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Be Our Guest -- That Is, If You Qualify

Are you the type of meeting planner who would attend an industry event at an exotic resort all expenses paid and, as part of the bargain, speak with a few industry suppliers who have paid heavily to meet you even though you have no interest in their products?

Of course you aren’t.

Does an invitation to a so-called hosted-buyer program constitute a “gift” to the planner for which there are expectations of business and services to be purchased?

Of course it doesn’t.

Does participation in a hosted-buyer program represent a “gift" to the planner for which she is beholden to her corporate policy not to accept?

Of course it doesn’t.

Do I believe those conclusions above?

Of course I do – or do I?

I was reminded of these issues in a recent social media discussion that asked, “Do you regard attending industry events as a hosted buyer a gift? If corporate policy says no gifts over $75, is being a hosted buyer a violation of that?”

Just to review: In our ROI-is-everything world, hosted-buyer events have become a popular model: charge vendors higher-than-typical fees in exchange for guaranteed one-to-one meetings with pre-qualified, interested, prospective buyers of their products. The buyers usually are “hosted” by the event sponsor – it is the sponsor’s task to do the research, find the right attendees, and pay the freight to get them there. That’s hard work – that’s why the fee is higher than a tradeshow booth. The model has worked so well that Meeting Professionals International has abandoned the tradeshow component of its annual conference in favor of this formula. Other events on the largest scale and of the boutique variety are supplanting those traditional shows tired of aisle-strollers either afraid to make eye contact with vendors or adept enough to scoop up giveaways and vamoose.

So perhaps a few ethically challenged meeting planners are taking advantage of the hosted-buyer process, infiltrating the event’s good people and good intentions, agreeing to participate even if their buying interest is not that strong or sincere, and in turn making some vendors wince trying to sort them from the true buyers. Event sponsors’ reputations are on the line – they have to get beyond the mere name value of the buyer and truly understand his or her buying potential, buying patterns, buying needs, and decision-making authority.

When done correctly, the payoff is enormous for all sides. I attended a hosted-buyer event last year as a supplier, coughed up the entry fee, and in two days had 40 twenty-minute meetings. About 38 of the buyers were legit, 15 were A prospects, five became customers, and I for one became a believer – as the paid participant no less. Looking for a frightening exercise? Try calculating the cost of sale to find 40 potential buyers and five new pieces of business. By any measurement, a lot of smiles and miles.

As my social media thread-bearer correctly deduced, “Being a hosted buyer with the right intent to see possible vendors and network within the industry does not constitute a 'gift' but good business.” There is no unauthorized “exchange of goods” heaped upon the hosted buyer, and there are no promises or commitments made or implied by the buyers themselves – just that they are the right buyers.

What’s worse than incentivizing tradeshow attendees to stop by a booth merely to get their bingo cards punched in order to qualify for who knows what? Maybe it’s a hosted buyer who is not a buyer at all – but rather a hosted liar? Hosted-buyer event producers deserve much credit for doing the necessary legwork and producing intelligent business environments, for weeding out the questionable buyers, and for identifying and locking in the right ones. Bringing buyers and sellers together. That’s the age-old mantra – long may it live.

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