Turn Sales Training Secrets into Savvy Negotiating "What the heck does computer negotiation have to do with meeting planning?" That's what ICPA President Terry Christensen, LUTCF, manager of travel and meeting services at The Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, IA, wondered when his company hired Wayne Kost, director of professional development at International Computer Negotiations in Winter Park, FL, to conduct a workshop

But when Christensen heard Kost's message-and learned his ten-step negotiation process-he was so impressed that he asked him to give a workshop at the 1996 ICPA Annual Meeting. Kost addressed planners only, but he made a point of saying that he was "not negative about salespeople. I'm just trying to level the playing field."

Toss Your Techniques Out the Window "The root cause of unsuccessful negotiation," Kost said, "is that you don't have any leverage. If you have good techniques but no leverage, you might as well be talking to a wall." The primary way to hold on to your leverage is to hold on to your information. That doesn't mean misinform your negotiating "partner." Rather, consider just how much extra information you might unwittingly be offering.

"Salespeople label you," Kost said, explaining that a given planner might be labeled a technical buyer, an economic buyer, an emotional buyer, or a coach. Of the latter, Kost said, "As a salesperson, I taught people to find this person. He or she coaches the salesperson through the process, answering questions such as, 'Whom should I talk to about this? What are their hot buttons? When should I present my proposal?' Most of us have fallen into this role consciously or unconsciously. Be careful not to be an unwilling coach."

Kost passed no judgment on the sales strategies he described. His mission, he said, was to make buyers aware of what strategies might be used on them. To that end, he pointed out some phrases for planners to listen for:

"You don't need to write that down; you can trust me."

This stems from a salesperson having only limited authority to say "yes," Kost said. Remember: If it's not in the contract, it's not part of the deal.

"Try it, you'll like it."

In other words, come on down to the property for a weekend on us. "This makes you feel obligated," Kost said. "You never have more leverage than right at this point"-that is, before you accept that invitation. So do some hard bargaining now.

"We can't do this for you because we'd be setting a precedent."

Your reply: "Have you ever given concessions to groups?" The salesperson will have to answer "yes"; to which you can reply, "Okay, well, why don't you give me a list of the concessions you have given, and I'll pick from those."

I'm Just Trying to Help: Why SPIN Works Not only have you surely experienced the SPIN sales strategy, Kost said, you probably liked it! SPIN is an acronym representing four types of questions asked by a salesperson using this technique.

The first are Situation questions. These are fact-finding questions: How many attendees do you expect at your meeting? What do your people like to do? Where have you been in the past?

The second group of questions are Problem questions. The salesperson asks what problems you encountered with your last meeting, what attendees didn't like, what you would like to change. Then comes the ploy-the Implication questions. The salesperson will ask how senior management reacted to these problems, how many people you think your attendees spoke to about the problems, and other questions designed to magnify the problem in your mind.

Why? Because then the salesperson moves on to the Needs/payoff questions. You can recognize questions of this type because they're hypothetical. "What if we could give you (fill in the blank with whatever resolves the problem you had with your previous meeting)?" The planner then says, "Yes, I really need that." And bingo-SPIN selling has done its job.

"Never tell a salesman that you need something," Kost advised. "Say, 'I would prefer to use your property,' or 'I'd like to see a proposal on that.' Most people who go through SPIN selling think it's very positive: 'The salesperson cares and wants to help me.' That may be true, but be aware that it's a sales technique."

A Strategy for Building Leverage What it all comes down to, Kost said, is that most planners today select a site, get it approved, and then try to negotiate. "Negotiation starts after everyone already knows where the meeting is going. So you're not negotiating, you're begging!" he said.

Here's an abbreviated version of Kost's ten-step "managed acquisition process," or How to Hold on to Your Leverage:

* Form a cross-functional team and get everyone's buy-in. "One of a salesperson's favorite tactics is divide-and-conquer," Kost said. "Make sure the team presents a united front."

* Create managed competition among suppliers. Maintain vendor attentiveness by continually re-evaluating your business with them.

* Rate your issues. Get management approval for a concession priority list. What must you absolutely have? What can you give up?

* Develop your own fair and comprehensive contract.

* Be careful about putting financial penalties in your contract. "That doesn't hurt them," Kost said. "Make it embarrassing. Put in a creative, personal remedy."

* Hold a bidder's conference. Bring the suppliers together in the same place to make their proposals. "This is a great way to humble an incumbent supplier and encourage competition," Kost said. Best of all, "it puts you in control."

* After you've evaluated your options, choose at least two suppliers to be in the "zone of consideration" and let them know that's where they are. At this point, start some hard negotiating. Tell a supplier, "You might want to look at the room rate you quoted. I'll be in my office all afternoon." Let them know you might make your choice at any time.Think they won't get back to you?

Once the voting was over at the 1996 Annual Meeting, Ken Pickle, manager, incentives and conferences, Safeco Insurance Companies, Seattle, WA, and Lee Kelly, manager, conference planning and corporate events, USF&G Insurance, Baltimore, MD, had earned seats on the ICPA board of directors. Pickle will take over the vice president, treasurer position as Dale Huff, Amica Mutual, moves into the president-elect post; and Kelly will take over responsibility as vice president, administration and training now that Sharon Gaudreau, Paul Revere Insurance Group, has fulfilled her term on the board. Past President Richard Granger, Allmerica Financial, also leaves the board at this time.

Other ICPA board members include Immediate Past President Rod Peterson, Mutual of Omaha; President Terry Christensen, The Principal Financial Group; Vice President, Membership Alice Smith, Transamerica Life Companies; and Vice President, Secretary Marcy Helechu, CIGNA.

Educational Forum Set For Charleston ICPA's midyear Educational Forum will be held June 20 to 22 at Charleston Place hotel in Charleston, SC, announced Sharon Gaudreau, during ICPA's annual business session at the November Annual Meeting in Puerto Rico.

Gaudreau, ICPA's outgoing vice president of administration and training, and newly elected board member Lee Kelly, USF&G Insurance, will plan the summer meeting. The Forum, designed especially for experienced planners and limited to 80 planner participants, is in its second year.

Supplier registration for the ICPA Annual Meeting is notoriously competitive. A minor delay in postal service can mean the difference between getting in or sitting it out. To create a more equitable system, ICPA Administrative Director Karen Hopkinson announced at the Annual Meeting in Puerto Rico that registration materials for the 1997 meeting will be "blast faxed" to all Hospitality Partners on the same day. Look for more details here as the early summer registration date draws near.

The Hospitality Partners (HP) Committee, a six-person team of suppliers that works with the ICPA Board of Directors to design and produce the Annual Meeting, has voted in Barb Smith, California Leisure Consultants, and Jeff Hewitt, Registry Resort, Naples (FL). They fill the seats of Peggy Campbell, Safaris, Inc., and Scott Flexman, Renaissance Esmeralda Resort, who have completed their terms. ITT Sheraton's Carol Lynch has been named HP Committee Chairperson.