to Vancouver, Chicago, and Newport Beach, California. When I left in 1998 to start Greenfield services Inc., the future looked relatively bright. But 14 years later, after another recession, the Sutton Place was a victim again.

During my five-year stint at The Sutton Place both in Toronto and at its other locations, I had the privilege of working with wonderful professionals. Cathy, Tracy, Julie, Janice, Lori, Annemarie, Nick, Peter, Charles and even Werner, the CFO with whom I so often disagreed…  To all of you, thanks for the memories.

4 Signs You DON’T Have a Sales Culture

Sales breaking thermometre

Recently I attended the Sales Mastermind Seminar offered by Colleen Francis of Engage Selling Solutions.  There we had the pleasure of hearing guest speaker Tim Welch, Area Vice-President, Eastern Canada, of Grand & Toy (part of the OfficeMax group of companies).

Welch was introduced to us as a "sales fixer," someone with a gift for turning around under-performing sales teams.  He asked the audience, "Do you have a sales culture, or a culture that sells?"
His presentation inspired me to write this blog for our meetings industry supplier community, where it has been said we have many "huggers" but few "hunters."  Here are the four signs Welch says are indicative of a lacking sales culture:
  1. You do not have a clearly defined sales funnel: How many leads you have in your pipeline?  How many of those are qualified prospects?  How many of those prospects are at proposal stage?  Tentative?  “Verbal definite"?  What are the average conversion rates at each of those stages?  Welch says that if you do not have an answer for each of those questions, you likely don't have a sales culture.
  2. You cannot accurately forecast or your forecasts differ wildly from reality:  This may be caused by your salespeople's inability to provide an accurate picture of the types of prospects they have in their funnel and what stage they are at.  Unfortunately we see this too often, when the director of sales calls us in January and says that 1st-quarter group business is behind the pace; when it's often too late!
  3. There is no sense of urgency at the end of the month or quarter:  If your sales team is not going into overdrive to close business at the end of each month or quarter, you may have a problem, says Welch.  Salespeople who are part of a sales culture are keenly aware of their selling time so they can maximize their results, especially at the end of a given period.
  4. Salespeople do not have constant visual reminders of their goals:  When you walk around your office, do you see sales figures written on Post-it notes, stuck on computer monitors?  Do your sales managers have whiteboards with their sales goals, their stretch goals, and what’s to close?  Teams that operate in a sales culture have these visual reminders, according to Welch. 
So does your hotel, CVB or AV company have a sales culture?  In an industry known for being highly relationship-based, are you a hunter or a hugger?

A Newbie's View of the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference

Doreen at GMIC in Montreal
"Nothing like jumping into a new organization with both feet!” – Doreen Ashton Wagner, who co-emceed the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in Montreal."
When I registered for the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in MontrĂ©al at the end of April, I didn't really know what to expect. Truth be told, if Greenfield had not received a complimentary registration at the event in return for a project we had done, I'm not sure I would have attended.

I was intimidated at the thought of being surrounded by "green meetings experts". I even went to buy a Venti-sized Starbucks travel mug for fear of being singled out if I walked into the meeting room with a disposable cup!

I quickly realized that the event was not attended only by people who wear sandals, eat granola and eschew SUVs.  There was a diversity of professionals from young "eco-consultants", to seasoned meeting planners just starting on their path to making their meetings more sustainable.

But something about GMIC was different.  Maybe it was because with only about 230 participants,  presentations were more interactive and people were genuinely interested in sharing best practices.  Or maybe it was because we were there for a cause that was larger than anyone of us.

Regardless, unlike most other meetings industry conferences I have attended, three weeks later this one still has me thinking. As a marketer who focuses on helping hotels, convention venues, and destinations promote their facilities and services to meeting planners, what can I do to help green our world?

Then it came to me: it's all about sustainability. What we do at Greenfield helps our clients be more sustainable in their marketing efforts. Up until now, it hasn't been about saving the planet. It was more about saving limited resources and producing the best possible results. But isn't that what sustainability is also all about?

Whether they are using paper or electronic means, if marketers aren't being smart about how they approach and start conversations with meeting planners, then they are just wasting their time and money.

Thank you GMIC. You put it all in perspective for me.

Putting a Face to the Name and Building Trust

Creepy Guy
Put your best foot forward. Don't make your website visitors guess who you are.
Recently the Fleishman-Hillard-Harris Interactive Annual Global Study of online behaviour confirmed what many other studies had reported in the last few years: that the internet is the leading influence in consumer purchasing.  Buying and research habits often filter back and forth between our business and consumer lives; your website therefore is like your first sales call. 

So in an era of radical transparency, what does it tell you when you visit a website that makes it impossible to figure out who you’re dealing with? Where the only faces come from stock photos that you’ve seen on a half-dozen other sites? Where there’s no name associated with the info@ reply email, no hint of who you’ll be dealing with and not even a bio to give you a sense of the people behind the company?

And now that you’ve got the picture…is it the picture you want people to take away from your website?
Many hotels, CVBs and other meetings industry suppliers offer great photos of their facilities, destinations and products, but none of their key staff.  And most meeting planners would agree that it’s often the people servicing the meeting that will make the difference.

You’ll get so much farther with a website that tells people who to reach and why they want to work with you. Use photos to humanize the site and make your team more visible. Think about the simple features—like personal anecdotes, favourite quotes, or recent reading lists—that make your staff biographies more readable and help build human connections.

At Greenfield we’ve made a concerted effort to put our story and our staff forward in the most transparent way possible.  We believe it makes us different from our competition and gives our clients confidence that we can do the job for them.  It’s an integral part of our business strategy.

With every part of your website, you have the ability to either inspire trust or pull it down a notch. Which story do you want your site to tell?