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Death of Salesman – The Meetings Industry Version

For some time now I have worried and written about how the relationship between meeting planners and suppliers has become commoditized.  The role of the salesperson – of sales in general – is increasingly being challenged.  In fact, here are the seven reasons why I think the traditional sales role is basically on life-support:
  1. Fewer people are using their phone to talk:  Have you tried to reach someone at their desk lately? You almost always get voice mail.  And now there’s word that some companies are doing away with voice mail altogether. And ironically, with the move to cell phones, fewer people are using their devices for voice communication; just this past June phone manufacturer Ericsson released a study affirming that only 30% of time spent on all smartphone apps is on communication.  The fact we’re not talking means we’re not establishing relationships…
  2. We’re more connected but less responsive: Recently a planner acquaintance made a plea on LinkedIn for a return to the “good old days” when suppliers aimed to return calls and answer emails within a set standard of time.  But I hear a similar complaint from the sales side too; planners push for quotes to be turned around within days or even hours, but don’t return the supplier’s call for weeks!  Have we really become too busy to be professional?
  3. We’ve gone RFP-crazy: According to a meetings industry survey by The Hive Network earlier this year, 41% of suppliers said the number of RFPs they receive in one week has doubled in the last 5 years.  Twenty-four percent (24%) say it has tripled and 5% say the volume has quad-rupled!  Only 30% of those surveyed say their RFP volume has decreased or remained the same.  All we’re doing it seems is sending RFPs, completing RFPs and analyzing RFPs… To the point there is a movement to reign us in; check out the RFPSmart Pledge!
  4. Brands trump personality:  This point definitely focuses on the hotel sector.  There are fewer and fewer true independent hotels these days.  A 2013 Wall Street Journal article reported that chain hotels then represented 70% of rooms (vs. 56% in 1988) with predictions showing chains growing to 80% within 10 years.  And the growth of brands comes with an increase in standardization (because it cuts costs), and the loss of individual freedom at the hotel level. Freedom to reflect a property’s unique attributes for meetings.  This makes some planners think of their meeting venues as a commodity.  During focus group research a few years ago, one planner insisted she hated to have to speak to a rep… “Why can’t someone make an Expedia for meetings?” she lamented.
  5. The revenue management and “maximization mindset”: With more chains, the hotel business is increasingly run by revenue managers whose job depends on maximizing revenue for the property owner.  Hotel group pricing is being set by someone who often never has met the planner.  That person is like that infamous “manager” in a car dealership… Is it any wonder planners treat hotel rep like (used) car salespeople? There is no relationship!
  6. The rise of third parties: What came first? Did site selection companies come about to help customers navigate the tricky waters of the commoditized accommodation sector? Or is the accommodation sector being commoditized because of site selection companies?  This is one issue that I am bound to get flak for… but I maintain: site selection companies would not exist if hotel companies were seen as keeping their customers’ best interests at heart.  Like unions formed to protect workers, site selection companies first came about because they did a better job of finding and negotiating hotel space.  So yes, these third parties have commoditized the industry.  But did we deserve otherwise?
  7. The inability to create online content for nurturing and inbound marketing: treating prospects the way they want to be treated means that hotels, DMOs and other meetings industry suppliers would stop interruptive marketing (like calls, emails and the like) and have everything available online, only a click away.  But the reality is that most suppliers barely have enough time in a day to do their work (probably due to #3 above!), never mind create online content on an ongoing basis!  And budgets rarely allow for outsourced content creation.
For better or worse, the world has moved away from an outbound marketing model that favoured the traditional role of meetings industry sales rep as the “wheeler-dealer”… Now salespeople are squeezed between the client they so desperately wish to solidify a relationship with, and their number-crunching masters.  With consumers increasingly wanting to be in charge of the sales cycle itself, what is the future of the meetings industry salesman or woman?

I am not quite sure, except for this: I personally no longer feel that I can be part of this commoditized environment.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have moved on, and so has my company of 17 plus years... As of a few months ago, Greenfield Services Inc. has ceased to offer lead generation and inbound marketing services to the supply side of the meetings industry equation.

Yes, in part because we could see the "writing on the wall" but also because we just weren't having fun anymore... and what is there to life if we don't have fun?  Therefore this is our last post on this blog.

Rest assured that we have not abandoned our beloved meetings industry.  We are continuing to grow our association management practice, and refocused our energy on consulting services that support association and non-profit organization growth:
  • Membership Marketing and Engagement
  • Event Marketing 
  • Engaging Meeting Design
  • Sponsorship and Exhibit Sales
As of November 1, 2015, this blog will no longer be maintained.  Instead, check out our new blog on the newly re-designed Greenfield Services website!

Many thanks for your ongoing support since 2010... see you soon!