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I recently attended the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) Annual Conference and participated in the following session:
Meet Me in the Middle – Finding Compromise Between Planners and Suppliers
The session description read, “Join this frank discussion with both planners and suppliers on how we can work together in negotiations, planning and executing successful meeting.”
As I walked into a fairly full breakout room (a few minutes after the start of the session), the attendees were already split into breakout groups. The groups consisted of about 8-10 chairs positioned in a circle to allow for conversation among participants. I quickly found an empty seat within one of the groups, just in time to hear the moderator announce that we were going to start the interactive session. First, the meeting planners in the group were going to share with the suppliers their biggest struggles, concerns, issues, etc. with meeting planning in today’s post-pandemic world. Then, the suppliers would have the opportunity to share their perspective and offer some ideas/solutions for the meeting planner. Next, it would flip to allow the suppliers to voice their grievances while the meeting planners offered advice and solutions to them.
Well, lucky for me, I was the ONLY planner in a group of suppliers (mostly representatives from well know hotel chains and independent properties) and I was in the hot seat! I immediately started in with how I feel like it’s harder than ever to negotiate with properties, it seems like the level of service and support has declined universally, prices have increased with little wiggle room, my contacts at the hotel keep changing, and so on. I wrapped it all up with a whiny, “It’s just not like it used to be!”
The suppliers in my group were gracious with my complaints and offered up some ideas such as, working with the chef to identify alternative menu options/solutions at a better cost, sourcing non-traditional properties that may be a better fit for my events, etc. It was a healthy dialog and I appreciated the comments and ideas – and the empathy they had for my “problems.”
And then it was their turn. I sat and listened to them share their struggles about staffing, including examples of management cleaning guest rooms, supply chain issues, and their biggest complaint was how late everything seemed to be coming to them (banquet orders, meal counts, attendee numbers, etc.). They explained that since the pandemic, planning/execution time has shortened considerably making it difficult to execute the event at the standard the client had come accustomed to.
My response? Fair enough.
At that very moment I remembered something I always tell my pre-teen daughter about basketball – you win as a team, and you lose as a team. It doesn’t matter if you personally play your best game, if you aren’t supporting each other and working together as a team, you won’t be successful.
For the remaining time in the session, we talked about how meeting planners and suppliers can work more closely – as a team – to deliver the best possible event to our shared customers and attendees. Of course, there is no simple solution to the challenges both sides shared but the common theme from both sides was communication, communication, communication. The more up front you can be with your partners, and they can be with you, through the entire planning process the more successful you will be. Being open and honest with each other and having frank discussions about expectations, and challenges you both have, is the best way to ensure you are all on the same page. Something as simple as weekly 30-minute check-ins with your partners may be all it takes to diffuse a problem that could arise if you wait until further in the planning process. And remember, this holds true with all your partners including your venue, DMC, A/V provider, decorator, banquet manager, etc. – and encourage them to talk to each other too! In the end we all succeed or fail together so let’s remember we’re working together for the WIN!