The best negotiations are often the most personal, which can prove challenging to facilitate given the constraints of many digital RFP tools.
Editor’s note: This is the third column in a three-part series examining the evolution of meeting negotiations. The first column highlighted the importance of two-way interaction between meeting planners and hotel sales professionals. The second installment examined the benefit of CVB involvement and the thought process of hotel sales professionals.
In the second installment of this series, I introduced you to Gary Hernbroth, a coaching facilitator at Training for Winners who holds workshops and focus groups with meeting planners and hotel sales professions. The two sides face many obstacles hindering effective negotiations, not the least of which is non-personal, digital interaction.
Most communications between planners and suppliers are made via email and sometimes texting, he’s found. There is very little telephone interaction, resulting in a lot of back-and-forth messaging.
As an exasperated planner once told him, “Digital communications is all well and good, but at some point in there we have to talk.”
The best negotiations are often the most personal, which can prove challenging to facilitate given the constraints of many modern-day, digital sourcing request-for-proposal tools.
Dennis A. Noonan, VP of sales and marketing for Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, knows this, which is why he prefers conversation over email. Real-time dialogue allows a better exchange of ideas, he said.
For instance, there are times when Dennis needs to hold to certain pricing, but he always will come back with an alternative suggestion instead of just saying, “No, we can’t do that.”
Meeting planners need to improve their communication tactics as well, being forthcoming in their requests, Gary said.
Clients should share their wish list from the get go. They shouldn’t use what he called “nibbling” negotiation, adding on one more thing after one more thing. The sales manager can’t go to bat for planners if they don’t have all the information. It also extends the negotiation process unnecessarily because each new request has to be considered and approved.
“Be up front,” Gary encouraged.
Maintaining a flexible approach
The economic pendulum has been swinging erratically since 2001, which has greatly impacted the meetings and events industry. As a result, hotel sales reps and meetings planners exchange their roles of buyers and sellers very frequently these days.
“It used to be that corporations did not look too carefully at contracts and would pay whatever the bill was. Now they question everything,” said Donna Richardson, senior sales manager for the Doral Arrowwood.
She champions a flexible approach to sales to accommodate the changing needs of all stakeholders.
Michael McCurry, a 30-year veteran of the meetings and events industry, takes the same view. In his blog “McCurry’s Corner,” he encourages corporate clients to regularly renegotiate their hotel contracts’ terms and conditions in order to stay current with the marketplace.
He suggested always prioritizing the issues and prepare to negotiate for them, gain an understanding of pricing and room rates among hotels by comparing them on various travel websites, and negotiate fairly with hotel sales professionals.
Donna makes it easy for her clients by offering a conference package, which sets a standard cost per attendee that averages out the room rate, all meals and continuous coffee/refreshment breaks, audio-visual charges, service and gratuities. That takes care of most of the details for any meeting, leaving the planner more time to concentrate on the client.
Coming to an agreement that makes all stakeholders happy is paramount. The contract is everything. It clearly outlines what is expected of both parties. It also sets the stage for the success of the actual meeting or event when it takes place.
As Donna said, “If the client is not happy with the contract negotiation, you are off to a bad start.”
Did I mention none of this was easy?
For me, the quality of the contract always comes down to the quality of the people. The GM who looks the other way when we need a couple of extra risers at the last minute. Or the sales director who respectfully implements the cancellation clause as painlessly as possible and seeks out a sister property that can possibly take our new dates.
I work for the mutual respect and understanding of the people who are looking out for long-term success.
Those are the things we’ll remember for next time. Those are the relationships we want to be a part of.
Andria specializes in hotel relationship marketing. With more than 18 years of professional experience covering client objectives and meeting needs, Andria understands the business perspective from the hotel, corporate client, agency and planner point of view. Specializing in hotel relationship marketing during a renovation, conversion or new construction period, Andria works closely with a hotel in brand development by creating customized communication programs for the group/guest to facilitate convenience during the renovation period. Andria is a member of HSMAI, MPI, M&I, PCMA and more. You can reach her at www.meetingknowledge.com or email@example.com.
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