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#Eventprofs: Time to Get Some Backbone? When Getting a NO is Better than a MAYBE

In the meetings industry, "selling" means finding and connecting with prospects who need a solution to solve a problem.  Sometimes the prospect clearly knows what their problem is ("I need someone to book and manage my conference"), and even what the solution looks like.  At other times they may not know what the problem is, never mind how to make things better.

We research and diagnose, so that, hopefully, we have a solution that the prospect values enough to buy.  Our job then turns to moving prospects through the decision making tree as efficiently as possible.  This means getting "yeses" of course, but also getting "no's".  And this is where too many meeting professionals get bogged down; we put up with too many "maybes" or worse yet, we put up with silence.

I hear it all the time when hoteliers, DMO reps and even third-party planners complain that their prospects take too long to make decisions.

In an industry that too often just aims to schmooze and please, maybe it's time we get some backbone.  Whether we are selling hotel inventory, the rental of goods or our time to plan events, the longer we dwell in maybes, the less time we spend closing and getting things done.

So what's the answer?  Ask questions: What are your decision criteria?  How will you know when a solution is the right one?  And when you get a "maybe" or "not now, later" be bold and ask, "What will be different in (whatever time frame) that you don't know now?" That last question is a valuable one I learned from sales expert Colleen Francis.  

Of course no single questions will ever be the silver bullet, but a mindset of inquiry is what appears to work best, in my experience.

Now I'm not suggesting you do this right after you send the first proposal.  But after a reasonable number of attempts, it's time to put your foot down.

And if silence is all you hear, try this:  
  • First, when you ask, expect an answer.  It's a metaphysical mystery to me, but when I expect to get an answer, I do.  When I think I won't, I often don't.  
  • Next, nicely but firmly, force an answer.  My favourite is, "Mr. Prospect, we had agreed to discuss your proposal by the end of last week.  Since we have not connected I suspect that you have found another provider, or that you no longer need our solution.  Either way, unless I hear from you by X, I will assume our proposal is not what you wish to proceed with.  I hope we'll have the pleasure of working together at some other point in the future..."
For those who think this approach may be too harsh, consider this: getting a "no" means you can move on.  And moving on may just be the most productive action you can take.

Have Meeting Planners Lost Sight of Their True Purpose?

As meeting professionals we have traditionally seen our roles either focused on logistics -- finding the right space, the appropriate set-up for a presentation, the food to be served.  At times we've had our "seat at the table" when we've been able to advocate for meetings as one of several strategic means of communication.

Unfortunately the "seat at the table" often translates into a need to produce revenue, especially for associations who so desperately depend on their annual conferences and tradeshows to support endeavours in other areas.

But in my experience, rarely have meeting planners seen themselves as the facilitators of human connections.  In the end, isn't that what we are truly being: facilitators, connectors, mediators of human relationships?

Because does the colour of the tablecloths, the taste of the food or the quality the AV presentation even matter if the people at the meeting didn't really connect -- to the material, to the presenter, to the sponsor, to each other?

I suppose the meetings industry is no different than many others in that it's easy to lose sight of our overall purpose... In the housing industry architects, contractors and real estate agents either can think of themselves as designing, building and selling housing units, or they can choose to be in the business of creating, building and finding the right home for a family to be safe, healthy and happy.

In this crazy-busy, hyper-connected and fragmented world, it's just too easy to lose sight of our true purpose.   And if the meetings industry doesn't see itself as bringing people together for the betterment of mankind, what else are we doing?

Tradeshow Follow-Up Post CASL

Even though Canada's Anti-Spam Law came into effect July 1, it appears meeting planners, exhibitors and event attendees are still very much confused about what they can and cannot do with email marketing.  I had the pleasure of answering questions at IncentiveWorks a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still getting requests to present this fall.

At Greenfield we've written extensively about what the CASL means for Canadian and even foreign organizations who are sending an email to Canadian recipients.  We get asked all the time, and yes, even non-Canadian companies are affected by this law because they can be sued by Canadians, if they don't follow the rules.

But for now, let's look at what you should or should not do if you are following-up with attendees after a tradeshow where you exhibited:
  • Unless someone signed a form (online, using a tablet, or an actual paper form) where you specifically ask them to "opt-in" to receive further electronic communication from you, you do NOT have express consent.
  • If someone gave you their business card, or just dropped it in a bowl for a draw, you have implied consent only.  This means you have 6 months from the date of that show to "convert" the prospect to an opt-in, or else you must stop email them.  If you fail to do so, and the recipient feels you have been spamming them, they could report you to the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission.
  • Getting an attendee "scanned" does not give you express consent; it is exactly as if the person had dropped their card in a bowl, except that you don't have to enter their contact information manually. This is because you have no "proof" that it was the recipient whose badge you scanned and there is no clear agreement as to what the person consented to.  So you still only have 6 months to market to them electronically and get opt-in.
  • If you do business with someone after the tradeshow, you should still get them to opt-in expressly.  If you don't, you have two years from the date of the transaction, to continue sending commercial electronic messages.  Unless of course, they buy from you again (every time there is a purchase, the "timer" resets).
What can you do if you don't have someone's consent?  You may:
  • call them: engage in a conversation, see if you are a fit for their needs. If they are, send them whatever information you discussed, and ask them to opt-in!  Otherwise you'll be right back to square one in 6 months.
  • call them and ask for a verbal opt-in: it is a little known or understood fact that you can call someone and get a verbal opt-in.  For this to work you must ask them a "security question" that would prove you had a conversation with them about consent.  When we do this type of work for our clients, we ask for the person's first letter of their city of birth.  If you do this, but be SURE to keep this information in your database, along with the date and time the conversation took place.
  • mail them: depending on the number of delegates and what you are selling, a smart direct mail piece with a strong call to action may present a better option.  It's even more powerful if you call after they've received the piece and you engage them in a conversation!  This will boost your lead rate and your sales.
  • see them in person again: the problem with email or traditional mail is that they don't necessarily help us forge relationships.  Personal interaction does.  Maybe a side effect of this law will be to force us to go out on sales calls again!  Then, when someone has met you in person a few times, there is less danger they will think of your next email as spam.
We often hear that 80% of tradeshow leads are never followed up on.  The CASL sure doesn't make it easy for anyone to improve that percentage, but the successful sales people will find a way!

When "Overwhelment" is Your Biggest Competitor

Apparently "overwhelment" is not a noun -- but I wish it were!  What would you call that state were someone gets so crazy-busy they cannot even do the basic things to help themselves?

Let me explain.  Earlier this year I lost a sizeable piece of business because my DMO client was so busy, so overwhelmed with work and personal commitments, that she could not spare 5 minutes to read and sign our contract.  The project was time-sensitive and by the time her to-do list became manageable, the opportunity was lost.

My colleague Meagan experienced a similar situation; because of workload, her association client took five months to approve work that should have taken place last June.  Now we're in September, the event is next month, and we have to rush to get the project done.

Sound familiar?  Executives on the planning and supply side are so crazy-busy they cannot find the time to read a contract so they can get help!

It's easy to get frustrated, but perhaps it's an opportunity to improve?

For one thing, it made me realize that our proposals and contracts were too long; we needed to find a way to make our clients' lives easier.  Our 3-4 page contract is now a one-pager, with a standard set of terms and conditions.

And thanks to my good friend Jeremy Tyrrell of the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, I've also learned of the "5 sentences movement." I received an email from him this week and his signature:

Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?

When you click through to the site, it explains:

The Problem

E-mail takes too long to respond to, resulting in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.

The Solution

Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead. is a personal policy that all email responses regardless of recipient or subject will be five sentences or less. It’s that simple.

* See also:,, and

Isn't that brilliant?  Now if we could only do something about the volume of emails...

What are you doing to manage the avalanche of information coming your way?  And what are you doing to make your customers' lives easier?

Blurring Lines Between Work and Leisure: What Does it Mean for Meetings?

If you are a North American reading this article today (Monday, September 1), it is probably because you are trying to catch up on email, taking a peek at what your peeps are up to on LinkedIn, or maybe you caught the headline on Twitter. Anyway you have it, you are "doing work" instead of chilling out and enjoying the Labour Day holiday.

If it's after the long weekend, hopefully you got to enjoy it, work-free!

Regardless, many of us are finding ourselves working evenings, weekends and holidays... How many of us have truly been able to "go dark" while on vacation in the last five years, or at least since "The Great Recession"?

Casual inquiry and observation of my meetings industry colleagues indicates the lines between work and personal time are decidedly blurring. And for an interesting article on the subject, please read Doug Saunder's piece in The Globe and Mail: Work? Leisure? It's all a blur these days.

What does this mean for the meetings industry? Years ago associations avoided vacation months because delegates were to set on taking time off at specific times. Now we are seeing some groups betting on cheaper meeting space and rates in the summer – and their attendance isn't necessarily suffering. Greenfield's own inaugural Engaging Associations Summit was held this year in July; we had a hunch busy executives would be more available to come to a new conference in the summer, because they had fewer competing priorities than during the rest of the year. The numbers and event evaluations told us we were correct!

Since executives seem to be willing to mix pleasure and business, many DMOs are hoping that delegates will tag on extra days to enjoy a particularly interesting or "bucket list" activity. Is this a reasonable expectation? The meetings industry might help itself by delving into this issue a little deeper; how much business does a conference generate pre or post-event?

Because, as we are seemingly getting less downtime, one interesting industry headline caught my eye: the August cover of The Meeting Professional, MPI's monthly publication, shouts "Meetings Outlook Research: Virtual Meetings are Outpacing Live Gatherings."

Could it be that, as we continue to become the hyper-connected, we're also pushing back at attending more meetings in person? Not because we don't want to be there, but because getting there is such a pain?

And speaking of wanting to be there, what is it in a meetings agenda or program that makes us truly want to go?  This easily could be the next frontier in research for the meetings industry: proving when and how bringing people together face-to-face justifies the time, money and effort.

I don't what the the future holds in this regard, but I can tell you that I for one am happy to be at home on this Labour Day Monday. And if you'll excuse me my garden beckons...