If destinations, hotels and venues target the client’s professional conference organiser (PCO) in the pitching process, lucrative MICE business will follow, says Carolyn Childs, co-founder, MyTravelResearch.com
‘Magician’ PCOs are creative control freaks. Understand them to win MICE business, says Childs
Not winning as much meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) business as you would like? If that’s the case, you need to better understand your MICE customer – and the dark arts and magician-like powers of the PCO (the professional conference organiser).
It’s the oldest saying in marketing that you need to know your customer. Yet I continue to see hotels, venues and destinations that make elementary mistakes in their relationships with MICE buyers because they don’t understand their needs.
One of the most common mistakes is to focus solely on the end consumer: the company for whom the event or incentive trip is being organised – and worse, solely on the chief executive (or sometimes the chief executive’s wife). Now don’t get me wrong. They will be the one who makes the final decision, so you do need to meet their needs.
But to achieve consistent success in winning business you need to recognise that it is more complex. By ignoring this, your win rate will be lower.
Think of the decision as being like a political summit. The world leaders get together for a few days. At the end they issue a communiqué announcing the result.
To outsiders it seems that the decision is made at the summit. But mostly, it is only the final details that are handled there. The real work has been done beforehand over many weeks and months by public servants and political advisors. Indeed, insiders know this so well, they have a term for people like this: Sherpas. Just as no mountain climber would stand on Everest without Sherpas, no MICE decision is made without the skill, ingenuity and pruning of options by the PCO or incentive organisers (or sometimes a powerful EA).
I’ve interviewed hundreds of such people over the years. And they tell a very consistent story. The proposal that they lay before the final decision-maker has been carefully crafted. There may be several options, but the Sherpas will make a clear recommendation and it is very rare that that recommendation is not selected. That is why your relationship with this intermediary is critical.
In interviewing these organisers over the years I have observed that they have a very specific personality type. By understanding this personality and tailoring your approach to meet their needs you can increase your success rate in winning MICE business.
Typically, people who organise incentive trips or become PCOs have a life journey that involved either working in operations or project management roles. They moved on because it didn’t fulfil their creative needs – or they were on the supply side in the travel industry (often in a more creative role) and moved on because they got so frustrated with the experience. They felt they could do better.
In other words, they are that rarest all creatures: a creative control freak. In working with them, you should work with both aspects of their personality.
Fortunately there are tools to help you.
Brand professionals use a psychological framework called archetypes to understand their customers’ needs and it works well for your customer. The one below (created by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson) is an excellent one.
The MICE organiser is a Magician. They make magic happen by understanding how everything works and finding creative ways to make the impossible, possible. It is this combination of the small details and the creativity that makes successful events work.
As magicians, MICE organisers fear unknown setbacks. They want as far as possible to make sure nothing will go wrong. They accept that things will go wrong, but they look to their partners to make sure that this can be fixed quickly.
So to deal successfully with PCOs, the things to remember are:
* Give them all the facts at your fingertips, look professional, be prepared. This will give them confidence that you have the basic competence to ensure their event won’t fail over some stupid detail.
* Recognise their influence. They enjoy being in control of the situation and they don’t welcome interference. Make it clear you are there to be their partner. If you are a destination make sure you bring in the big guns. Make sure the local powers-that-be write letters of support for your bid. Indicate that you are there to be their partner and take time to build a personal relationship.
* Be flexible. Demonstrate that you floor plans and facts are just the starting point. Be proactive in developing suggestions, but allow them to do it their way.
* Give them something that feels unique – but tailored to their spec. When you provide the basics of your offer, make time to chat to them about their client and their specific needs.
It can all sound obvious, but MICE buyers tell me all the time that they see daily examples of destinations and venues that don’t take these simple relationship building steps.
So recast yourselves as the Magician’s assistant and you will be set for success.