Originally published Meetings Today blog
My number one “strength” is “connectedness.” And though I dislike networking in the traditional sense (the kind that is done at big events with too much noise and no time for deeper conversation—check out this video podcast for more), connecting with others, and learning more about their ideas and opinions and experiences, matters greatly.
After all, I learned great networking skills from Susan RoAne, the “Mingling Maven,” years ago at an industry meeting and I still follow her work and the principles learned because she understands the value of it, and knows how to network, beyond the superficial.
Years ago, serving on the board and then as president of the MPI Potomac Chapter, I remember using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other tools in a facilitated exercise to build a better board through our relationships. I confirmed that for me to work well with someone, I had to be connected in more than one way.
That is, I wanted to know who I was working with—and their specific interests—in order to be able to connect more than casually.
That has served me well in many years in the industry and business … until this summer. I recently was “taken in” during a critical negotiation when I thought someone really wanted to know me and have me know them. It turns out they didn’t. My involvement was merely a means to an end, and soon the honesty went straight out the window.
Some of what a client and I went through will form a backdrop for this upcoming Meetings Today webinar on Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, which Kelly Bagnall, Esq., a meetings industry attorney on the hotel side, and I will co-present. You’ll want to tune in for specific examples.
What happened this summer caused me to reflect back on more positive outcomes resulting from strong industry relationships. I thought about a dinner during a PCMA meeting, who was there and why, and what was said. At this dinner and at others, outside the bustle of the larger meeting and official (and invited) events, friends could catch up with each other, make connections and talk in a more intimate setting, my preferred way of networking and building relationships.
At one dinner of 30, it was suggested that introductions include “how I’m connected to Joan.” It was fascinating to hear: the planners said they’d learned from me in a class or from my writing; the suppliers said they’d experienced a tough but fair negotiation.
In another instance where connectedness paid off, I was working for a client at whose organization there had been some “irregular activity” [I can’t call it criminal because it was never prosecuted]: planners, including those at the most senior level, set up a side company (to their existing employment), and in the name of that company, inserted a commissionable page into contracts after the contracts were signed by their employer.
The planners then went further and booked bogus meetings using the insertion and the electronic signature of the CEO. All this was uncovered in an audit, they were fired, and I was brought in to fix the damage. A connection with an industry attorney—lawyers and hotel lawyers are not our enemies!—who represented the hotel owners knew enough about me and my integrity to know that I wanted to make the situation right for the client and for the hotel owner and management companies. Without the existing relationship and a reputation for ethical behavior, openness in dealing with the situation, and the connection made, the results for the association might have been very costly.
We don’t have to be “best” or even good friends. It simply helps for us to know about the other to understand what makes us tick and how we operate. Pretending you want to get to know each other when you are, instead, manipulating a situation, is not sincere and in the end, doesn’t enrich the trust that should be built in a complex negotiation.
In the sidebar you’ll see that more than one person mentions the ethics of how to work in this industry. There are varying guidelines at each of the industry association’s sites and none are exactly alike. For those who are CMPs, the Events Industry Council offers its own set of guidelines. Honor your employer’s or client’s code of conduct and others.
It all seems simple and yet, due to the bottom line- and date-focused nature of the industry, we tend to not play fairly. Below are some suggestions about how to build and keep relationships based on my own personal experience. Over the years I’ve worked and built relationships with people who work in sales, convention services and law.
Those relationships, and others this summer after the unpleasant one, allowed me to find solutions to sticky situations in which my clients’ dollars were at stake—situations where I would not benefit directly. (I am paid by fees from clients vs. commissions. That’s relevant because in each case where a relationship paid dividends, my pockets were not further enriched because of the relationships and work).
Here are five guidelines that I think we can all follow to ethically advance our work and build better relationships.
1. Play fairly. Groups should send full RFPs detailing all that’s important (including any non-negotiable items). Suppliers should send proposals that answer all the questions asked in the RFP and others anticipated based on research. Establish realistic deadlines and determine how you both can meet them.
2. Work honestly. Tell the truth in all aspects of your work. Don’t rush through a negotiation just to meet a deadline that involves bonuses for one party especially if it results in an incomplete contract or doesn’t allow time to re-read the contract to correct inconsistencies (See Tammi Runzler’s comments in the Friday With Joan sidebar).
3. Be sincere. Don’t fake interest in the other person if it’s not there. Still be polite and listen to what they have to say. You may be surprised at what you find in common that will enhance the relationship, even if you don’t become best friends, or friends at all.
4. Operate ethically. Become better acquainted with your company’s ethics policy and that of your clients and customers. Planners, stop expecting supplier partners to treat you with a gift or provide personal perks. Suppliers stop offering perks to planners to get a contract signed. In the end, it only furthers the perception about and actions of our industry that draw negative attention and can result in job losses—mostly for planners.
Planners, take a supplier to lunch instead of being expected to being treated (I confess to thinking about the brilliant late Stan Freberg and his “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.” One excerpt can be heard here, followed by the full recording).
5. Keep friendships and business relationships separate. If you’re negotiating with someone who has become a friend because you got to know each other through industry activities or you found something in common while doing business together, remember to take off your “friend hat” and put on your “business hat” and be explicit about doing so. It keeps the relationship and the outcomes cleaner.
And now here are some final words to consider.
A friend and cancer patient, Karen Francis, wrote the words quoted below as I was considering the content of this blog post. I share it with her permission:
“As I think about the value of the ‘seasoned nurse’ … I am reminded of the many ‘seasoned bankers’ that groomed my career and contributed to the tremendous success … We all knew how … to satisfy the client’s needs at any cost, and how to beg for forgiveness instead of asking for permission in bending the rules. We were ‘client driven’ not ‘sales [driven]’ and we were all ‘old school,’ trained and developed within by each other’s career experiences.”
To help us become better—and more ethical—negotiators and connectors, I asked people who currently or have been in industry sales and those who help hire for their take on doing business. I think you’ll find their responses helpful, no matter if you’re new to the industry or an old dog learning new tricks.
And please add your tips in the comments. It is complicated, at times, when we form these friendships that may last (or not) after the “deal” is over. We are potentially going to do business together again. It is best to ensure an honest relationship from the start.
Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt