When it comes to negotiating, meeting managers have long relied on relationship-building and getting to “win-win” with hotel sales staff. But is it in your organization's best interest to provide all your meeting specifications up front in the name of relationship-building? I say no.

The reality is that everyone can't win in a contract negotiation. Each side has to give up something to make everyone satisfied with the final outcome. That is what you should be focusing on: satisfaction squared. This is not the same as win-win, since it is possible that a meeting manager will sometimes be able to outmaneuver the hotel sales staff (and vice versa), but it can be done without any lingering dissatisfaction.

Remember that meeting managers have more influence than they give themselves credit for. They know all about the program, agenda, budget, and, more importantly, the inner workings of their organization as well as that of the hotel. The hotel sales staff knows what is important to them and how to negotiate it, because they do it every day. Hotel sales people need information to determine their negotiating options. If you provide everything before you're asked for it, you are forced to negotiate from the hotel's strengths, not yours.

You can avoid this by doing more pre-planning research for every meeting. This allows you to know what your meeting is worth to the hotel — always a key negotiating advantage. Being flexible with meeting dates and locations, knowing the usefulness of key contract liability and penalty clauses that protect you, and learning how hotel sales offices work are critical.

During negotiations, use your information strategically. Ask about the availability of meeting rooms and guest rooms before supplying all of your meeting information. Negotiate for the things you have to have, then trade what you want for things the hotel needs. Keep your budget to yourself. Also, don't take fixed prices, such as menus, at face value. For small meetings, it is OK to negotiate for upgrades in services in lieu of cost reductions. Be creative, but be fair.

Your organization's return on investment through negotiations is more important than ever, and saving money on meetings or getting value-added services could mean the difference between getting a bonus, being promoted, or even keeping your job. There's no law that says negotiations need to be one-sided, but if you disagree, go ahead and play the hotel's game. As for me, I'll make the hotel work for that profit every time, and save the relationship-building for the service staff who make our meetings successful.

Tom Carrier is a 20-year veteran of meetings and conferences; he most recently worked as a senior meeting planner for a company in Washington, D.C. A specialist in small meetings, Carrier is the author of The Small Meetings Handbook. You can contact him at smallmeetings@yahoo.com.

Send your Talk Back submissions and Letters to the Editor to Association Meetings, 132 Great Road, Suite 200, Stow, MA 01775; rmcgee@primediabusiness.com.