Planners and suppliers come from two different planets—planners are from Saturn—hard to reach and protected—while suppliers are from Venus, “all about love—love me, love my property, “ joked Shawna Suckow, CMP, founder, Senior Planners Industry Network, during a session at the recent Religious Conference Management Association’s Emerge 2013 Conference in Minneapolis. But the disconnect that exists between the two worlds can sometimes be bridged by understanding those differences.

Suckow has spent the last two years documenting why the two don’t always see eye to eye for two books she’s written, Planner Pet Peeves and the just-released Supplier Pet PeevesIn a humorous, engaging, and interactive presentation, she outlined some major pet peeves and offered tips on how to improve the relationship.

Pet Peeve #1—Cold Calls

Since the recession, planners have become more time-pressed, budget-crunched, and frazzled. They don’t have time to talk to suppliers they don’t know, and they don’t answer the phone if the name on the caller i.d. doesn’t ring a bell. “Ninety-five percent of cold calling is ineffective now—it doesn’t work,” she said. Planners are cutting off access like never before—not only are they not responding to calls or e-mails, but they’re not attending as many supplier-hosted events or fams.

So how do suppliers break through the protected fortress? The key to the kingdom is the social networking site LinkedIn, said Suckow. “This is the one way we planners are letting you into our world right now.”

Planners have become more risk averse, so LinkedIn can help suppliers make that personal connection. But don’t try to connect to planners you don’t know, she cautioned suppliers. They will reject you there just as they would on any other type of cold call. The key is to join as many meeting planner groups as possible—LinkedIn allows people to join up to 50 groups. Start conversing through the group discussions and then make connections—always with a personal note, never the standard message.

LinkedIn is also a great prospecting tool for suppliers. Through the advanced search mode, you can search by market, geography, or keyword, for example religious conference planners, or reunion planners, within Kansas.

If you do send e-mail, don’t use a salesy subject line like “Announcing Our $60 Million Renovation!” Something more inviting would be, “Can I Get Your Opinion?” Planners are problem-solvers and people pleasers, so appealing to their desire to help is more effective.

Pet Peeve #2—Distrust

Don’t tell Suckow relationships don’t matter—they do. “If I know you, I trust you; I’ve worked with you before—you’re in,” she said. That doesn’t mean she’ll give you her business—that depends on a lot of other factors—“but it’ll get you in the running.”

Planners are under pressure to keep their jobs in this economy, so the last thing they want to do is get burned by a supplier they don’t know. They fear of getting hit with charges that were unforeseen or not divulged up front, or finding out the supplier can’t deliver on what was promised. “Planners hate surprises,” said Suckow.

Planners, like everyone else, are bombarded with marketing and the messaging all sounds the same. “Everyone says they are the best. They have the best this and the best that and are the best fit.” They use the same messaging, branding, and buzzwords—too salesy.

“Be yourself, not your company,” she said. “Be a real person, a peer rather than a salesperson,” she said. On your LinkedIn profile, don’t list your accomplishments like it’s a resume; make it more personal. Talk about your philosophy, how you got started in the industry, your involvement in your market segment, or why you like your job.

 “Think of it as a virtual cocktail party,” she said. Forge the relationships first and the sales will follow. When you do make connections, always ask when and how the planner would like to be contacted.

Pet Peeve #3—The RFP Process

The request for proposal, or RFP, process is a source of frustration for both planners and suppliers.

When it comes to RFPs, a planner pet peeve is when suppliers bid on meetings that aren’t a good fit and don’t match their criteria. Another source of frustration is when suppliers don’t meet the deadline. The third is when suppliers respond with an incomplete RFP or don’t answer their “must-haves.” Finally, they don’t like it when suppliers call seeking redundant information.

What drives suppliers crazy is when planners act like everything is an emergency, said Suckow. Planners say they need a response “to a 72-page RFP in 24 hours” when often they have more flexibility. A second pet peeve is when planners don’t let suppliers know they didn’t win the business. “You jump through all these hoops, get the RFP back in record time, and the planner never gets back to you,” she said. Another pet peeve is sourcing abuse—the practice of sending out too many RFPs, often through third-party channels. Hotels are getting inundated and just can’t get through them all fast enough.

The thinking is, why send out three or four when you can send out 50 RFPs with the click of a mouse? But that commodifies what planners and hotels do, because it comes down to pricing alone. If that’s all it takes, then who needs planners? The fact is it takes a lot more research and thoughtful selection to find the right property.

4 Tips to Smooth the RFP Process

1.     Put the goals and objectives of the meeting in the RFP so suppliers can better customize the proposals.

2.     Let the supplier know the demographics of the group.  

3.     List three to five top priorities for the meeting.

4.     Communicate about deadlines. If the deadline is too tight, the supplier should ask for an extension. Planners say it’s important to be on time with at least the basics—dates, rates, space—and that the detailed proposal can come later. The short-form proposal is generally enough information to get to the first cut, so suppliers should be able to fill out the rest for the second cut, if time-pressed. And, she said, planners must let suppliers know if they didn’t win the business—don’t leave them hanging. The meeting industry is a tight-knit community, so it’s always best to treat one another with respect because “what goes around, comes around. Be nice.”

Can this relationship be saved? Suckow asked.  The answer is a reosunding yes. "Relationships still matter,” she added. With better communication, planners and suppliers can become better partners.