Meeting planners know only too well that room availability is down and, as the Law of Supply and Demand predicts, prices are up. Higher prices for attendees means reduced attendance at conferences and conventions. The burden falls on you the meeting planner to bring the event in on budget, so when demand exceeds supply, you simply have to be a better negotiator to make sure you get the best prices possible. Here are 15 strategies to help guide you in being the best negotiator possible:
1. Look for leverage. If your meeting does not have to be booked well in advance and is smaller than the typical convention — 500 or fewer attendees — you may have more leverage with hotels that need to fill midweek gaps between big shows and weekend tourists, especially in a slowing economy. Or, leverage meeting volume if you can offer multi-year, back-to-back bookings. Check into off-season rates in first-tier cities. Look at second-tier markets, which may incentivize your group to gain your business.
2. Get every issue on the table early. Coming back with additional needs or demands after the hotel staff thought they had already met your demands is a surefire way to derail deals.
3. Be the only negotiator. Don’t let other people from your organization also contact hotels — they will confuse things and likely foul up the negotiation because they might not understand all the issues as well as you.
4. Learn about the issues with each venue and destination. What else is going on in town? Is the hotel undergoing a renovation or expansion? Is there a new hotel development coming on line? These developments may loosen up the marketplace to help you get better rates. What other services can they offer?
5. Role play. You’ve done this before. You know how these conversations go. So prepare by role playing your negotiation with a colleague, asking tough questions.
6. Establish your priorities. What is most important to you? Are you willing to trade off price against service? Are you willing to guarantee rooms for a lower price? How much lower?
7. Listen, listen and listen some more. Listening is how you learn about the needs of the other party. When you know what they need, you can be creative in trading off what you need against their needs.
8. Have a walk-away point. What is the price you can’t go above and that will force you to go elsewhere?
9. Change the value proposition for the other party. Make it more than just booking rooms. Will you be doing a press release about your event that mentions the hotel? Will you or the group be a regular customer? Will they buy other services? Will the members of the association return for vacations? Do you book many events at other hotels owned by the same company?
10. Establish competition. Competition is the enemy of high prices. Let them know you are talking to other hotels and even other locales so they realize they are fighting for a share of your business.
11. Set deadlines. By what date do you need this wrapped up? Remember that in a tight market, time is your enemy.
12. Deal with price last. You can’t negotiate price until you and the other party know exactly what you are getting.
13. Be confident and make concessions slowly. Don’t let them see or hear fear. That’s when smart negotiators move in for the kill.
14. Reinforce the other party’s cooperation. Be appreciative of the other party’s help and concessions. Reinforcing cooperation leads to more cooperation.
15. After closing, move forward quickly. Good deals spoil quickly. When you have a deal you like, put it in writing before memories fade.
The current tight market requires you to work harder than ever, challenging you to have more conversations and negotiations than ever. Employing these key strategies should help you get the results you and your association need.
Edward G. Rogoff is a professor of management and academic director of the Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship at Baruch College in New York City. He is the author of several books, including The Entrepreneurial Conversation, which he co-authored with Michael Corbett. He conducts seminars on Tough Negotiating Made Easy, Entrepreneurship, and other business and management issues. For information, visit www.newtonprograms.com.