In the meetings industry we tend to believe that we work in a pretty unique business and we are somewhat hidden off in an unknown corner of the business world. Yes, we do sometimes face challenges that would seem absurd to many professionals in other industries. (But to be fair, I’m also certain that they face things we couldn’t imagine as well.)
However, in all of our businesses you can often boil things down until you reach some universal truths that will apply whether you’re planning a session for 1200 people, running a kitchen in a busy restaurant or providing life insurance for folks.
In almost every case the person making the promises is not the person responsible for carrying out the job. I’ve seen this up close in my slice of the meetings industry often. There’s huge pressure on the sales people to basically do or say anything to get the job. I can’t begin to count the times that I’ve heard someone in management say “get the job, and we’ll figure out how to do it once it’s booked…”
This is on my mind today because we are about to start a small bathroom remodel at our home. Just like a planner choosing an AV company, I basically sent out an RFP and invited bids. I had the typical range of responses. Clear down to having a few companies that just never even responded (I never understand the lack of a response to possible business, even if it’s just a note to turn it down politely). I took the quotes from folks who did bid, compared them and made a choice. My choice weighed the element of price, but it also hinged on my feeling comfortable with the sales person and his promises. (Sound familiar planners?).
I received a garbled call in the middle of last week from someone I didn’t recognize. The next day I happened to call my salesperson to follow up since I’d not heard anything. He said he needed to come by and do a change order for a small change that I’d done to the order. When he arrived on Thursday, he said the call that had been garbled must have come from my project manager, Edgar; who wanted to start on Monday (today). Great! He even called the project manager from my house to let him know that he was with me and doing the change order. Then, he called me back later to schedule an additional time this week to discuss some additional work I’d asked him to price out. We cleaned out the bathroom over the weekend and awaited the arrival of the crew this morning. (The salesperson also mentioned that they might not arrive first thing in the morning on day 1 of the job)…so no problem if they’re not here at 8am sharp.
When I hadn’t seen anyone by about 10:30am, I called the salesperson and the project manager and left messages. The project manager called me back.
He said because I hadn’t called them (i.e. him) back to schedule, that they’d have to start next week. We discussed how he was the person that I should talk to now about anything related to the job. Which is fine, something that I wish I had known that last week, when the salesperson called him from my house to discuss my job that was rumored to start today.
Sound familiar to anyone who has dealt with a salesperson and a project manger to get their AV done? Or a salesperson and a convention services manager to get their meeting setup? Etc., Etc., Etc…
In the end, the success of the job/meeting/event will be very much affected by the ability of those two parties to communicate and stay in sync with each other. I’ve seen teams that have a defined process and who work like clockwork in ticking off every box leading up to an event. And, I’ve seen the disappointed folks who receive a product or service that’s nothing like the vision the salesperson sold them.
For me, today’s really just a small bump. I work from home and can be flexible on the start date. But, if I’d made more specific plans based on last week’s promises by the salesperson, I’d be upset and we’d be off to a very bad start.
When you’re talking bids for services for your event, maybe you should add some questions about process and internal communications to your criteria for choosing a vendor? So often the focus on price drives vendors and planners to look strictly on the bottom line price stuff; and not on the actual promises that they are making to eventually complete the agreed upon vision for the event.
Using AV as an example, since that’s my best frame of reference. Here’s a few questions to consider exploring with your vendor before picking them.
Who will be responsible for my meeting once it’s contracted?
When is that person assigned to the project?
Are they a part of the quote preparation process?
Are they in the same location as the salesperson?
Do they meet regularly with them about upcoming projects?
Maybe ask a couple references about the process once the event was booked and how communication went for them?
Hopefully, you see where I’m going with all this. You want to know that the person making your show happen is well versed in everything you’ve discussed and been promised during the bid process. You want to know that the salesperson (price) and project manager (fulfillment) are constantly in communication so any changes are documented and sent to the right people in advance of the event and while on site.
Make sure that your team is really working as a team and you’ll have a much smoother and less stressful event.
As for me, I’ll be talking to both the salesperson and project manager again before Monday to make sure that we’re all on the same page at each upcoming step of my own remodel. Now paying as much attention to their communication as I do with any vendor that I hire to facilitate events for my own customers.
As mentioned in my last blog post, I was recently interviewed regarding event safety and security. The author found me via a discussion I was part of within an industry message board. I was sharing some conversations that were being held within the stagehand/technician community immediately following the RT. 91 tragedy in Las Vegas.
It's clear that the security and the safety of our attendees and guests has become a much more serious topic in the industry then it was in the past. From the CMP Conclave to NAMM, Ive seen numerous sessions being offered to discuss security and educate attendees about best practices. I'm happy there is a growing awareness, and I'd encourage everyone to spend some time thinking about your events and what risks they might entail.
Before going any further, I would say that I'm not an expert in this field by any definition. But, I am experienced in this business, and I'm concerned about the people who surround me in a ballroom whenever I'm working on an event. We need to all remain alert, (but not alarmed) to the evolving challenges of safety and security so that all of those attendees in the ballroom will go home safely at the end of the event. We all have a stake in that goal.
The biggest first step is just not ignoring the subject or assuming that things will be fine because of the type, location or attendees of your event. If you decide it's a lower concern, decide based on analysis and information, not on just avoiding it or assuming. Remember that safety and security also encompasses things like fire, power, rigging or response to a medical emergency. Not every risk is something extreme like violence.
Think though your event, the flow of attendees and the schedule.
Try to identify places that could become a problem should an emergency situation arise.
Is the room set to fire code so that attendees will have a clear path to an exit? Has your rigging vendor used the proper equipment and trained personnel to hang those signs and light overhead? Do you have an evacuation plan and procedure to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for in the event of an emergency? Those are just a couple obvious one's off the top of my head. The point is really that you need to think about them in advance, discuss them with the venue (who may have established many of them) and with your team.
There's so much to this topic, a post like this only begins to skim the surface. Consider checking in with folks the the Event Safety Alliance: http://eventsafetyalliance.org for up to date information and ways to make your events safer.
We all need to be looking out for ourselves and for each other whenever we are part of a large gathering of people. Don't let complacency or expense allow a preventable problem or incident to occur at one of your events..
Jon Trask, CMP, CMM
A passion to improve both the meetings and Audio Visual industries by helping to create better and more effective technology conversations..