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Industry Education Not Compromised

“If vendors are only focused on selling, they are missing the boat.”   This observation was offered by one of the most respected educators in our business, Joan Eisenstodt, in the context of an online discussion assessing the merits of hosted-buyer programs. Joan suggests that hosted-buyer programs -- which, by definition, include a component of one-to-one appointments between qualified buyers and sellers and may or may not include an education program – are putting too much emphasis on the buyer-seller meeting and are less conducive to getting suppliers in the industry “classroom” to bone up on the business. She calls it a further “imbalance of knowledge” between planners and vendors.

Here are some points I made to Joan in response to her comments:

1. Try to equate the actual one-on-one appointment time of hosted-buyer events with the trade show exhibit time of traditional shows. The difference for suppliers is that rather than standing uncomfortably at their booths praying for a live prospect to randomly come along, they have scheduled meetings that the show sponsor has already qualified as a potential business partner of that supplier. Think of the time and money saved and the awkwardness eliminated by cutting past the “dating” or qualifying stage.

2. The one-on-one appointments don’t have to take the place of education, as they wouldn’t at typical shows. Depending on the hosted-buyer event and format, it is just as easy to incorporate quality education if the event sponsor wants it. For the largest shows such as MPI, IMEX and AIBTM, there’s plenty of it. For the smaller versions, like Premier Meetings Exchange and the other events my company produces, there’s always an education program. Whether suppliers participate, that’s another matter.

3. There’s such a thing as education specifically geared for suppliers that help suppliers do their jobs better. There’s also education geared to meeting planners (which makes up the majority of industry education) that allows suppliers to sit in, hear what planners are saying and thinking, and better understand the very people they are identifying and targeting as prospective customers. I’ve always been an advocate of both. For better or worse, however, I believe the only reason most suppliers would want education is to give them a better chance of generating business -- and not for some higher, simpler motive that education and knowledge by their nature are intrinsically good. If they believe they can generate business without sitting through relevant or semi-relevant sessions, then they won’t do it, no matter what the format. Look at the history of our industry and the patterns of supplier companies. Those interested in attending education sessions are in the minority.

4. Suppliers – and maybe planners to some degree – want networking and direct business dialogue at least as much as they want education. Case in point: As a member of the Executive Committee and Vice President of Marketing for MPI’s Greater New York Chapter, I am involved with getting people to our monthly chapter events. We have to pull teeth to get 80 people to our education sessions. Yet when we do a networking event, we get over 200 without breaking a sweat. Here’s a pop quiz: What would you expect the attendance to be at a pure networking event with no educational component in the middle of winter (albeit a mild one) at night on a wobbly ship right off the water in a tough-to-reach location in lower Manhattan? Did I mention it was the day after the President’s Day holiday? Answer: It sold out.

Hosted-buyer events in no way restrict opportunities for planners and suppliers to partake in education if it is offered. I think we have to be realistic about suppliers’ behavior, intentions and objectives in the first place, and how they strategize to achieve their ultimate goals. That’s why the hosted-buyer concept was created, and that’s why, in my opinion, it works as a cost-effective, productive business endeavor for planners and suppliers alike.

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