While there is quite a bit of content out there about how meetings professionals can navigate the current and near-future landscape (heck, I’ve written a few of them, Answering the Burning Question for Your Meeting: Rebook, Go Virtual/Hybrid or Cancel and Budgeting for Uncertainty | The Pandemic Edition), I haven’t seen as much about managing partner relationships. As meetings professionals, we know that partnerships are critical to our success, and I firmly believe that these relationships are what will help us get back on track post-pandemic.
That said, so many of the companies and organizations that we rely on (and vice versa) are struggling in this moment, and how we help, support and generally treat them will play a role in the future of these symbiotic relationships. I’ve put together a few tips below on how to be relationship-first with partners during difficult times.
Acknowledge Staffing and Resourcing Changes
As many of us know from personal experience, COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on employment in our profession. As of August 2020, the leisure and hospitality industry had the highest unemployment rate in the United States (21.3% according to statista.com).
As hotels work with leaner sales teams and many CVBs adjust or realign their staffing models, they will communicate these changes to their existing and prospective relationships. When you receive a communication from a hospitality partner introducing themselves as your new sales or destination representative, I recommend at the very least sending back a simple acknowledgement that you received their email and that you look forward to working with them. I imagine many of these are filed without a response, and I think leading with empathy means so much to people, especially in tough times. Beyond just being the right thing to do, these communications can serve as a valuable starting point when it’s time to reconnect on a professional basis.
If your own team has experienced staffing changes, these introductory communications are also a great way to communicate those changes back to your partner so that they know who to reach out to regarding potential business, FAMs, etc. Just as you are responding with empathy to those reaching out to you, you can pay close attention to which of your partners take the time to make the extra effort in responses to your communications.
Over-Communicate on What You Know (And Don't Know)
Sure, there isn’t a lot of business to be had right now, but it’s more important than ever to communicate your current and future plans to your hospitality partners. Many of us postponed, canceled or rebooked existing meetings, which means our next open year for a particular meeting or event may look vastly different than it did just a few months ago.
As hospitality partners contact you, let them know where you stand with your scheduled meetings, what the forecast looks like for any upcoming meetings and when you plan to resume releasing RFPs or sourcing future opportunities. If you don’t know what the future of your meetings and events look like right now, it’s also OK to communicate that. In most cases, if your communications policies allow, I believe that being more communicative, transparent and honest, even if the answer is that you just don’t know, is better than radio silence.
Support Individuals Who Need Your Help
You’ve likely seen posts from folks within your own networks offering to refer, meet with and write recommendations for those colleagues who have lost work during the pandemic. While I don’t advocate writing a recommendation for everyone that you have ever interacted with professionally, if you’ve explored business opportunities or done business with someone in the past who has lost their job, don’t wait for an ask from them to write a LinkedIn recommendation. It’s a nice way to do something that can potentially be very valuable for someone in need, and you never know when the shoe is going to be on the other foot.
LinkedIn will require your contact to approve the recommendation or request revisions, but it takes the onus off the person who has lost work from asking for the recommendation, and I can guarantee that your contact will be grateful that you took the initiative. Relationships shouldn’t stop just because someone’s work situation has changed.
We’re in the relationship business, and it’s more important now than ever to focus on maintaining existing relationships and building new ones, even if the business isn’t necessarily there. Your support and compassion will not go unnoticed and can be a difference-maker when we come to the other side of the pandemic.
Kyle F. Jordan, Ed.M., MS, CAE, CMM, CMP
Managing Director, Learning and Conference
Financial Planning Association