At a recent industry convention, I attended a series of forums: for planners, for suppliers, and a combined planner/supplier forum. I'd just moved to my new company from MetLife, where I had been director of event services, and hesitated to choose which side to be on, as I realized I was both now. So I participated in the discussions, and realized that we are all on both sides even though our titles, customers, and products are different. Consider:

* Suppliers compete for the planner's time. Planners compete for their executives' time.

* Planners need to manage multiple programs. Suppliers need to manage multiple planners.

* Planners use the Web to learn more about their suppliers' products. Suppliers use the Web to learn more about their planners' companies.

* Planners manage to a budget. Suppliers manage to a budget.

* Suppliers present their products to the market. Planners present their products to management.

* Suppliers sell planners on their product and then sell the deal to senior management. Planners sell suppliers on the value of their business and then sell the deal to their senior management.

* Planners have to justify their existence to their companies, ensuring that internal customers perceive their value. Suppliers have to justify their pricing in the market, ensuring that their customers perceive their value.

So the next time a supplier calls on you, consider it an opportunity to learn a better way of doing things. For example, a hot topic for planners at this year's conference was consolidation. Suppliers have been focused on consolidation for years in tracking leads, qualifying business, and shaping sales organizations to match. Some are consolidated geographically and some are industry-based. Why not ask how such decisions were made and look for parallels to your plans?

Many planners are trying to find ways to gain a stronger voice in their organizations. If you know a good supplier that has generated market share with your company from nothing, why not ask their approach? You might find valuable presentation tips and internal marketing strategies.

If you are a supplier, find out how the planner presents your product to senior management. Is it part of a proposal? What media are used? Are you being grouped with other products accurately? What systems and processes do they use for managing events?

There's much to learn from each other. Planners who view themselves as only "the buyer" risk missing great opportunities to offer new things to the population they serve. Suppliers who view themselves as only "sales" or "operations" sacrifice gaining an understanding of corporate culture that can help them navigate their own waters.

So the next time you choose your nametag designation at an industry event, remember that you're not defined only by that designation. Think of yourself in the other camp; maybe even attend one of their sessions. A whole new world can await you on the other side!