Take PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2015, for example. According to my guestimate, nearly half of the 4,100-plus attendees were suppliers. They come in droves to this event every year because the meeting planners who attend have significant buying power. Sans an exhibit hall, Convening Leaders offers supplier interactions at networking events and education sessions — yet too few suppliers take full advantage of those opportunities.
On Monday afternoon, I co-presented a session in the Meeting & Experience Design track with Lisa Block, vice president of meetings and conferences for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and Tony Lorenz, CEO of bXb Group. A quick poll revealed that of the 150 participants in the room, there were only eight suppliers! The rest were meeting professionals who are directly responsible for producing very significant conferences. Similar supplier/meeting professional ratios were observed in other concurrent sessions throughout the week.
So where were the suppliers? As at most non-meetings-industry conferences, supplier participation in general sessions and networking functions is usually strong. Education sessions? Not so much. Suppliers often choose to fill those times with individual appointments, catch up on email, rest up after a long night out, or hang out with other suppliers.
Nothing says “I want your business” more than learning alongside clients and prospects and better understanding their business challenges and opportunities.
Conversely, the strategic supplier (especially one with a passion for our profession) sees gold in education-session participation. Nothing says “I want your business” more than learning alongside clients and prospects and better understanding their business challenges and opportunities. It helps turn a “dates, rates, and space” transactional sales professional into a high-performing consultative sales pro.
Some associations try to lure suppliers to education sessions by designing content specific to their challenges. The better approach is to design high-level content that serves their customers. PCMA did just that, but the supplier community, with a few notable exceptions — Disney and Freeman among them — missed the boat.
Disney and Freeman cultivate a culture of consultative selling. They believe that relationships and the ability to help their customers succeed is key to customer retention and growth, and that means rolling up their sleeves and learning about their clients’ business priorities alongside them. I’m sure there are other companies in our industry that deserve mention, but we need more of them. Or we ourselves won’t realize our own Meetings Mean Business promise.