What do meeting planners want? What makes them choose one city over another? And what can convention and visitors bureaus, destination marketing organizations and tourism boards do to make their destination the obvious choice?
The easy answer is they want you to customize your sales pitch to address their needs and concerns, offer added value and help them find creative solutions to the specific planning challenges they are facing. But before you can get there, you first need to ask the planner a lot of questions, listen hard and develop a compelling story about why your destination is a perfect match for their group. Here are some questions to ask and things to think about that will get you and your sales team headed in the right direction.
- What are the goals and reason for meeting? What needs to be achieved? How would being in your destination help the planner achieve those objectives and reinforce the meeting themes in a unique and meaningful way?
- What are the group’s needs? What are things that the planner needs to provide for their group? Is it airlift or easy drive-in access? Who is their audience? Do they need a specific kind of property, amount of meeting space, combination of venues or amenities? How can your destination best fulfill those needs?
- What’s the group’s history? Have they met in destinations similar to yours? Why/why not? What was their experience (pros and cons)? What is the planner looking to improve on with this next event? How can your organization help them do that?
- What do they know or think they know about your destination? Perception is reality. So, do they have the right picture, or do you have information they might find surprising? Where do you need to fill in the blanks?
- What do they like about your destination? What do they perceive as your destination’s strengths? Why are you being considered as a potential destination? Who is your competition, and are your strengths evenly matched with theirs?
- What reservations do they have? What would keep them from choosing your destination? Find that out and address those concerns, don’t just take “no” for an answer. Don’t ignore negative press or sensitive issues, either. You are in control of the story and whether it gets blown out of proportion. Engage in an open dialogue with the planner so they understand the context of negative reports and can determine if it’s really an issue that would affect their group.
- What kind of added value can you offer? The relationships your organization has with local hotels, restaurants, attractions, entertainment, educators, businesses and facilities are incredibly valuable. They allow you to create packages and programs that can enhance attendee education, promote cross-cultural understanding and create transformative experiences. What kind of value-adds can you offer that will help planners wow their attendees, and/or save time and money? Is there something that another destination is offering that they find more attractive? If so, find out if the group would commit to you if you could match or top it.
- What kind of planning assistance do they need? Do you offer help with RFPs, arranging site tours and transportation, registration, housing, finding staff and marketing support? Let them know. Do they need help finding cost-effective options or creative function ideas? What do they expect from you in return for guaranteeing you the business? Find out and see if it’s something you can promise and deliver. Be sure you know any deadlines the planner may be on so you can get them all the information and assistance they need in a timely manner.
- How flexible are they? If there is the chance the group can save money by altering the pattern or dates of the conference, let the planner know. If they are stuck on a certain idea or vendor that you think might not serve the meeting objectives as well as something else that’s available in your destination, how open are they to considering something different? See how open they are to collaboration and new ideas, but put their group’s needs and goals first.
- Above all, be honest. Is your destination really a good fit for this group, or are you stretching to find reasons to stay in the game? You don’t want to set up an expectation that you and your team can’t fulfill. By the same token, it’s in your best interest to be candid about venues, properties and vendors that may not be able to give the planner the standard of quality their group demands and steer them towards more appropriate suppliers. And honesty extends to your conversations with your members: What can they do to attract more business? Let them know if there are issues that might end up reflecting badly on the destination.
By treating each meeting professional as an individual and addressing what their group’s needs are, you lay the foundation for a strong relationship. If planners feel taken care of, they will feel comfortable trusting you with their group. So invest a little time in listening to what they have to tell you and figuring out how you can help them achieve their meeting objectives. The rewards may be greater than you expect.