by Gary R. Hernbroth

Through many customer (planner) panels, events and conversations over the years, several themes stand out, and the idea of what they want and need from a particular destination is as clear as day. Whether planning a full-tilt convention, or a smaller corporate gathering, or even a family reunion or wedding, event planners want to sleep well at night knowing that they’ve made the right choice in the destination and facilities, and also that that destination is going to be all it said it was going to be for their attendees/delegates.

Collaboration

Every business has its own agenda, goals, constraints, etc., but it works best if they can find a way to collaborate with each other to present a united front to the customers. I term this building “Alliance Partnerships” with businesses that don’t directly compete, but attract the same type of customers. For example, in my hotel experience, we used to team up with rental car companies and retail partners like Nordstrom for various promotions and sales initiatives. Neither business sold hotel rooms, but they sure did pursue the same type of customer we were going after – so we aligned ourselves and came up with some very successful promotions and co-branded events together. As a destination, it’s even bigger than just two businesses getting together.

Give and Take

It is important to note that in selling as a community, much like a relationship of any kind, both sides have to give a little in order to gain a lot. Whether that means sharing customer lists, splitting expenses, or committing the people or time involved to sell as a community, all oars have to be in the water together. It can often happen where all parties agree on the ultimate goal (making sales), but cannot seem to work out the details of how the community selling should roll out, or who does the heavy lifting, or pays for what. Ultimately, there is no alliance and the initial enthusiasm dies. Teaming up on sales calls, client events, ads, etc., can all be effective TOGETHER.

With so much competition today between destinations, it just makes sense to pull together and provide a united selling front. It also helps to be together on the service side once the business is booked, too. That takes training and education. When talking to visitors, front-line people in the various businesses have to be aware of their surroundings and know what is going on, and how to get there. They need to understand cross-selling at the grassroots level. In one destination that included a significant Civil War battlefield park, it was reported that many of the hotel front desk agents didn’t even know how to refer visitors to the site, let alone much else about it. Huh?

Think Like a Customer

Look at how a true selling community looks to a customer, big or small. They get the sense that a bigger effort is in play to help them, systems support each other, their attendees/delegates will be directed to the right places and thus be able to take advantage of all there is to do there, etc. They base their buying decision on many factors, but one of the biggest is about the destination: Does it meet our mission or goals of what we want to accomplish? Knowing that the community is pulling together and creating alliance partnerships amongst the supplier/vendors means a lot to them. It’s also what they can build their event marketing and promotion around.

Ultimately, the premise with this concept of a selling community is to get a leg up on your competition by creating seamlessness and being more about the whole than the different moving parts. Let the other folks in other less organized destinations go off in their own directions. Regarding an alliance, to quote a line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” If you build it, they will come.