Meeting planners are hardworking, resilient and well-organized individuals who rely upon a variety of suppliers to deliver the meetings they manage. They face the stresses of orchestrating an endless array of tasks and suppliers into a seamlessly delivered meeting, conference or convention. The reliance of the planner upon their suppliers cannot be emphasized enough. There is no second chance as the planner gets one opportunity to deliver their meeting well.
Each supplier inherits partial responsibility, not only for the success of the meeting, but for the success and livelihood of the planner. When a supplier over-performs, the planner is able to exceed expectations leading to greater recognition and responsibilities. When a supplier performs poorly, the meeting suffers and the planner is let down. The planner’s credibility and abilities will be called into question making it difficult to develop professionally.
Competence and shared values are what planners look for in their suppliers. They appreciate values like a pro-active attitude, passion for the industry and a commitment to exceeding expectations.
It is understandable that suppliers, as a business, need to focus on the bottom line to ensure financial sustainability. However, there needs to be a greater commitment to building trust with planners and to ensuring the success of each meeting.
Suppliers need to take time to better understand planners and the work they do. They can begin with some key fundamentals.
Transparency is essential
There is an increasing lack of transparency in the meetings industry. This begins with the sales department where there is a strong motivation to get the sale. Non-disclosure of all charges and fees that the meeting will face is becoming all too common.
Suppliers must understand that meeting planners have set budgets. While these budgets may include contingency funds, it is not a welcome surprise to be faced with unexpected expenses.
It does not reflect well on a supplier’s business practices when planners are faced with additional expenses that should have been apparent before contracting and were not disclosed. Planners will take their business elsewhere and share their experience with colleagues.
It is recommended that suppliers disclose all potential charges and fees that the meeting may face. When planners feel a supplier is on their side, a higher level of trust is achieved. Most planners will reward them with on-going contracts and an increased flexibility in the provision of their services.
It is not always about the best price. Many planners will pay a greater price for services from suppliers they trust and whom are transparent.
Meeting planners tend to be well-organized and highly productive individuals. Effectively communicating with them takes many forms.
Suppliers need to respond to them in a timely manner. It is not unusual for inquiries with sales departments to go unanswered or for emails and voicemails to be addressed leisurely. Suppliers will win favour with planners when they answer the phone and respond to inquiries in an expedient manner. When they don’t, they risk being viewed as a roadblock to the planner’s ability to accomplish their tasks.
It is also important to communicate with the planner through the means they best utilize or prefer. The way the supplier prefers to communicate is not necessarily the way the planner prefers. A good rule of thumb is to respond to the planner by the same means that they inquired. If they reach out by phone, respond by phone. If they emailed, respond by email. This will enhance the supplier’s relationship with the planner.
Value the independent meeting planner
One of the least understood and less respected meeting organizers in our industry is the independent planner. These are the firms or individuals who are engaged on a contract basis to deliver meetings on behalf of organizations.
Many suppliers do not understand the role that independent planners play and the value that they bring to the table on their behalf. This can lead to strained relationships and a lack of respect shown toward the planner. One example of disrespect is when the supplier bypasses the planner to engage directly with the planner’s client. This commonly occurs when the supplier contract has been signed directly by the host organization.
The independent planner is a strong ally for suppliers. They have significant influence in the development of budgets, site selection and in determining which suppliers are utilized. They also work across many different sectors, which can open up doors to new business. As a third party, these planners are able to ensure that contracts are fair for both the supplier and host organization.
When an independent planner feels valued and respected, the supplier can expect loyalty and to be rewarded with a long-standing relationship.
Meeting planners are looking to develop ongoing relationships with suppliers. They are busy individuals and don’t have time to build new supplier relationships for every meeting.
Planners will be very loyal to suppliers who take the time to get to know them. Suppliers need to focus less on the potential for a sale and more on understanding meetings from a planner’s perspective. With this will come greater recognition of the difficulties and frustrations planners face. This will enhance the supplier’s ability to relate.
When suppliers focus on alleviating those frustrations, they will benefit from increased loyalty and a long-term relationship with the planner. Adding fair pricing, consistent service and trust to the mix will make it very difficult for competitors to severe the relationship.
In regards to the independent planner, understand that they are not part of the organization hosting the meeting. Take time to build a relationship with the planner as well as the organization.
Every detail matters
Most meeting planners are detail orientated. Giving extra attention to the details will instill added confidence in the supplier.
Paying attention to the details begins with the Request for Proposals (RFP). Suppliers need to take time to research the objectives of the meeting and host organization. An understanding of the meeting’s program structure and delivery is also important. Infuse this knowledge into their proposal.
Ensure all requests in the RFP are responded to as missed responses can be indicative to the planner that the supplier lacks attention to detail. In turn, this may reduce the supplier’s ability to secure the contract.
Attention to detail also means providing the planner with the information they need to manage the meeting. Suppliers need to know what ongoing information the planner requires from them to effectively manage the meeting. Provide this information in a consistent and timely manner.
These are just a few steps suppliers can take to more effectively engage with meeting planners. It is important to keep in mind that the connection between planner and supplier is about relationship, with both parties desiring the same outcome for each meeting. When they work cohesively, the meetings they engage in together will find greater success.
When this happens, everyone wins.