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Connecting on LinkedIn – the Right Way and the Wrong Way

Regular blog readers will know that I am very particular about requests to connect on LinkedIn.  I’ve had a strict policy of accepting requests only from people I know personally – e.g. People I had worked with, or collaborated with on a committee.

I wrote about this in Stop Polluting LinkedIn a couple of years ago, and commented against the practice of connecting with online acquaintances in various meetings industry chats on business development strategies.

Especially annoying were requests from salespeople who clearly wanted to push their products or services (do they even realize I’m not a meeting planner?). One thought I was “ripe for the picking” because we interacted on Twitter (one request read: You mentioned my company on twitter (PartyPix_CA). I thought it would be good to connect on Linkedin as well. I hope you'll accept my invitation.” Eww…). 

Yet another tried to make me believe we’d met before: “Was it not you that I met at the Tete A Tete conference last week here in Ottawa? Maybe someone else from your organisation?” – as if THAT was going to make me accept his invitation!

But lately a few people have made compelling arguments that made me realize that I was limiting myself, perhaps even acting selfishly.  The first was my friend Mitchell Beer, who commented on my rant about LinkedIn requests from strangers (see What To Do When Mike Lipkin Asks You To Connect).  Mitchell explained that he responds to out-of-the-blue requests by inquiring about the person’s interest in reaching out.  While most people don’t reply, he says he’s had a few good conversations about business opportunities.

Then I read the story of Kelly Blazek, a Cincinnati businesswoman who clearly over-reacted when she was approached by an inexperienced job seeker.  I believe in helping people out and this quickly made me realize my curt responses were not helpful.  Maybe I could offer those unwitting connectors a bit of coaching on how to develop long-term relationships in the hospitality business.

In addition to using Mitchell’s advice, I now look at the person’s profile more carefully… Because in one instance, when I asked for clarification on we knew each other, the person pointed out we’d worked together at a hotel!  Ouch, that was awkward…

Then a few weeks ago I received this LinkedIn request from Ann Ng, a young woman I had met at the CanSPEP breakfast:

Hi Doreen. Thanks again for sharing some important information on Canada's new Anti-Spam Legislation and Privacy Act this morning. It also looks like we have a few connections in common. It'd be an honour to connect with you professionally. Hope you had an amazing Wednesday. Thanks, Anna.

Anna is Manager, Graphics & Content at Hilton Suites Toronto/Markham Conference Centre & Spa.  I think she deserves a prize for being so genuine and engaging with her LinkedIn request!  Anna, seasoned professionals could take lessons from you about how to connect in social media.  Thank you for restoring raising the bar!

What do you think is the best way to connect on LinkedIn?  Any horror stories?

The True Value of Meetings – What Is Next?

Earlier this month the Meeting Professionals International Foundation Canada released the results of its latest Canadian Economic Impact study of the meetings industry.  It found that:
  • In 2012, there were 585,000 business events held in Canada, involving 35.3 million participants;
  • These events represented $27.5 billion (1.5%) of Canada's Gross Domestic Product; 
  • The economic activity of these business events supported more than 200,000 full-year jobs, nearly double the number in telecommunications and utilities.
Notable results, though if one refers to the last economic impact study, conducted in 2006, we have yet to return to pre-recession levels. We had fewer meetings and created fewer jobs in 2012, compared to 2006.  Back then,  Canada’s meetings sector was said to have organized 671,000 meetings, creating the equivalent of 235,500 full-year jobs.

Our firm was very involved with this study, as the data gathering partner, working with Maritz Research Canada, The Conference Board of Canada, and the Canadian Human Resource Tourism Council.  I know how rigorous an exercise it was to measure this industry.

And it's prompted a lot of questions in my mind: Are we having fewer meetings or are we meeting in other ways – meeting online, informally in smaller groups, using our own in-house venues (where the impact is not being reported in economic studies of this kind)?  

If we are meeting less, is that a good thing?  Some would say "yes"; fewer meetings have meant a smaller environmental footprint.  But others would argue that meeting face-to-face is a fundamental human need. One that allows us to get to know and trust one another.  To collaborate, innovate and create. If we're not meeting, what does this mean for the human condition?

I'm not sure we'll ever fully know the answer to that question, but we must try.  As an industry we should be focusing on the real impact of meetings, beyond the pure economics.  It's not that economic impact is unimportant; it is.  It was.  We needed to quantify our activities because that's how our world works.

But we now need to move beyond that.  Meetings have a hard cost, an impact on our environment. They use increasingly limited resources, at all levels.  If we are truly going to measure and prove our worth, how do we quantify engagement, learning, innovation?  It's back to the old question: how does the meetings industry report Return on Investment?

The answer lies not in the quantity of meetings, but in their quality: we need to have better, more meaningful meetings. 

Are are we up to the challenge?

When Even Your Friends Go Silent

As a salesperson, have you ever had a stretch where every client and every prospect you try to contact is unavailable?  A time when no one responds to your voice mails, your emails, your texts, not even your friends**?

I certainly have and I hate the feeling.  Many hotel, DMO and meetings industry colleagues have shared their story... Ms. Big-Wig has a tentative contract for a large meeting and she stops communicating.  Your boss is breathing down your neck to get the deal signed.  You've left countless messages.  You really don't want to tick her off (this could mean quota) so what can you do?

1.    Make it about them:  Your prospect could be going through a nightmarish period in their life (think catastrophic situation with their child or parent), could be out of the country on vacation, or could be having mobile connectivity issues.  All three situations happened to some of my clients recently, and their silence wasn't about me.  Don't take offence.  Make it about them in all your inquiries.  "Are you OK?" is a simple subject line that often works!

2.    Expect that it's temporary: There's no room for melodrama here.  If your prospects aren't getting back to you, it's no time to wallow in your sorrow.  Look at your approach, shake it off, but most importantly stay positive and know in your heart that it's only a matter of time.  Research by psychologist Dr. MartinSeligman shows that optimistic people, those who expect negative situations to be only temporary, do better in sales.

3.    Vary your touch points:  According to, leaving a voice mail and immediately following up with an email  boosts response rates.  If phone and email don't do the trick, and the response is urgently required, try getting a cell number and sending a text too.  A drastic measure perhaps (so make sure you don't "cry wolf" and overuse).  The point is, the more diversified your contact points, the more your prospect has a chance to understand and react to the urgency.

4.    Get creative:  A few months ago Jeremy Tyrrell of the Scotiabank Convention Centre shared with me how he got Ms. Big-Wig to finally sign his contract by sending her a video.  His phone messages and emails hadn't done the trick, so he posted a plea on YouTube and got other people to tell her about it!  Gutsy? You bet.  But what did he have to lose?  And now this meeting planner will never forget the extent to which he was willing to go to land her business!  (Click here to view a modified version of the video).

5.    Use humour: One our most challenging projects was the MPI Foundation Canada's Economic Impact Study of the meetings industry.  As the data gathering partner, we had to convince at least 650 meeting planners to take this long online survey and reveal detailed financial information about their events.  The email with the highest open and click through rates had the picture of a cute little girl in pig tails, with a quivering bottom lip; the subject line said, "OK, now we're begging." 

6.    Have lots of leads in your funnel:  Most sales experts will tell you the best way to remove the stress around closing business is to have lots of opportunities in the works.  This way you CAN walk away from that prospect who doesn't respect your time and effort by not responding.  (Read more about Greenfield's Lead Generation Resources here ).

**Yes, just recently, an old friend "went silent" on me.  I was really torn up about it.  
I had contacted her on a business matter.  When I followed up, I got nothing. I followed up again.  Repeatedly.  With a friendly approach, a business approach, a humorous "you-can-tell-me-NO-I'm-a-big-girl" approach, and even a pitiful "what-have-I-done-to-upset-you?" approach.  As it turns out, I should have applied rule #1; she was going through stuff, and she didn’t think I could be so insecure… J

Happy Sweet 16 Greenfield: lessons from 16 years in business

Sixteen years ago today we signed incorporation papers for Greenfield Hospitality Services Inc. (now known as Greenfield Services Inc.). What a ride it's been helping hotels, DMOs and other meetings industry suppliers grow their business!

Now that we've blown out the candles on the cake, let's have a look at some of the changes in the meetings industry since our inception in 1997:

The loss of control to new channels of distribution: OnlineTravel Agencies (OTAs) have gained an impressive share of hotels and resorts' business since the late 90s. It has become increasingly difficult for hotels and meeting planners themselves to prevent convention delegates from checking Hotwire for cheaper rates and booking outside the group block.

And then there's the whole evolution of revenue/yield management, which could be a series of blog posts all on their own... The lesson? It's increasingly difficult for a hotel Director of Sales & Marketing to control his/her turf and truly make a difference with marketing tactics and leadership.

Competition from unexpected sources: in a recent MarketWatch article entitled "Will Aunt Mary's apartment lower Marriott's prices?" AirBNB was described as a real force to contend with in the global lodging industry, arguably the largest brand in the world with 660,000 listings, in 34,000 cities, and 192 countries (March 2014 statistics according to the AirBnB website itself). While many hoteliers are dismissing the "sharing economy" as a fringe trend, one pundit at the recent Hotel Association of Canada Conference referred to AirBnB, and other sharing sites as a "real threat to traditional lodging and meeting facilities."

The lesson? The competition is no longer the hotel across the street or the city in that other province or state.  Technology is bringing pitting your hotel against competitors you never knew existed.

Salespeople who don't know how to sell: okay, I admit, this one is making me sound 100-years old, but I see too many hotel sales people nowadays just don't know how to sell. They send mass emails after a tradeshow, without even bothering to qualify the list to see if attendees have any potential for their facility or destination. They are afraid to pick up the phone.  They send inappropriate LinkedIn connection requests without attempting to forge a proper relationship with a meeting planner.

The lesson? The hotel industry probably only has itself to blame for this development. For years, hotel salespeople have been grossly underpaid and under trained.  And don't think this has anything to do with age; I've seen "veteran" salespeople be guilty of all the above behaviours.  We need to get back to basics, focus on relationship building and elevating the conversation.

Higher planner expectations and a diminishing regard for ethics: and then there are ever-demanding meeting planners looking for perks, points, and purses. We've always had planners looking for comps and upgrades for their group bookings but now there are increasing expectations for loyalty points and personal gifts. Recently I heard of "client appreciation" events that involved purse and shoe shopping! There seems to be an ever increasing competition in the planner-wooing business and I worry how such inducements simply are crossing the ethical line... Is it any wonder why, at the same time, planners are showing disrespect by no-showing at our events?

The lesson? It's getting harder for hotel and venue suppliers to garner respect.  But those who take the high road do win, in the end.  Keep planners accountable (by calling them on no-shows, for instance) and provide education, not just entertainment

That's four major developments that have affected hotels and meeting venues from our vantage point. We have more to share over the next few posts. We'd love to hear your thoughts about changes in the meetings industry in the last 16 years!