It's happened to most hoteliers: An event planner is really excited to host their gathering at your hotel, negotiations are in the works, and everyone is all smiles. Then, seemingly out of the blue, they say that it’s not the right fit. Or they stop responding to your emails altogether. Either way, you have no idea what happened!
So why do planners put an end to negotiations? Usually, it falls into one of three buckets: bad communication, a lack of transparency, or unprofessional behavior. More specifically, here are seven reasons that planners pull out of negotiations, as well as tips for you to keep them talking and book the business.
1. Lack of Flexibility
When you go to a dealership to buy a car, you never take the first price they give you. Planners often think the same way about hotels’ event proposals. Even if you’ve given them all the discounts you can from the beginning, they may think you’re just not being flexible.
That’s where communication comes in. Be transparent upfront about where you can give a little and where you can’t. When further discounts aren’t an option, offer a complimentary amenity, suggest a less expensive date, or see if it’s possible to move budget from one place to another (say, from audiovisual to food and beverage).
In the end, planners just want to make sure that their money is getting maximum return. “I think (companies are) definitely trying to their spend money smarter — getting bigger bang for their buck," says Michele Gebrayel, a planner for DuCharme, McMillen & Associates. “They're still spending the money, they're just spending it more wisely and efficiently."
2. Answering Questions Inaccurately
Sharing incorrect information with clients will completely damage the trust in your relationship. While a slip-up early in the negotiation process might be an innocent mistake, a client will undoubtedly start imagining what type of errors could happen if the deal goes through. Will someone forget the catering? Will there not be enough rooms?
Mistakes are especially difficult now that planners are so busy organizing so many events. In the 2019 Cvent Planner Sourcing Report, 37% of respondents say they organize 50 or more events per year, and 16% plan more than 100. Since these multitasking professionals have so much on their plate, there’s no room for error.
3. Failing to Pay Attention to the Details
Every planner knows that a great event experience is in the details, so they want to make sure their hotel or venue partners will come through even on the little things. And it has to start from the very first interaction: the RFP response. In fact, 32% of planners said they wanted better attention to detail in RFP responses, the most-cited area of improvement in the 2019 Cvent Planner Sourcing Report.
For example, if a response has the wrong name or dates in the wrong month, “clearly you didn’t really pay attention to the proposal at all,” says Leanna Mosquera, a meetings and events specialist at AxoGen. “I don’t have time to go through 30 incorrect responses for each program that we do,” so venues that provide inadequate information are more likely to get rejected right off the bat.
That attention to detail must continue into and beyond negotiations. Make sure you’re thorough during negotiations and in the contract. Be proactive about presenting everything you have to offer. Planners may not be aware that you can customize a menu or have extra picnic tables you can set up for an outdoor event.
4. Discovering Hidden Costs
Cost is, of course, one of those details that must be addressed from the beginning, and it’s extremely important to make sure you’re providing planners with final, all-inclusive estimates. The price will always be a major consideration, but keep in mind that more than half of planners said their budgets are increasing for most types of events, and over 70% of planners expect savings of at least 6% before they’d consider switching to a second-choice venue, according to the Cvent Planner Sourcing Report.
That means that cost isn’t the only thing that will earn you a planner’s business — so there’s no reason to conceal charges. Instead, work with your potential clients throughout the negotiations process to help them allocate their funds carefully and efficiently. Highlight the unique spaces and experiences your property offers and show planners how you can work within their budget.
5. Lack of Understanding of Requirements
In order to effectively showcase all you can offer an event, you must start by being very clear about its objectives and requirements. Understanding these aspects will help you be a better partner to the planner throughout the event life cycle, including negotiations. By trying to squeeze them into a space that’s too small or persuade them to change a core aspect of their meeting, you’re more likely to burn bridges for both this event and any future business from that planner.
In particular, MeetingAdvice Managing Director Steve Goodman says one of his pet peeves is venues “overselling the property, whether that’s with regards to how many people can fit into a room or some of the capabilities at the hotel. You get to the property, and they can’t execute like the way it was sold.”
Again, make sure that you’re transparent about your hotel’s capabilities and spaces — and that you’re confident you can deliver a successful event — before the contract is signed.
For planners, constantly looking at the behavior and attitudes of hotel staff members is not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of their attendees. “So many hotels take your business for granted, and the attitude that salesperson or catering manager has when you meet them is probably the same attitude that they’re going to have once you’re on-property,” Goodman says.
Professionalism in general is a key consideration during the sourcing and negotiation processes. In the 2019 Cvent Planner Sourcing Report, 59% of respondents cited a lack of professionalism from the hotel sales staff as their top reason for not returning to a venue they used before.
But it doesn’t just end with the sales staff. In fact, before booking a venue, Goodman studies the attitude of everyone from the doorman to the front desk clerk to housekeeping. “The level of professionalism that is shown by the staff typically resonates on what type of event you might have at that property,” he says.
7. Poor Customer Service
A great attitude goes only so far, though. The customer service itself is even more important, because when it isn’t up to snuff, it reflects badly not only on the hotel but also on the planner. In addition, excellent service must start during negotiations, not on the first day of the event. A bad experience with the booking process will prevent repeat business for 35% of planners in the Cvent Planner Sourcing Report.
If you can prevent that bad booking experience by offering flexibility, transparency, accuracy, good communication, and a collaborative attitude during negotiations, you’ll improve your chances of booking more group business and, even more, earning more planner loyalty.
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