The results are in. The hosted buyer program offers well-matched networking opportunities, generates ROI and provides the accountability needed to justify travel and time spent out of office.
The question is no longer whether the hosted buyer program is worth participating in or not. It is. The challenge now, according to event veterans, is in how you participate. Real success comes from choosing and planning for the right hosted buyer programs for your business—there are several to consider—and knowing what to do when you get there.
And in today’s business climate, when transparency and honesty are paramount, it starts with laying all your cards on the table.
Have a Game Plan "I candidly think that the economic train wreck we all experienced forced us to have open and candid discussions," said Michael Dominguez, vice president of global sales for Loews Hotels and Resorts. "It is part of the new reality of how we do business. People still do business with people they know and trust."
Realizing how productive and effective the hosted buyer model is in making business connections, Dominguez has been participating in the hosted buyer program "since it began" and will continue to do so where it makes sense.
"As most industry shows are moving to this format, it is necessary for us to get more practice in these environments," he said.
"As you get to know each organization’s hosted buyer program style, you can accommodate each year," said Travel Leaders Franchise Group meeting planner Lory Taylor, who has planned meetings for 12 years.
MPI’s World Education Congress (WEC) and DMAI’s Destinations Showcase are currently Taylor’s programs of choice, not because one event is better than the other, but because these two hosted buyer programs in particular focus on the kind of vendors she is looking for.
"It’s getting an opportunity to meet with people that match my meeting needs, whether it’s with destinations, specific hotel chains or other types of vendors," said Taylor, who manages 15 events a year.
Play Your Cards Right "The biggest thing I have heard is ’I need ROI to keep exhibiting,’ and that hasn’t changed," said Meaghan Ferrazza, event manager at MPI. "The ROI is so much higher on the hosted buyer program. You know who you are meeting with, so you are able to put a business plan together ahead of time to match their needs. Your job is to be prepared."
Knee-deep in organizing and managing all aspects of WEC 2011, scheduled for July 23-26 in Orlando, Florida, Ferrazza is effectively responsible for collaboratively bringing buyers and suppliers to the table based on suitability.
"The biggest question I get from suppliers is, ’How do we know if these planners are qualified?’" Ferrazza said. "It is in the selection process, and suppliers need to know that. You have to make sure there are qualified planners for everyone, and you always have to have more planners than suppliers in the pool."
Hosted buyer selection criteria for WEC is based on purchasing authority, potential for future business, geographical representation, annual budget and the need for a mixture of organizations.
Planners are given access to the list of participating suppliers four weeks prior to the event to gauge audience mix and review their profiles respectively. If a planner is interested in meeting with a supplier, he or she clicks on the supplier’s profile, checks his or her schedule and selects a time. An email is then sent to the supplier with the ’invitation to meet.’ The supplier can either accept or decline the invitation. Two weeks before the event date, suppliers have the opportunity to do the same.
For Tammy Seldon, executive director of Giant Screen Cinema Association, that "supplier list" is key.
"I know it is a delicate balancing act, as they [event organizers] get additional vendors, as they get additional buyers, but we need to be allowed as much time as possible to book meetings," Seldon said.
With two events a year to plan for a 300-strong membership, representing more than 1,500 people, Seldon has participated in the hosted buyer programs of WEC, EIBTM, IMEX and Successful Meetings University over the years.
"The way I determine if the program is beneficial for me is I see who I can be meeting with and see if they would be potential suppliers or cities that I would work with," she said.
Seldon went to EIBTM 2006 in London and was invited on a FAM immediately afterwards. What she learned and took away from the back-to-back events, from an education and exposure perspective, encouraged her to book a city she never would have considered. The association’s annual Film Expo was held in London in 2008.
Seldon strategically attends every activity offered at an event. In addition to participating in the hosted buyer program, she meets with other planners because "the networking is very valuable," walks the floor "for additional opportunities that I might not have had" and goes to the educational seminars.
Content and education makes, in fact, the value of the overall event that much higher for Seldon.
"If there is an educational component, I would be more likely to attend," she said.
Know Your "Opponent" "I always appreciate when a supplier has done some homework on me as a buyer," Seldon said.
She recommends that suppliers make sure their profiles are as complete and accurate as possible.
"I have booked meetings only to realize that I completely misunderstood what the company offers," she said. "If a supplier, after reviewing my company and what my goals are, feels I wouldn’t be a match, then say no to a meeting request to save their time and mine."
Travel Leaders’ Taylor suggests doing due diligence when at looking at who is available and hone in on who really meets your needs.
"Don’t make appointments just to make appointments, and make them sooner rather than later," Taylor said.
And time management is critical. Hosted buyer program appointments predominantly range anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. WEC’s appointments, in particular, are 10 minutes, with a three-minute intermission in between.
"The biggest benefit is you’re going to the show knowing who you’re going to meet," Ferrazza said. "You know the planner’s profile and what he or she has a need for. You are so many steps ahead. You can showcase your property and services to the right person, in the right way."
It becomes a high-touch quality dialogue that sometimes cannot achieve in a traditional booth setting, says Dominguez, who has booked business directly from the interaction as well as started conversations with new customers that will be longer term in nature.
"It has forced sales managers to ask very direct, digging questions," Dominguez said. "Due to the time allotted, it forces salespeople to really be quiet and listen. What can we learn about the customer?"
A Winning Hand "Show up for appointments and be respectful, listen and keep an open mind of all suppliers," Taylor said.
When looking for a new online registration tool last year, Taylor was able to meet with two companies at WEC to find out what they offered. While she ended up not going with either vendor, in her mind, just meeting the right contacts within each company and becoming educated on their products and services was invaluable time spent for future endeavors.
"Sometimes you think this is never going to work for me, but as you go along in the conversation you realize there are opportunities there," Taylor said.
And, if you’ve played your cards right, as Ferrazza says, ultimately, it’s business done.
Taylor now goes to appointments with RFPs in her hand. One+
Hosted Buyer Stats - Other aspects of trade shows have shown some decline since 2008, hosted buyer is on the rise. - 88 percent of the hosted buyers at WEC 2010 said they connected with suppliers who matched their needs. - 97 percent of hosted buyers at WEC 2010 said they planned to call on suppliers they met for future business. - 99% of hosted buyers at EIBTM 2009 met their commercial objectives. - In 2009, EIBTM saw a 3 percent increase in attendance and a 4 percent increase in prescheduled appointments; In 2010, the event saw a 5 percent increase in attendance and a 1.35 percent increase in prescheduled appointments. - More than US$450 million in business was contracted from the IMEX 2010 hosted buyer program in Frankfurt, Germany.
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