Dear Sales Manager…November 1, 2013

How to Win a Meeting Planner's Business By
November 1, 2013

Dear Sales Manager…

How to Win a Meeting Planner's Business

CIT-2013-11Nov-DearSalesMgr-400pxThe economy is rebounding, and the hotel industry with it.

A recent analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicts that revenue per available room will increase by 5.9 percent this year and 6.2 percent in 2014. Occupancy rates are expected to climb to 62.2 percent in 2013, the highest level since the pre-recessionary days of 2007.

At the same time, PwC expects companies to book even more meetings and events going forward. All in all — as it’s becoming increasingly apparent to corporate meeting planners — we are in the midst of a strong seller’s market, and some planners feel as if they’ve become very junior members of a partnership with hotel sales managers who no longer need their business the way they did a few years ago. It’s making them a bit peevish as they wonder whether hotel sales managers are doing all they can to win their business.

“Sales managers are inundated with the flow of requests they receive. So they can barely get back to you with an answer since they’re trying to decipher who really has a serious piece of business.”

— Nancy Nachman, CMP, CMM, Chief Connecting Officer, The Meetings Concierge, Scottsdale, AZ

Actually, points out Nancy Nachman, CMM, CMP, chief connecting officer with The Meetings Concierge in Scottsdale, AZ, this brings up another question — do sales managers really feel that they have to “win” a meeting planner’s business?

“Sometimes I think that the sales managers are getting younger and younger, and just don’t remember 2008 and 2009 when the crash came,” she chuckles. “Business is booming everywhere, and there doesn’t seem to be a destination that I can call that’s either available or doesn’t cost much more than a year ago. Perhaps sales managers just don’t have the time to remember what happened in 2008 because the pressure is on right now to fill the pot.”

Nachman says that as someone who formerly worked in hotel sales she was trained to find and take care of customers. “When I was on that side of the fence I always thought that all hotel salespeople were created equal, meaning that all of us had the hotel’s best interests at heart, were hospitable, and always got back to the customer in a timely manner,” she says. But now that she’s a meeting planner, she’s afraid that’s no longer the case.

She’s particularly annoyed that she can’t get hotel sales managers to respond to her queries quickly, although she comprehends why that happens. “Sales managers are inundated with the flow of requests they receive,” she says. “So they can barely get back to you with an answer since they’re trying to decipher who really has a serious piece of business.”

Jacqueline Edwards, senior sales executive with the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, agrees that in order to win meeting planner business, “speed to market is critical.” Meeting planners want to know rates, dates and space as quickly as possible, she said, adding that it’s in her hotel’s best interest to turn leads around fast in order to get its foot in the door.

Electronic RFPs don’t necessarily help the situation, Nachman says, since they don’t tell the sales manager how many different countries a meeting planner is considering for a meeting, how many different cities within those counties are being considered or how many hotels within those cities are being looked at.

“So right now, with the economy the way it is and with demand so high, it’s hard to get answers from hotels quickly,” she points out. “And for me that means within 24 hours. And that just happens too frequently so that we have to go begging for answers.” She adds that while this could be the result of a salesperson not being well trained or not being particularly good at his or her job, it’s more likely that “they’re just so out-of-control busy that they don’t have time to respond.”

The Power of Personal Connections...the Hilton Way

Even in today’s digital world, the value of face-to-face connections has not been lost, according to Hilton Worldwide. Thus, earlier this year, the company introduced Connect at Hilton Worldwide, which gives planners instant access to event management tools and everyday business solutions through one convenient site –

“We believe in the power of personal connections. We understand the impact of a handshake, and the value of customer relationships,” said Mark Komine, senior vice president, head of sales – Americas, Hilton Worldwide. “We are committed to the success of each individual planner, which led us to consult with leading meeting professionals in the development of Connect+.”

Beyond a comprehensive hotel search engine, products and offerings accessible through Connect at Hilton Worldwide include:

Meetings Simplified: Recently introduced, Meetings Simplified provides planners with the facilities and services ideally suited for smaller groups, offering simplified, bundled packages with per person pricing.

Connect +: This enhanced online platform, located at, offers a high level of event expertise and planning support at 115 of the largest hotels within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio in the Americas.

Each of the Connect+ hotels are located in a destination city and either have 450+ rooms or 40,000 sf or more of meeting space.

For more information on Connect, visit, or join the Hilton Worldwide Meetings & Events group on LinkedIn. C&IT

Asking the Right Questions and Giving the Right Answers

Edwards points out that meeting planners get frustrated with a hotel sales office that isn’t thorough with a response and hasn’t covered or asked the right questions.

Nachman agrees that’s a problem. “Sometimes they just don’t seem to pay attention to all the questions we ask,” she says. “I may submit an RFP and come back to them with a list of five questions and just get an answer to three of them, so I’ll have to track them down to get answers to the other two questions.”

“Really read the RFP,” says Christine Cunningham King, CMP, a meeting consultant with Site Solutions Worldwide in Burnt Hills, NY. “We put a lot of time and effort putting them together, so we want you (the sales manager) to really read it and make sure it fits.” She wants to know “right off the bat” what clauses a hotel can include and ones it may have trouble with “because I don’t want to get to the contract stage and have you tell me that you can’t agree to a clause in the RFP.”

Sales managers “need to be completely transparent, communicative and completely honest,” King says.

Edwards agrees and points out that it’s also important to accurately portray a property so that the meeting planner has a good understanding of what that meeting is going to be like from the time the attendee registers for a conference to the time he or she checks out of the hotel.

“How far is it really from the airport to the hotel?” she asks. “What’s there to do in the hotel’s neighborhood, and how does that align with what a planner is trying to accomplish in a meeting?”

Getting a misleading portrayal of a hotel property is definitely a pet peeve of Andrea Michaels, president and owner of Extraordinary Events in Sherman Oaks, CA. “The one thing they should do is to be totally honest,” she says. “If I’m planning an event in a beach location, and I’m told it has rooms with an ocean view, a view to me doesn’t mean that you have to lean out of the window and have someone hold you by the ankles so you can see the beach — and then get charged an extra $200 for that luxury.”

Meeting planners want to know exactly what they’re getting, Michaels says, relating an experience she had in Europe that demonstrates what happens when a hotel fails to give her the full picture. She took a group to an extremely expensive hotel in a European city, booking more than 300 rooms for four nights. Before she booked the hotel she specifically asked about the possibility of any kind of construction going on at the hotel during her event and was assured there wouldn’t be any.

“When I arrived at the hotel on a site inspection a month before the event, the entire street in front of the hotel had been ripped to shreds,” she recalls. “They were installing a subway, so you know that just didn’t happen overnight. When I brought this up I was told, ‘Well, you didn’t ask about construction outside of the hotel.’ If I had known I never would have held that conference there because, on top of that, (my client) was a construction firm, and the subway construction was being done by a competitor!

“That’s why I say, just be honest,” adds Michaels.

Michaels is also turned off when during the course of a negotiation she is passed off from one sales manager to another. “I want to know that the person I’m working with will be the one I’ll continue to work with, and that I won’t be passed through five different people and end up with someone who has no idea who I am or what I need,” she says.

Which leads to another pet peeve for meeting planners, says Nachman about sales managers who in the middle of a negotiation leave the office without giving them notice. “I’ll call the next day and get a ‘Hi, this is John — I’m away until next Tuesday, and I’ll call you when I get back,’ ” she says. “And I’m left hanging.”

Solid Advice and Pet Peeves

Michaels has a few bits of advice for sales managers looking to win her business, followed by pet peeves.


  • Identify all potential charges associated with a program. “If there’s a resort fee, identify that with the room rate. If you say you have cable television, tell me it only has three channels, or if you’re in Mexico, inform us that while you have 54 channels, 52 of them are in Spanish.”
  • Tell the meeting planner what they’re getting. “Inform me if the hotel is on a busy street so I’ll know it could be noisy. Is the area around the hotel safe? Has there been crime in the area? Is public transportation readily available?
  • Make sure the staff is educated about the hotel. “I recently went on a site inspection and asked how many rooms the hotel had and they couldn’t tell me. They had to look it up.”

Pet Peeves

  • Food in the rooms. Fruit trays that attract fruit flies, along with too many huge, tempting cookies.
  • Bathrooms. Not enough room on a sink or cabinet to put toiletries; make up mirrors with no lights; bad lighting so that a man cannot shave, and a woman cannot apply make-up; and old and inaccurate scales.
  • Wake-up calls. The ones that don’t come.
  • Employees. The ones who are taught to address you by name but don’t know if you are a man or a woman and therefore don’t do it correctly; those who say, but don’t mean, “it’s my pleasure”; and those who knock on your door and then without waiting even a half second, enter the room.

Overall, Michaels says, she wants a hotel salesforce to give her as much information as possible so she can make a good decision about whether to book a property or not, adding, “I really can’t think of anything I don’t need to know.”

Trying to Fit a Circle Into a Square

For the relationship between meeting planner and sales manager to be one that is a “win-win” for both, says Edwards, “you have to work the way they want you to work, while still protecting the business needs of your hotel. But you also need to know when it makes sense to walk away,” she adds.

Instead of booking a meeting for the sake of booking it, if the meeting isn’t a good fit for the hotel, a capable sales manager will provide a different solution and suggest a different location and explain, Edwards says. “And the planner will appreciate that and come back to you time and again.”

King says she wants to deal with sales managers who don’t “try to fit the circle into the square.” If her group isn’t going to fit into a property, she doesn’t want a proposal that isn’t going to work.

“Usually my RFP is very specific, with date ranges and patterns,” she explains. “If the hotel can’t meet these dates, but still wants to give me a proposal with alternate dates from what’s in the RFP, then it had better be damn good.”

Communication Is Key

According to everyone interviewed for this article, communication between the sales manager and the meeting planner is the key to a successful and lasting business relationship.

While the development of processes such as electronic RFPs make interactions between sales offices and meeting planners potentially a little more distant, direct lines of communication should be open and explored.

“I still like the phone,” says Nachman. “I might send out the RFP electronically, but within moments I’ll probably call the hotel and find out who my sales manager is because I want a first and last name, the email address and a direct phone number. If I can reach out directly, then there’s a relationship being built.”

And there is still room for relationships in this business. “I think my job is to build relationships and close business for my hotel,” says Edwards. “And it’s through those relationships that you get customers for life, or through referrals. It’s just critical to my success.”

And it’s critical to meeting planners as well. “I’ve worked with some great sales managers, the kind you want on your side when you’re in a bind, and you’re running into attrition or a potential cancellation,” says King. “Those are the people — not the convention services manager — who go to bat for you because they see the benefit of your meeting and the potential of future sales.” C&IT

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