by Loren G. Edelstein | March 22, 2017
Planners share too little information and expect too many concessions. Suppliers are inundated with requests for proposal and unrealistic turnaround times. These and other common pain points are hurting the meetings industry. Finding solutions was the objective of an interactive session, "Pet Peeves Exposed: What Really Irks Planners and Suppliers," presented by Shawna Suckow, CMP, during Northstar Travel Group's Independent Planner Education Conference at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. (For more about IPEC, see related articles here and here.)
Suckow, founder and chair of the Senior Planners Industry Network, facilitated the high-energy exercise, which had a room of 170 -- half planners and half suppliers -- not only airing their gripes but pledging to fix what ails both sides the most.
What irks planners
Based on her research -- as well as two books on the subject (Planner Pet Peeves and Supplier Pet Peeves; find them here) -- the prevailing complaints from planners are that they feel ignored by suppliers, particularly in a seller's market, and they feel powerless. Said Suckow, "Planners don't have a lot of negotiating power right now. They feel like they can't get what they need to please their clients. They have to act quickly on decisions and reveal more than they might want to reveal, or they're going to lose that space to someone else."  Her advice: "Today, you might only have one shot at that space. Give suppliers your real needs and your real numbers. That saves time on both sides. It needs to be more of a dialog. And that dialog does not happen on Cvent. That happens face-to-face, or on the phone, or I recommend using Skype or a great new tool called Try to get the other party on video chat."
Another pet peeve: "Planners hate bad surprises." Suckow recounted an instance in which a planner was told after arriving at a property for her meeting that each time an attendee uses a wall outlet to charge a device, the group would incur a charge of $50. "Uh, no," was the planner's answer, as this "surprise" was not noted in her contract. "Guess who is going to hear about that?" Suckow asked. "First, your sales contact. And when planners gets mad, who are they going to tell? Everyone. And how long are they going to remember it? Forever!"
Suppliers can add value in ways that are not monetary, Suckow noted. "We want to look like superheroes for doing business with you. Anything you can do to help us look good breeds huge loyalty. Suppliers, send a letter to our clients. Tell our clients how great it was to work with us." Also, she said, "We want it to be easy to work with you. In the sales phase, tell us how it's going to be easy for us to work with you."
What irks suppliers
A top supplier pet peeve is receiving incomplete information in an RFP. The saying "garbage in, garbage out" applies, said Suckow. "It's a waste of time on both sides. Planners, whenever you can, give them all the information you have." She added, "I know it's uncomfortable to disclose your budget," but doing so helps prevent wasted time on both sides.
A huge problem for suppliers is that planners too often send out dozens of RFPs for the same piece of business. One hotel chain is taking pains to avoid the RFP spammers, said Suckow: "Marriott is creating a naughty list. They did a study and found that 91 percent of their meetings business comes from when they are one of five or fewer hotels that receive the RFP. If you are one of those planners who spam RFPs, they are putting you on the naughty list, and they're not going to respond to you. I think that's smart, and I think that's what we need."
Making it even more difficult for suppliers, many planners are asking for a response to their RFPs within 24 hours. "Why?" asked Suckow. "Wouldn't five business days be adequate in most cases? If they just got that, suppliers could infuse their proposals with creativity. Planners are frustrated when suppliers don't read the entire RFP. But we send a 30-page RFP with 30 concessions and ask for a proposal the next day -- and we are not their only client."
Suppliers feel ignored, too, because in most cases they are not notified when a planner has chosen another property, and they are still hoping to win the business. "We made someone jump through a lot of hoops for us," said Suckow, "and they never heard from us again."
She had all the planners in the room pledge to get back to every supplier who sends them a proposal, and every supplier agree to respond to every planner who sends an RFP. The platform, created by the Senior Planners Industry Network, formalizes this promise. It is a free service created with the objective to "bring decency back to our industry," noted Suckow.
"Suppliers value time. The volume of RFPs they received has increased 100-fold from five years ago. Suppliers, has your team increased 100-fold? No. Time is a commodity that is extremely valued on both sides. But planners waste the time of suppliers much more. This happens when we send out 50 RFPs for one meeting. Maybe it's younger or inexperienced planners who are doing this. If so, we need to educate them on why this is harming our industry."
Among comments from participating suppliers to planners:
"Tell me what you really need -- and your budget -- so that I can find the best fit for you or be honest and tell you if it's not the right fit. If your budget is $50,000 and you want the convention center, I can tell you that's not going to work for my city unless I have a hole to fill and can squeeze you in."
"We see ever-changing contract language; it would be helpful if planners would be more transparent so that we would understand what has changed and why."
"If there is a problem with our destination or one of our hotels, let us know. Don't gloss over it. Don't just decide you are never coming back."
"Schedule communications. When a planner sends an RFP, it often says 'contact me via email.' But if you want to talk, let's schedule a time."
"Put in your RFP: I will be available this Thursday for this three-hour block. You are welcome to call me to ask questions or discuss the program during that time."
"If you won't share your budget, at least show us the history of that program, and the other properties or destinations are you sourcing. That gives us an idea of what we are up against."
"Give your real honest budget, and tell me where you have wiggle room in what you are asking for."
"If you're just looking for availability, tell us that. If you don't need a formal RFP yet, send a request for information. If dates, rates and space are all you're after, say so. Then a one-page response is sufficient and you haven't wasted anyone's time."