John Buckley, director of convention service for the Infections Diseases Society of America, plays the long game. If he feels taken advantage of by one salesperson and everyone else in that city is playing fair, he just won’t go to that hotel. “Every two to three years, there’s a change in salespeople,” the veteran planner said. “I’ll just wait until someone else comes around. I learned that trick a long time ago.” Kendra Allman, director of meetings and events for the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association, takes a more immediate tack. “I guess you could always ask for a different salesperson,” she said, “if they have one.”
And sometimes you have to ask to go over their head. If you disclose what’s important to you but get a stone wall in return, She Negotiates co-founder Lisa Gates suggested that you “politely ask, ‘Is there anyone else who needs to be part of this conversation? Maybe we can bring in someone who has the authority to make concessions or decisions.’ That generally works,” she said. This is where doing research on the other party comes in handy, because you may be able to find out if others in your situation have done the same thing.
Similarly, when Buckley gets nowhere with a salesperson — usually a newbie who doesn’t have enough experience to talk turkey yet — he first tries to educate the person, then, if that doesn’t work, goes over his or her head and asks the higher-up, “Hey, would you mind you talking to them about X?”
A related tactic has worked for Colleen Bagnasco, CAE, CMP, senior director of events at Society of Actuaries. If she’s gone back and forth with a hotel with no progress, she’ll reach out to her global sales partner at that chain. “We rely on them to understand the value of [SOA’s] business in total,” she said, “not just that one meeting.”
For example, when SOA made changes to its exam system this year — requiring candidates to complete 12 exams instead of 10 in order to become an associate member of the organization — Bagnasco and her team anticipated that they would need to accommodate more professionals taking a prep course at a New York City hotel. They contracted with the hotel for a larger number than they ended up needing. “While we did see a surge of candidates coming through,” Bagnasco said, “they tapered off. We explained the situation to the sales manager who agreed to work with us if we scheduled two new meetings at the hotel in 2019.”
However, in addition to increasing the F&B minimum and meeting room rental for the 2019 re-booked meetings, the hotel also treated the reduction in meeting space and guest rooms as a cancellation, and tacked on a fee. After multiple and fruitless conversations with the hotel, Bagnasco contacted her global sales contact, “who understands our organization at a strategic level, the volume of business we generate,” she said, “and who truly is a partner.” As a result, SOA did not have to pay the requested cancellation fee and the two new meetings contracted for in 2019 were set at the same rates SOA paid in 2018. “It’s not often we have to escalate,” Bagnasco said, “but if we do, that’s what they’re there for.”
She added: “It is a seller’s market, but building reputable hotel relationships and leveraging the value of our business has proven to be invaluable in all markets.”