Dealing with procurement, identifying key decision-makers, determining the price of services, and promoting the business are the four biggest challenges facing independent meeting planners, according to a poll of attendees at the lively closed-door session attended exclusively by independent planners at the Second Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum.

Moderated by Julie Hylton, director, industry development, American Express Establishment Services, Dallas, the workshop featured breakout groups in which participants brainstormed solutions for challenges. Then, the groups reconvened and presented their solutions to the other attendees. Here are their key strategies:

Promoting the business

“The three ‘Rs’ are critical,” said one participant — that is, relationships, referrals, and reputation. Also, developing and promoting a specific area of expertise is a good way to establish a niche in a competitive outsourcing environment, particularly for smaller independent planners who may need to partner with larger third-party planning companies to survive.

Dealing with procurement

“Don't oversell yourself or promise something you can't deliver — that's a surefire way to end the relationship very quickly,” said one planner. Another said that it's critical to show procurement officers how you, as the independent planner, can show value to the company.

Identifying key decision-makers

“Sell wide and sell deep,” one participant said. Treat everyone, from the administrative assistant to the president, like a VIP because you never know which people will move up. Another recommended asking other noncompetitive vendors, while one planner offered this simple solution: Just ask who the key decision-makers are.

Determining price

“We break down each individual component of our service,” said one attendee. The respondent suggested offering different tiers of service and different packages, and putting a price tag on each individual service in case the client wants services à la carte or adds on after the fact.

Other challenges, said planners, include staying competitive against larger companies, protecting themselves from idea theft, and building successful partnerships. On a positive note, 86 percent of attendees surveyed via an audience-response system said they expected meeting budgets to increase in 2006.