by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | February 5, 2014

In my career, I have mostly planned meetings that would be considered on the smaller side. Everyone has different definitions of what that means, but for me the planning niche maxed out at around 500 attendees. Once in a while I planned for larger, but I have never planned for meetings that took over whole cities or convention centers.

Sometimes being on the smaller end of the marketplace means that you don't get the same attention from salespeople or service providers as the bigger companies or buyers do. That's not the way it should be, but realistically speaking the pieces of business that can throw their economic weight around can get in the way of those of us who are waiting patiently for some answers.

I have learned that I have to position my business to make it get the same level of attention as the bigger players, whether that's during the contracting stage or later, on-site. Here are some of the methods I use:

Study the sales department. Salespeople spend a lot of time learning about their customers, in order to sell to them better. Why shouldn't that be true in reverse? Ask questions about seasonality, yield management, competition, just to name a few details that will give you an edge. Read a business book about sales techniques. Make yourself an educated customer, so that you can better partner with an educated seller.

Establish a good relationship with your banquet staff. The convention services manager is in charge of everything, but he or she is also likely in charge of other groups. If you know your banquet staff, often you can save steps in getting your requests filled. More importantly, they are the faces that greet your attendees. If they are acknowledged as the important part of your meeting that they are, it will likely show in their response.

Maintain boundaries. Being lower on the list of priorities doesn't mean that you need your vendors more than they need you. Even if you don't represent the biggest sales commission with your meeting, you should expect your calls and emails to be returned and your instructions to be followed. If they aren't, it's not a function of your size but one of their professionalism.

Eliminate layers of decision makers. Make sure you have as much autonomy as possible for smaller meetings. People always want to deal with the decision maker because it increases their influence, saves time and eliminates miscommunication. Smaller pieces of business instantly become more attractive when those elements are in place.

What are some of your tips for leveraging a smaller amount of buying power? I'd like to know. You can reply in the comments below, via email to, or tweet me @E_Zielinski.