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Field of deals.

If you build the partnerships, the business deal will come. Nine peers tell how.

Each year thousands of association executives, meeting professionals, and associate members take part in ASAE-sponsored meetings where attendees are offered a wealth of one-stop contacts and information on the products and services that help them conduct their business better.

The key to supplying and finding satisfying answers to business needs rings in the theme and objective of ASAE's Management & Meetings FORUM '93: partnerships. FORUM '93, March 27-30 in Orlando, Florida, is shaped by the philosophy that the most successful business relationships are built over time and require trust, understanding, and personal contact.

As today's conventions pack more sessions and events into fewer hours, attendees must plan schedules carefully--including the time spent on the exhibit hall floor. What happens during those hours is serious business to both exhibitors and those seeking solutions. But the playing field is deep with opportunities, and if you're a team player, you're sure to strike a deal.

Consider these tested peer tips and approaches--from buyer and seller alike--to maximize your own floor time at the next meeting you attend.

Investigate the market

Elizabeth Goulding, director of meetings and expositions for the National Association of College Stores, Oberlin, Ohio, and ASAE's Meetings and Expositions Section chair, does much of her legwork for her own meetings at meetings she attends throughout the year. Her role on the exhibit hall floor is one of detective; she's "casing the joint" for her association's next decade of annual meetings.

"We have an extremely large show," explains Goulding, "so I make it my business to know the cities that have announced expansions. I usually go over to see their model and to see how things are progressing."

Goulding usually books a meeting 9 or 10 years in advance, and she is careful about the sites she chooses. "I ask questions about unions," says Goulding, "because it will make a difference if |the union~ is proconvention. If not, I won't book. I can't take the chance." Goulding also keeps tabs on hotel bed taxes and additions to area airports. "When I make my final selection, I have to have all the facts."

Research the product

Meeting site selection is also an involved process for Scott Hunt, executive director of the Endocrine Society, Bethesda, Maryland. "I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding where to host my board of directors, because it so directly reflects on me," says Hunt. "My choice is a statement of how I think of my board, and they hold me directly accountable."

Hunt can't always tell a supplier when he will need to book a meeting, but he tries to get a feel for the physical characteristics of four or five sites at each meeting so that he can shape his choice to the direction the society is moving. "I try to go anticipating my needs for several years hence."

While meeting facilities remain his most common need, Hunt often has other "research projects" under way. Last year he needed to find a broadcast fax service. "I worked the program book before going on the floor to identify all the booths I should visit to get the information I needed," says Hunt, who expects suppliers to be very knowledgeable about their products when he visits their booths. This year he'll be turned in to who can meet his audiovisual needs.

Fill all the gaps in your schedule

Duane Eaton, CAE, is vice president of industry programs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Delaware. He starts each meeting with a stack of specification sheets to hand to exhibitors detailing the number of meetings, type, size, past properties booked, special requirements, and a staff contact for each meeting.

In addition to giving the exhibitor a quick look at what he needs, "saves on postmeeting calls," says Eaton. Eaton also maps his schedule ahead of time to include all the seminars, lunches, and other events he plans to attend. This way he can quickly assess how to adjust his schedule when an opportunity arises to meet with a supplier.

Do two things at once

Don't turn the business switch on and off upon entering and leaving the exhibit hall, says DeWayne Woodring, executive director and chief executive officer of the Religious Conference Management Association, Indianapolis. Some of the major contracts Woodring has signed were developed during a conference meal.

"At any event or session, someone may say something that triggers a question. Flag it, and as soon as the discussion is over, go over and ask the person to tell you more," advises Woodring, who changed some of his own association insurance policies as the result of an informal conversation at a tabletops discussion he hadn't planned to attend.

Woodring isn't "swayed by pizzazz" in the exhibit hall. What he does appreciate is an uncomplicated floor layout. Before any meeting, Woodring makes a list of all the suppliers he needs to see. When he gets on site, he matches his list of suppliers with their booth assignments so that he can move quickly aisle by aisle once he enters the exhibit hall.

"The duration of the show is limited," reminds Woodring. "An exotic floor layout only wastes time for exposition attendees and exhibitors."

Calculate your movement

With so many booths and so little time, it's easy to lose track of whom you have and haven't seen in the exhibit hall. For Lois Larson Woods, CAE, meetings and exhibits manager for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Richardson, Texas, a little math keeps it all in perspective.

"I review the floor plan to see what makes sense from a flow standpoint and determine what segments I can realistically cover each day," she says. "I break it up according to how many days and how many hours I have budgeted" to be in the exhibit hall.

Another tip she has for attendees is to take plenty of business cards. "This seems elementary," says Woods, "but it's surprising how many people forget."

While she's normally on the buying side of things, Woods does have a suggestion for how suppliers can attract attendees: "Look interested and happy to be there, like your feet aren't hurting even if they are, and like you're there to help."

Have a dedicated sales program

John Metcalfe, president of Associated Luxury Hotels, Inc., Washington, D.C., turns prospects into buyers with this three-step process:

1. Create a "hit list." Determine beforehand whom you definitely want to talk to while at the meeting.

2. Know where to hang out. If the buyers don't come to you, go to them, suggests Metcalfe, who studies the meeting's programming to see which speakers he wants to see and then attends their sessions.

Metcalfe also visits the ASAE publications display. "That's where the |association executives~ go to find answers they need, so that's where I find them," he reasons.

3. Target your follow-up. Instead of sending a thank-you letter to all 250 attendees offering your services, "you're better off sending 12 letters to the ones you specifically want to foster a long-term business relationship with and whom you have spent time with at the conference," explains Metcalfe.

Think beyond the basics

Allen Haney, president of Jack Zima Associates, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, would add a few appearance tips to Woods's suggestions for exhibitors: Always take time to remove any barrier between you and the customer; don't just stand in the booth; and don't sit, eat, or smoke.

Beyond these cardinal rules of appearance, however, the image Haney wants most to project while at his booth is as the person best able to fulfill the buyer's every insurance need. Knowing who you are or want to be will help you sell your product or service.

Know thy customer

The crux of the buyer-seller relationship is one of understanding--knowing each others' needs and attitudes. Marta Hayden, sales director for the Monterey Conference Center, California, always attends associate member education sessions at ASAE meetings and always comes away with at least one or two new ideas or observations.

She remembers a particular exhibitor presentation on selling to association executives that changed one of her own exhibit practices. Among the survey findings shared by speaker Allen Konopacki, president of Incomm International, Inc., Chicago, was the contention that association executives want access to information now.

"Our tendency as salespeople is to say, 'Thanks, we'll get back to you,' but I came away from that session realizing I should be prepared to do business today," says Hayden. Since that presentation, Hayden has had a telephone in her exhibit booth so that she can call her home office to check on the availability of exact dates for a client on the spot. While she has found the demand for such urgency to be rare in most exhibit transactions, Hayden believes she needs to "give the buyer the option of checking on details" on site.

Don't knock your opportunities

Peggy McCollum, CAE, president of McCollum Management & Meetings, Tallahassee, Florida, thinks some suppliers need to become more aware of what association management companies are all about.

She and her employees receive a number of calls from people who don't realize that the company represents more than one association and that they are continually planning and executing numerous meetings each year for the groups they represent. "A lot of opportunities are lost," says McCollum, who usually "saves a few meetings to book" until she visits the exhibit hall.

To alleviate the confusion, her advice to colleagues is to print a thumbnail sketch of all the groups the company manages, including the type of association, membership size, meeting size and needs, and so forth.

If exhibitors don't understand what an association management company is, says McCollum, this will give them a pretty quick idea of the selling opportunities available.

McCollum's working strategy as she walks through the hall is to first look for herself and for others in her office for the products she knows she needs. Then, on the second or third day of the meeting, she does her window shopping--locating new vendors.

For the "new to me" exhibitors, she wants to see an "indication at a glance of what they have to offer. I won't go over unless I can tell who they are," notes McCollum. She suggests some sign or poster that clearly identifies the product: "printer" or "insurance." Or if they have a new industry product, she likes to see a large list of additional benefits. "Otherwise, if I already have computer software, I won't look."

Make it personal

"Detective" Goulding also takes the time to visit with exhibitors. She looks for people from geographic areas where she has future meetings or has previously held a meeting. "I may go back |to a city~, and so I want to maintain contact," says Goulding. "I must keep old contacts renewed and make new contacts because changeover often happens from the time I book a meeting to when it occurs.

"I still look for conversation," says Goulding. "The sales process doesn't occur overnight. It's the talk that makes the difference."

Don't Be the Last to Go

It's not too late to register for ASAE's Management & Meetings FORUM '93. For more information, call (202) 626-2767; (202) 626-2803 TT. Or fax your registration form to (202) 371-8315. For exhibitor registration forms, call (202) 626-2760.

Let Your Customer Sell You

The concept is simple: Consumers--and members--know what they want; let them tell others how they got it and why they like it.

Marta Hayden, sales director of the Monterey Conference Center, California, tried this logic at ASAE's 72nd Annual Meeting & Exposition in Atlanta last August. Her "guest experts"--association executives who previously held meetings in Monterey--were on hand during exhibit hours to tell their colleagues about their experiences at the conference center. Nine guest experts in subjects ranging from board retreats to citywide meetings answered questions from attendees with similar meeting needs and specifications.

Hayden advertised the event in a preshow flyer to attendees. She listed the times certain guests would be present as well as the type and size of the meeting the association represented had held in Monterey.

The idea for this new approach was spurred by the number of "Who can you refer me to?" requests, notes Hayden. Now she has a growing list of association executives as resources.

Great minds create alike. At the same meeting, John Metcalfe, president of Associated Luxury Hotels, Inc., Washington, D.C., brainstormed a similar selling point for his booth. The August meeting, during the heat of the Olympics and hoopla of the revered U.S. basketball team, saw the ALHI Dream Team--20-plus chief executive officers and meeting professionals who are members of ASAE.

Metcalfe also promoted the dream team prior to the meeting and made buttons for his recruits, who helped staff the booth for one-hour intervals. A contest for the most leads established during the hour "created a lot of excitement" among team members, says Metcalfe, and "allowed peers to talk of their personal experiences with us and our properties. I came up with leads we otherwise may not have because of the peer acknowledgment."

Spring Training

The exhibit hall at ASAE's Management & Meetings FORUM '93, March 27-30 at the Orange County Convention/Civic Center, Orlando, Florida, will offer some great "playing field" opportunities. But don't forget the training.

Eight excellent educational tracks--including exhibitor, meetings management, exposition management, and international meetings--will help you build partnerships in the exhibit hall. All sessions are intended for executives and exhibitors to attend side by side.

ASAE's Convention Center Training Program, offered during the four days of FORUM '93, is targeted to meeting professionals who want to learn how to orchestrate their convention center meetings.

Two new services designed to connect you with your peers are offered at FORUM '93. For executives from associations with five or fewer staff, a prearranged appointment will match you with FORUM speakers and other experts who can help you adapt session information to your own needs. To learn more, call Cindy Fellows, (202) 626-2755, before March 15.

Exhibitors who have specific questions or who are battling tough professional issues can speak confidentially with ASAE associate member fellows. To make an appointment with one of these industry leaders, call Susan Jacob, (202) 626-2760.

Karla Boyers is editorial secretary of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles; nine association executives offer pointers in maximizing attendance in meetings
Author:Boyers, Karla
Publication:Association Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Establishing a marketing function.
Next Article:The urge to merge.

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