An ongoing discussion…
Reflecting on the co-operative spirit of our times and the deep currents of understanding and respect evident in our political process, I thought it would be appropriate to interview people from every side of the Meeting Planning biz and ask them the question, “What is the most difficult part of your job”?
Perhaps if we walk for a moment in “the other guy’s shoes”, we may learn what obstacles our business partners (whether they be clients or vendors) have to overcome in order to have the best possible outcome, and thus foster a sense of shared commitment.
Put more simply… if we understand each other, cooperate, and everyone gets what they need, then everyone is happy. Well, except the people who are never happy. Must be difficult for them.
Side point… is the ability to be happy hard-wired? And an even more important corollary question… is free will… the ability to change one’s outlook on life (from unhappy to happy), also hard-wired? Does it come much more easily to some than to others? And can happy people judge unhappy people, when in reality it has absolutely nothing to do with their strength of will, just some molecule over here instead of over there? Maybe not free will after all… just random luck? Is luck also hard-wired? Should we not believe everything we think?
OK… I have now given you a glimpse into my mind and what I am probably thinking about when you see me staring off into space. And that’s just a tiny sample. Trust me… you do not want to go in there for very long… or as I overheard my seven-year old son say to a friend the other day…”That’s my Dad. Just ignore him”.
Anyway, we took the opportunity presented at the 15th Annual All Things Meetings Reception & Trade Show, attended by as many sides of the meeting biz as you can imagine, and randomly asked a wide range of planners and vendors the same question. We recorded them for a podcast, but for the sake of the NOW (you are reading this), I have summarized many of their points of view as certain themes independently emerged.
The first wave of vendors we interviewed, including large convention hotels, exclusive resorts, boutique hotels, venues, DMCs, CVBs and other service providers, all said roughly the same things. Remember, by nature, they are sales “people-pleasers”… the most difficult part of their jobs…
1. Getting their clients to communicate the goal and vision of what they really want upfront, so they, the vendors, can respond with targeted proposals that fit the client’s budget.
2. Fulfilling expectations within the clients price point
3. Educating clients that prices keep going up, and what they spent last time may no longer be adequate to give them what they need… and clients usually want more than last time.
4. As a corollary to number 2… relationships are important, but in high-demand properties or during high-demand seasons, the salespeople no longer have the authority to set pricing. Faceless revenue managers do that and the salespeople are caught in the middle. Being “pleasers”, they find that a difficult place to be.
5. With high touch (and high-priced) luxury properties or service providers, the salespeople need enough advance notice to fulfill the client’s very high expectations. Getting as much detail upfront is critical to provide that wow level of service. They are good at scrambling, but even better when they can prepare.
6. RFP Spam. Planners do not realize it, but because of changes in technology, suppliers are inundated with hundreds of requests for proposals, many unqualified for their property or service. But… they all require a response. This was actually quite a “biggie” on the difficulty scale.
7. For the non-traditional service providers, it’s getting their message through the general “noise” of our marketing culture to educate clients that the service they provide exists, let alone is valuable.
We also interviewed a wide range of meeting planners… C-Level Executive Assistants, full-time “Meeting Planners” in charge of all levels and sizes of corporate events, and Corporate Executives who are in charge of their own specific events but have a team that handles logistics… it was a little bit of everything. Their responses had more variance, but some themes emerged as well…
1. The biggest challenge is not with vendors, but with getting the details, budgets and commitments from their own internal executive team. C+ Level EAs shared similar difficulties… the business environment and opportunities come, go and change so frequently, and at the last minute… and there is always some key player or component that is holding up the decision-making process… that it is extremely difficult to provide their vendors with everything they ask for in a timely manner… but when they do know, often at the last minute, they need their vendor to understand the sense of urgency.
2. In the same vein, these planners are constantly getting “follow-up” and “touching base” calls or e-mails from vendors, and although they understand why, they are so, so busy that it is difficult to respond, especially since they really don’t know the answer to the vendors question. If they knew, they would have already called.
3. This one is a tough one… The planner plans very short-term (not her idea, but reflective of their rapidly changing business), and needs immediate responses… within 24 hours, with venue availability and pricing. They said their biggest difficulty is salespeople “sitting” on their responses for 24 to 48 hours. We asked… how many rfps do you typically send out for each event… the answer… five to eight. We were just neutral interviewers so we had to stay neutral (see vendor difficulty #6).
4. This one is certainly understandable when the economy is booming… finding availability for large groups that need a lot of meeting space. Yes, Tell me about it.
5. My favorite one… what is the most difficult part of your meeting planning job? The answer… “So many details”. Yeah, tell me about that too.
Ok. That’s more than enough for now. Hopefully you get the idea… we keep adding to the discussion and with luck (?), we will begin to understand what is happening to the other guy… and if you haven’t figured it out yet, the other guy is really us.