By Katey Hubbard, regional sales director, Groups360
As a follow-up to our spring 2020 research into the buying journeys of full-time meeting planners, Groups360 initiated a second double-blind research study, this time focusing on part-time meeting planners from associations, small businesses and large corporations.
This group featured executive assistants, office managers and human resource professionals who plan multiple smaller events and meetings each year but for whom meeting planning is not their primary responsibility.
The types of gatherings these planners organize include board meetings, executive team meetings, company town halls, team-building events, training sessions, customer advisory councils or informational seminars, association committee meetings, vendor meetings, road shows, and satellite events associated with a larger conference.
Our biggest takeaway from the latest round of interviews is that this group of administrative professionals represents an underserved market for hotels and suppliers. With the right attention and guidance, this untapped opportunity could mean more loyal group business for the hotels that meet their needs.
Ready to resume in-person meetings
“We are a very personable company and people like to see one another, especially if there are new folks. It’s just nice to get everyone together. So I do see that things will return to normal, not next month, but maybe next year.” —Corporate professional
“Everyone’s so Zoomed out. Everyone’s upset that a number of our education conferences will be held virtually. Once this is over, I think you’re going to see conference attendance skyrocket. People are going to be so excited to get out and meet in person. It’s going to be great.” —Association professional
“Our business is relationships. They want to get together. They want to talk about the latest ways of keeping the environment clean, but they also want to play golf. It’s really about the cocktail hour. That’s where business gets done.” —Corporate professional
After the pandemic put a halt to live events and in-person meetings, the professionals in this cohort either canceled meetings or moved them online. The meetings that ended up canceled instead of held virtually included events whose attendees weren’t tech-savvy, offsite team building, training sessions that require in-person learning, and strategic planning meetings that couldn’t be replicated on Zoom.
There has been ongoing speculation about how business travel will rebound after the pandemic subsides. One sentiment these part-time planners shared is that their corporate teams, fatigued by Zoom, are ready to return to face-to-face meetings as soon as it’s practical. Their companies depend on in-person interaction to build relationships and conduct business, both within and outside of the office. Their associations’ revenues and programs also largely depend on live events.
When in-person meetings do resume, these administrative professionals foresee all previous types of meetings and events returning to a live, in-person format, except for staff meetings, which are easy to arrange and meet their goals, even online.
Least favorite part of the job
“Probably the least favorite part of my job is arranging these meetings, choosing food, and scheduling transportation. I don’t love it. I’m not a secretary. I went to college and got a degree.” —Corporate professional
“I like the idea of planning something and executing it, but sometimes meeting planning can feel like an added responsibility. It’s stressful because it doesn’t necessarily help me achieve the written pieces of my role.” —Association professional
“I think people assume HR managers have a degree in meeting planning. It’s always been that way — I did this for years in my last organization as well. They just believe that HR people know how to a plan meeting.” —Corporate professional
The planners in this administrative group feel a sense of satisfaction from a successful meeting, but they view the logistical work and preparations to be a nuisance. These busy professionals are likely to appreciate anything hotels can do to make the task easier on them.
During the years I spent in hotel sales, about half of my clientele came from this part-time planner pool, and I spent a good part of the sales process teaching them the business. Hoteliers shouldn’t expect them to be as well-versed in the ins and outs of rate negotiations, attrition policies, or what makes for a fair set of concessions — and more importantly, shouldn’t use that lack of experience to their advantage.
If you want to build strong, ongoing relationships with these professionals, take the time to guide them through the process and listen to the needs of their group. There is so much at stake in their types of meetings that they can’t risk anything going wrong. Once you have made their short-list of trusted venues, you will be rewarded with repeat business year after year.
Looking for a one-stop solution
“I’d like a one-stop-shop where you can see availability, average rates, the perks or incentives you might get. If the property is far from the airport, whether they have a complimentary shuttle, as well as possible events in the area for networking activities.” —Corporate professional
“To have a site with information on pricing and availability so that I don’t have to reach out and wait. I’d like to see the floor plan of the meeting space, A/V, restaurants, catering, pictures of the restaurant and guest rooms. If I’m looking for a hotel, visuals are very important to me.” —Corporate professional
When asked what they would want if they could have anything to make their jobs easier, many of these part-time planners expressed a desire for one site where they could see rates and availability and manage all the logistics of a meeting. They are looking to make the planning process simpler so that they can return to the more central aspects of their roles.
The other discovery was that these planners are unaware of the event technology and sourcing solutions currently on the market. One way that hotels can help is to invite these types of planners to collaborate on RFPs and the booking process within online search-and-book solutions such as GroupSync. Technology that reduces their search to the specific hotels that best fit the group’s needs can drastically speed up the process for both planners and suppliers.
Not a fan of the sales pitch
“I would prefer to not have to do all the back and forth on things like attrition, concessions and deposits. In an ideal world, I’d get everything the first time that proposals come back without having to go back and ask for more and more. Start from the top, let me know that I’m getting everything I can possibly get, and I can eliminate some of that negotiating.” —Corporate professional
“It’d be nice if there was a way to negotiate with hotels without having to call them. If there was a way of just pulling it up online and getting that started like Expedia, where you can see the rates and whether they’re in our range so that I don’t have to go calling all these places.” —Corporate professional
Many hotel salespeople bemoan the fact that meeting planners no longer want to pick up the phone. These planners certainly don’t, at least not in the initial stages of their planning process. They would prefer to evaluate rates, availability, rooms and meeting space online and conduct initial inquiries via email. They want the basic facts before the sales pitch starts.
Once your hotel is on the short list, these planners will be willing to talk details. Given the need to streamline the process, they prefer to avoid extensive negotiations. It’s not their personality nor in their typical job description to do so. To the best of your ability, offer them the most reasonable deal that will address their needs and requests while ensuring the group business is beneficial for your hotel.
Where and how to reach them
“Everything is more digitized now, so I would suggest sending direct email blasts to folks who are in this line of work or have meetings as part of their responsibilities.” —Corporate professional
“I subscribe to several daily newsletters about the news and markets. Every now and then, they have a sponsored ad that I tend to ignore, but I see it. It’s in the context of a relevant business newsletter. Advertise like that or post a testimonial.” —Corporate professional
Ready to reach this untapped market? The planners in our study said that the best way to advertise your offerings and services is to send direct email campaigns or advertise in their industry publications.
These planners are often members of professional societies that send out daily or weekly news digests. Consider advertising in publications aimed at groups such as the American Society of Administrative Professionals, the Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals, or the Society for Human Resource Management. When possible, include testimonials or case studies in your outgoing marketing materials.
Another gateway is through the events team on staff at their organizations. Full-time corporate event planners frequently attend industry conventions and bring back vendor information to the administrative staff at their companies who plan meetings. Keep that in mind when you exhibit or present at a hospitality industry conference or trade show.
If you have existing corporate event planner or association meeting planner customers, consider asking them for referrals to admins in their organizations, as that’s another great way to communicate what you have to offer.