It was arrival day for PCMA’s Convening Leaders Annual Conference.
Most of the hotel and CVB sales folks were entertaining clients and watching the NFL playoffs.
Meanwhile, their Convention Services Managers (CSM) were working hard to discover new ways to deliver value to customers. Some things never change!
The event? Association for Convention Operations Management‘s (ACOM) closing general session.
I moderated a panel that included:
- Grace Jan, VP, Meetings, Management Solutions Plus
- Teri Jarvie, VP, Member Programs, Association Forum of Chicagoland
- Jim Goodman, Managing VP, Conference & Meeting Services, American Dental Association
In pre-event calls, we challenged each other to go beyond logistics and provide wisdom that would help CSM’s make their customers shine. We focused our discussions on two things:
- Revenue and
- Conference experience.
If one of these is lacking, it hurt’s everyone’s pocket book.
Four CSM Strategies That Affect A Meeting’s Outcome
We discussed four strategies that can make or break the meeting’s outcome.
1. First Impressions Matter
Account turnover (i.e. moving the account from Sales Director to CSM) can create negative first impressions.
Many hotels and CVB’s view account turnover as a process or form that is completed.
Turnover is neither of those.
It’s the client perception that matters. Turnover isn’t complete until the client accepts and trusts the services person.
Often, hotels and CVB’s put the client’s trust at risk. They have their CSM’s communicate all the rules of what a client cannot do. CSM’s should focus on what the client can do. That simple flip in perspective can make a major difference.
2. Last Impressions Last
After a successful conference, hotels and CVB’s are anxious to focus on their next group.
Not so fast! If they want a good reference, or maybe even a repeat booking, CSM’s and staff need to finish strong.
Two areas of concern:
- Crappy final billing
- Lack of post-conference data and recommendations.
When it comes to bill justification, associations have a coding challenge. A poorly organized or untimely bill can turn that great meeting experience into a nightmare to close out.
3. Help Grow Top-Line Revenue
What’s the fastest way to improve a meeting sponsor’s bottom-line? Boost their top-line.
Instead of venues charging burdensome fees for hanging sponsor banners or room drops, they should focus on two things:
- Covering their expenses
- Recommending unique opportunities that other groups have done
Genuine recommendations that help meet the client’s objectives carry more weight. For example, wouldn’t it be great if more CVB’s and hotels could help planners identify local speakers that can add value to the program? Many speakers reduce their fees for local opportunities.
4. Enable Informal Learning and Extreme Networking
At today’s conferences much of the learning happens in the hallways.
- Is your facility making alterations to allow more meet-ups to occur?
- Do you provide a seating area for your conference groups in pre-convene or public areas?
- Is free wifi available in public spaces?
- Why can’t convention centers offer cocktail or more exclusive services, like the Bistro Café?
During show hours, it’s time for hotels and convention centers to take a bit more risk and help planners keep the attendees in areas where they will conduct more business and collaborate. If an outside company can pull off the Bistro Café concept, why can’t large catering providers?
What else could a CSM do to help meeting professionals meet their toughest objectives? What are hotels, CVBs or suppliers, doing to provide more value?
Tahira Endean says
My goodness this can be applied beyond CSMs can’t it – to any organization that turns over from sales to service – this is what clients want. Very articulate insights, thank you!
That first one is so important. I had a conference this fall in one of the top hotels in my city, and not only was I never introduced to the CSM, they even switched sales managers on me without pointing out that the new person I was talking with was a replacement! Needless to say, it made me very skeptical of the rest of the process.
Dave Lutz says
@Tahira – absolutely! Nearly every company that I’ve encountered has friction between sales and service. Almost all of them try to solve it by creating a mandatory form or process. Rarely do you find companies that focus on the client’s acceptance. Onboarding a new client successfully is so important for all service companies.
@Stephanie, thanks for sharing your story! Did everything work out OK? Did they manage to earn your trust after faltering with the turnover intro?
Greg Ruby says
An interesting post and one that makes me regret missing your session due to a previous commitment down the street at the PCMA event.
During my time as a CSM at a convention center, account turnover was tricky. I generally tried to send a letter to the client introducing myself, using the contact info from the file. Too often, only the sales contact was listed and this person would not be my contact on the event. I can’t say how many times my initial letter was never forwarded to the planner I would work with.
I was required to have an event billing statement turned in 72 hours after the event was over. From there, it was sometimes a challenge for the accounting folks to type up the invoice. The CSM can resolve this issue by forwarding a copy of the billing statement to the client at the same time it is submitted to accounting, with the caveat that it is not the “final” invoice.
Normally, I would have been happy to suggest items that could help controls costs, such as room change over fees, or review floor plans to squeeze in a few more booths or sponsorship opps. However, you have to let me know what you are planning – I’ll never forget the hullabaloo that arose when one group went berserk in the restrooms with decals on the mirrors, stalls and urinal cakes with advertising.
Exclusive services are so tricky at convention centers, especially those that are municipally owned/operated and looking for every last cent of revenue to help offset their deficits. Contract terms are so specific that it is difficult to have flexibility when trying to work with clients. In addition, contract length can sometime hamper the situation. A ten year contract with a telephone/internet provider may have been signed when free wi-fi was not that important of a consideration for planners and the provider is depending upon those fees to cover his guaranteed payments to the venue.
I look forward to other comments on your post.
Dave Lutz says
@Greg, thanks for adding your knowledge and experience from working at a public convention center. I certainly hope the 10 year contracting period is one that is being challenged more regularly by Convention Centers. With the speed of innovation, agreements of that duration can certainly put them at a competitive disadvantage.
In your examples, I think CS people can be so much more helpful by picking up the phone and asking more questions like – What’s important to your boss? What would success look like?
Love the story about the stickers in the bathroom! No question that rules and regulations are created because of experiences like that one. How many days did it take for the Center to add their “no messing with the urinal cakes” rule after that group departed?
Dan Tushinski says
Thanks for the Bistro Cafe mention! We actually operate as Bistro Tickets and have good success in Chicago and numerous other cities. The main benefit, based on feedback, is that we are offering a gourmet, private dining option right on the show floors. Great way to have lunch with clients or allow your convention staff grab a meal without having to leave the floor.
Dave Lutz says
@Dan, thanks for the comment. Jeff and I saw the Bistro in action at Ophthalmology’s meeting last fall in Chicago. We love the concept and hope more shows adopt this strategy to 1) keep folks on the floor and 2) provide an improved place to do real business. Keep up the great work!