In a world where almost every client interaction has turned digital – from texting, to video chatting, to emailing – adding a personal touch with every faceless interaction will pay off in spades.
Let’s not get lazy and forget that at the heart of the meetings industry, we are people dealing with other people. While it’s easier to move rapidly through the day, firing off emails with proposal after proposal, while racing to meet our sales quotas, we still need to do our part of building rapport and nurturing planner relationships.
How do you create and maintain personal relationships with planners in a digital world? Here are some tips:
Do Your Research
Know who you’re talking to and about. Research everything you can about the planner and the event, including how long that person has planned events for the company, where they went to school, the company itself, where they held the event previously, etc. Leverage LinkedIn as much as possible. You’d be surprised how many hotel sales people don’t double-check LinkedIn profiles and spell a planner’s name incorrectly. Check out the company’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, and other social media accounts so you’re aware of their latest activities. Arm yourself with the knowledge to create an educated and customized proposal and to show the planner that you care enough to devote extra time to research.
Take the Time to Chat
After doing as much research as you can, pick up the phone and introduce yourself. Even if it is only a voicemail, your message will lend warmth and personality to your digital bid.
This also gives you an opportunity to gain insight often lacking in an RFP, including uncovering who the final decision maker is, characteristics of attendees, what has or hasn’t worked previously, what is the desired outcome of the event, etc.
Don’t Make It All About Business
In your research, make note of items that you can relate to or have a common personal experience or interest.
This will serve as your first icebreaker. For example, “I saw you went to college in San Diego. I lived there for four years. Do you miss the fish tacos as much as I do?” Pay attention to any comments that reveal a personal aspect of their lives. Further in the process, when they agree to travel to meet you for a site visit, ask about their favorite foods and drinks and infuse those into your experience.
Respond Promptly, But Don’t Rush
Take the time to prepare a carefully crafted proposal based on your research and conversations with the planner. When you receive the RFP, send a reply that you have received it, are working on it and will have the proposal ready shortly.
Tailor Your Response To the Specific Event
This should go without saying, but nothing sours the possibility of a profitable planner relationship more than a generic response that doesn’t address the planner’s preferences and specific criteria included in the RFP.
If It’s Not a Fit, Offer Help Anyway
Offer alternatives and suggestions if your venue can’t provide what the planner is looking for. Position yourself as a destination expert and suggest options they might not have thought of, but might be totally open to.
Give Them a Reason When You Say “No Thanks”
Whatever the reason, let the planner know why you cannot accommodate the group. Maybe there’s a competitor in-house, maybe there is a lack of meeting or guest rooms, maybe they require too much meeting space in proportion to the rooms booked. Although this particular event might not be a good fit, future ones may, and building a relationship for future events can be more valuable than just saying “no, thanks”.
Following up is vital for a healthy business relationship and is 100 percent in your favor to reap business down the road. Keep notes on the planner’s info and relevant personal details whether you book the business or not. This includes notes like birthdays, pets, favorite drinks, what’s going on with their kids etc. and follow up every few months with a short personal email that includes a relevant detail. You can send them an article that might interest them and see if there’s anything in the pipeline that you two can work together on.
Successful planner relationships rely on personal communication both on- and offline. Never get too caught up in digital forms and protocols so much that you lose touch with the human side of doing business.