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Building Trust in the Meetings Industry's "New Normal"

Recently a good friend of mine was lamenting that building trust in NEW business relationships in the meetings industry is no longer “what it used to be.” She likened the process to dating again after divorcing her partner of 19 years… It’s a very different environment out there, due to a number of converging trends:

Online: Consumers and business decision-makers are increasingly searching for solutions online.  The Fleishman-Hillard  - Harris Interactive Annual Global Study reported that 89% of consumers research potential purchases online first.   As consumers increasingly adopt this "self-serve" mentality, business have had to respond by dramatically increasing the availability of online information.  In addition, consumers are increasingly averse to accepting intrusive marketing messages.  The result is increasingly fragmented communication channels and decreasing personal access to prospects;

Social: Two out of three Canadians report using social media, while 1/3 say they check their social media feed everyday.  The ComScore 2013 Canada Digital Future in Focus Report says the top three Canadian social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, followed by LinkedIn. In August 2013, Maclean's reported that, "19 million Canadians are now logging onto Facebook at least once every month — that’s more than half the population." And according to Canadian Business Magazine this means Canada has the highest number of users in the world, per capita.  Not only is there a proliferation of information online but this information is spun and “re-purposed” in multiple media, especially through social network sharing;

Mobile: Almost half of Canadians now own smartphones, according to new data from Ipsos Reid, while 1/3 have a tablet computer. These users expect information at their fingertips, literally. If your information isn't found online quickly, and isn't optimized for mobile devices, you're not in the market.

Younger: According to StatsCan, 1,000 Canadians are now reaching retirement age every day -- that number is 10,000 in the USA.  The recession and recent changes to Old Age Security may be delaying some leaving the workforce, but by 2014, the retirement wave is expected to hit. Boomers are being replaced by younger workers who are more tech-savvy and more comfortable with multitasking. They are used to a faster pace of change.

In the meetings industry we have more specific trends:
  • Virtual and hybrids meetings are extending the reach and broadening the impact of face-to-face events.
  • With more content being captured and published online, attendee and non-attendee engagement can or should last much longer than just the duration of the meeting.
  • Through it all, it is more and more challenging for meetings industry suppliers and destinations to distinguish themselves in their marketing. They face increasing commoditization.
All these trends are changing how people buy and sell: how meetings industry suppliers attract planners and how planners get attendees to register. It’s affecting how sponsors pick which event they associate their brands with. I could go on.  This is affecting everything.

So under this “new normal,” what are the most effective tactics you can use to improve your chances and build trust with prospects and new clients?  Here is what we found:

1.     Beef up your website:  There are two aspects to this.  With customers looking for more and better information online, businesses must invest in their online presence through Search Engine Optimization. Having an old or poorly-optimized website is equivalent to NOT have a store sign if you are a retailer.  Customers won’t be able to find you!

Secondly, don’t just have static, sales-driven information.  Offer value upfront.  Create resources that help your target audience do better.  Position your organization as the go-to source in your field with a blog, downloadable tips sheets, etc.  Helpful and continually refreshed content is the best way to truly optimize your online presence.

2.     Work your existing clients:  Building trust is harder when you don’t have an “in” so make sure you make the most of your existing customer base.  Ask for referrals and use client testimonials.

3.     Go out & network: F2F (face-to-face) is the single fastest way to improve trust.  After all, peace accords are NOT negotiated by email or conference call.  Rise to the challenge, go see prospects in person or invite them to an educational experience at your hotel or destination.

4.     Communicate every 30 days: If you don't communicate at least once every month, you risk losing a minimum 10% of your prospect’s awareness of your organization.  You need to nurture your growing relationships.  The key is to vary the ways you touch new contacts each month.  A phone call, a personal note, a visit to their office, an email newsletter, an invitation to an event... Be creative!

5.     Create alliances:  Alliances should be forged not only with people who can refer you business, but even competitors.  One independent hotel sales rep I know recently landed a large booking by reaching out to his larger chain competitor around the corner.  And how else do you create alliances except by networking?

6.     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 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.

We hope you will find these tips useful.  Have more ways you to growg the trust factor in your new relationships for your hotel, CVB or meeting services firm?  Please share by posting a comment!