Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Planners and Suppliers: Friends or…?

Is there a communication gap between planners and suppliers? And if there is, how do we bridge that gap so that teamwork can happen and everybody’s happy?

This was the topic of a panel discussion hosted by the Minnesota chapter of MPI this afternoon. I thought the topic intriguing, so accepted MPI’s invitation to attend. I’m glad I did. Not only did I reconnect with some old friends (and made some new ones) but I thought that taking this issue out of the closet was a healthy, honest way to help these two groups—who can’t live without each other—find better ways to work together.

The panel was composed of three planners and three suppliers. Questions and comments from the audience were also encouraged. Here’s the gist of what went down.

• In a survey taken before the meeting, both planners and suppliers acknowledge that there’s a gap. More suppliers feel the gap (by a fairly high percentage) than planners.

• Suppliers feel that planners do not give them enough information to do their jobs effectively. They want to understand the client, how they like to do business, what their meeting profiles look like, and the purpose of the event.

• Some planners, on the other hand, sometimes feel that this can be overdone. Not only does it take time to fill the supplier in on the details (and when you have many suppliers for an event, it really takes a lot of time) but some planners are reluctant to share a lot of information. They think the suppliers want too much information. IDEA: consider preparing a one-page profile to give to suppliers with information on when and where you do your meetings, the ways you like to be contacted, important points about your company and its culture, etc.

• Planners said that they want long-term relationships with suppliers, but the “fresh meat syndrome” can get in the way, with planners feeling like the buzzards are circling overhead. Planners sometimes feel that all the salesperson wants is a signed contract—next week.

• Cold calling is hated by both sides—not a surprise—but some of the suppliers felt that it will slowly disappear as both planners and suppliers discover new ways to connect and communicate.

• Planners will not work with someone who doesn’t do their homework. Know who you’re calling on and what they do. Planners will also not typically work with cold callers, or suppliers who drop by without an appointment. They will work with the folks who sit next to them at MPI or ISES meetings, attend the same seminars and workshops that the planners attend, and who network (not prospect) at gatherings.

• Planners and suppliers should consider using CVBs to research and source venues and other meeting elements. They know their cities, and they’re FREE.

I know that both planners and suppliers read this blog. What do you think? Are the Minnesota MPI folks spot-on, or are they missing the boat? Is there a gap? Is it bridgeable? How?

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