Blurring the Lines Between Sales and ServicesSeptember 1, 2013

Why Evolving to a Model of Collaboration Matters Now More Than Ever By
September 1, 2013

Blurring the Lines Between Sales and Services

Why Evolving to a Model of Collaboration Matters Now More Than Ever

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 3.55.23 PM-galleryBlanc,Eric-CSPI-WP-Website150Eric Blanc, CMP, is a tenured professional with more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He is currently the president of Convention Sales Professionals International and the director of sales, marketing and convention services for the Tampa Convention Center located in Tampa, Florida. He is a graduate of Florida State University with a bachelor of science in business and marketing.

More often than not in the convention industry, there are hard lines that separate sales from services. Finding ourselves in a new era of meetings where budgets are unpredictable, a heavy emphasis must be placed on streamlining operations and creating efficiencies wherever possible. As a result of this new environment, it is imperative for professionals in both sales and services roles to collaborate and embrace each other’s strengths to achieve success.

From the convention center and Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) perspective, there are many of us who recently took a hard look at our available resources and discovered that sales and services could have higher close rates and operate more efficiently and cost-effectively if they worked together rather than as separate entities. Traditionally, each has excelled in their roles often completely independent of each other. Sales works hard to bring the meeting to the destination by proactively prospecting, networking and tailoring pricing for meeting planner customers. Services excels in seeing the meeting through to the end, partnering with the meeting planner to ensure all details of a meeting are executed to client expectations.

Make a Planner’s Life Easier

By blurring the lines between sales and service, we force ourselves to see the meeting from the planner’s point of view. It doesn’t matter what kind of meeting is being planned, having a cohesive team that knows what their venue is capable of accomplishing and its unique features is one that is naturally going to make a planner’s life easier and increase their success rates. In a competitive environment, anything that serves as a differentiator cannot be overlooked. A destination team that clearly demonstrates collaboration between sales professionals and event service managers can be the differentiator if used properly during the sales process. For example, the service professional adds insight and creativity regarding specific factors such as food and beverage, flow and space placement if brought along on a site visit. The sales team can utilize the team as a key selling point and cultivate a long-term partnership based on performance.

“These economic times demand creative thinking and open minds.”

As a hospitality professional with more than two decades of expertise in both sales and service, I keep an open mind as to how we can enhance our industry and the overall attendee experience. In Tampa, we capitalized on an opportunity to improve the overall experience for everyone who attends and works at conventions. When meeting planners or trade show managers select this destination, they can be assured of a team effort when it comes to not only the convention sales relationship, but the flow of destination services as well. All of our destination partners understand how their roles integrate with and support our other partners’ roles in delivering a successful event to the customer.

At the heart of this concept is the GET (Guest Experience Training) Program. All members of the Tampa Bay hospitality community have participated in ongoing training that presents hospitality from the point of view of the guest. The program includes sales and services staff from hotels, the convention center, the DMO, as well as providers from all aspects of the hospitality industry including taxi drivers, restaurant workers and other entertainment venues for the destination — taking the concept of collaboration to a whole new level. Guests now have access to many different tools such as Yelp, Trip Advisor and CitySearch to voice opinions on their experiences with various destinations. With this instantaneous feedback also available at the click of a button for our clients, it’s absolutely vital for sales and services to come together to look at the guest experience from all angles like this.

The Top Lessons

With this valuable experience in mind, here are the top four lessons that can be learned when we blur the lines between sales and service.

1. If you build it, they will come. By integrating sales and services, seamless transactions are facilitated. Destinations that identify the key players who can inspire success all around can present a united front early on in the process. Build a team-based atmosphere in which everyone involved is held accountable, enabling planners to be able to fully trust the team as a resource.

2. Collaboration = lead generation. Forming productive relationships between sales, service partners and planners means each side of the equation will benefit. In a collaborative model, any one of the partners can generate the lead. A team-based approach to follow-through can lead to not only successful meetings, but repeat business and increased lead generation through referrals.

3. Keep lines of communication open. Planning an event is no longer a linear equation that flows from sales to services sequentially. Convention services managers should be integrated into initial phone calls, meetings and other communications to ensure details about the venue space and operational capabilities are considered in the sales process.

4. Never compromise quality. Meeting planners hold the key to driving the collaborative model forward by creating demand. Ensure that the sales and services professionals at centers and DMOs are qualified to provide the highest level of service and support. Professional certifications and programs such as the Convention Sales Professionals International’s own Seal of Approval — which identifies and documents the collaborative relationships between centers and DMOs on the sales level — can help prove the necessary structures and skills are in place.

These economic times demand creative thinking and open minds. The reality is that meeting planners simply tend to gravitate toward destinations that work as a team since these locations produce the most successful meetings. Traditional views of the industry are soon to fade into the rearview mirror as the collaborative model proves itself more and more. C&IT

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