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LYNNE SCHUELER
Assistant Director, Supplier Relations
The Principal Financial Group

PAST Schueler joined incentive house ITA in West Des Moines, Iowa, in 1988, having been introduced to the company by “a friend who thought I should be in this business,” she says. Like many people back then, Schueler had never heard of the meetings and incentives business. But she quickly took to it, and in 1992 she was recruited by The Principal to join its small meeting team.

CRED By 2008, the team had evolved into a full-scale department of 12 serving a company that had grown from an insurer into a full-service financial services firm. Schueler oversaw the department’s increasing sophistication and expanding clientele. “I met with all the vice presidents throughout the company to sell our service and to show what we could do for them. I got everyone on board.” She also promoted and explained the department’s capabilities on the corporate intranet. And she invited executive secretaries who handled meetings to come to presentations where the team explained the department’s function.

When The Principal mandated companywide use of its strategic sourcing department for all purchasing, Schueler faced the biggest test of her salesmanship. “I worked closely with them. I got them to understand that meetings are unique, that it’s different from buying copiers.” With her background and experience with contracts, she spoke their language. Together, they developed templates for contracts that complied with corporate rules. All contracts are signed by strategic sourcing, but Schueler retains the ability to negotiate with meeting suppliers and take advantage of the relationships she has developed over the years.

TURNING POINT “In 2008, many things changed for us,” Schueler says. That was true for most companies in the financial services industry, which found itself in a crisis that prompted, among other things, a reassessment of meetings and incentive programs. What has come out the other side is a streamlined meeting department, more efficient processes, and some creative negotiating. I am starting to do more preferred agreements and tiered contracts. Customers are beginning to see the benefit. This is very new to our internal customers, and we are really going to push it out there.” For example, she negotiated contracts with one hotel for three different programs in 2011, 2012, and 2014. It’s three different business units, three different budgets, and three different contracts, but doing the deal with one hotel meant, says Schueler, “our customers will have huge financial benefits.” In addition, they have the security of knowing the contracts are in place, which is critical since the company has little flexibility on meeting dates.

Schueler also recently inked a preferred-vendor deal with a destination management company at the national level, for which she negotiated a standard concession package along with flexibility on deposits.

ADVICE “Learn from every experience. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I am still learning. I encourage planners to get involved by joining industry associations or networking.” —Alison Hall