You've heard it a million times: 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. Planners can say it another way: 20 percent of hoteliers you deal with are really good at what they do. Is that about right? I believe the same goes for "third parties": 20 percent of them are excellent at what they do.
Planners invest an average of 30 hours on site selection andfor every meeting they manage. When third parties research destinations, evaluate proposals, and act as continuing resources for information, planners can spend their time on the meat of the meeting instead. The challenge for planners is to find a third-party firm that adds value--one of the 20 percent. Consider these questions when selecting a partner:
1. What is the third-party representative's experience? Comprehensive knowledge of the meeting industry will pay great dividends.
2. Do they fit with your company's culture? Would you hire them to be on your sales team?
3. Ask them to describe a recent or typical search.
4. Were they authorized by the client to do the search, or did they just send out "leads"?
5. Ask for examples of their work. Is it customized for the client?
6. What is the extent of their work after a short list of properties has been decided? Do they handle negotiation, budgeting, andmeasurement or do they leave that hard work to the client?
7. Will they do site inspections if need be?
8. What were they able to save the client? (Measure this by actual meeting-related costs saved, cost of staff time saved, etc.)
9. How familiar are they with destinations? Do they have personal experience at any of them?
10. Ask for references--you are hiring these people.
11. How are they compensated? If they will not disclose this in a contract, avoid them.
12. Will they get re-involved after the contract has been signed if there is a problem?
A Word about Commissions Face it, there are no free lunches. The big question from planners is: "If you get a commission, am I paying a premium?" The straight answer is, "No." In the 10-plus years that I was a hotelier, we considered commission a budget item just like payroll, fees to credit-card companies, and everything else it took to run the operation.
Knowledge Is the Key While on the hotel side, I dealt with many third parties who were inexperienced, and/or did not seem to know their clients' criteria for site decisions. All good hoteliers want to "tell the story" about how wonderful their property is for your meeting, and dealing with a third party who didn't know the client's needs was exasperating. The value of a third party's service depends on how well they know your programs, how they anticipate challenges, how well they can negotiate rates, concessions, and terms, and how they represent your interests. Some know the "art of the deal" and some have no clue. Third parties, like planners and hoteliers, are not created equal.