Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SHUT UP… OR GET FIRED OR WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE THE LAST WORD UNLESS IT’S THE RIGHT LAST WORD

I had an interesting learning experience while on vacation. When engaging in conversations with new acquaintances, if I heard them say something with which I didn’t agree I would always find a way to either contradict them (because I knew better, of course) or end our exchange with my opinion. I needed to be right.

As I heard myself do this repeatedly, I realized how very wrong it was, and then I went a step beyond…. did I do this with my own team, much less with my clients? Did I always have to have the last word? I think maybe I did, if not always, then too often. And what did it gain me? So, let’s just talk about what it can do for you.

How often when we hear clients ask for something unreasonable, un-doable, not possible within their budget or timeframe, or any other reason do we show how knowledgeable we are by letting them know that we know better? We continue to advise until we end the conversation with our opinion. Now we might do it nicely, but is it really respectful of who they are? They are our clients; they sign the checks that allow us to stay in business. Their opinion and their needs are very important. We need to allow them to have the last word.

It's all about how things are framed. Instead of “It’s not possible” how about “I think those are great ideas. Can we explore them together, pros and cons, and see how we can accomplish your goals within your budget?” And then end the discussion by thanking them for it and for sharing their thoughts and letting them know their opinions mattered. Yes, you might have that final closing sentence, but it will be a sentence that empowers them and respects them.

We all agree that silence is the most powerful tool we have in communication. Negotiations always go in favor of the person who says nothing but just waits for the other person to talk… they usually talk themselves into a corner, don’t they? Think of buying a car. The longer you are silent, the more likely you are to get a better deal. So, lots of" Hmmm… that’s a great idea"… "Let’s talk more about that"… those are the same as silence. Let your clients talk. You don’t always have to jump in and cover every moment with quick solutions. Lead your clients. Guide your clients. If they think they have the solution, you’ll be a hero.

And you won’t get fired. Think about it.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of  Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS OR YOU’LL GET NO ANSWER OR THE WRONG ONE, RIGHT?

This time I am not putting blame on anyone. Nor sole responsibility. Positive outcomes come from clear communication. When I read Shep Hyken’s blog (featured below intact because all is so true and on point), I thought about the many times that we missed the mark on a proposal, or lost money on a budget because we didn’t ask the right questions, or the “extra” questions as Shep says.

In the event industry when we ask a venue if they have power and they say “yes” that isn’t the answer to the real question. The question is “Do you have power and is there a charge for it and if so, how much is that charge, and then what does that include?” Simply put you need to ask, “Is there any cost that will be applied to anything that we are doing that I need to know about?” Then, whatever the outcome of the communication, memorialize it in writing. There is no such thing as a good assumption.

Vendor, you need to be forthcoming and ask, “What will you be doing and what will you need?” Keep asking the questions so you are clear. Then you, too, are responsible for memorializing the conversation.

How many times have you had to eat the cost of those taxes or service fees you forgot to ask about? Or tables you assumed were the right size? Or if the cost of floral or furniture included delivery and pick up?

One of my favorites… and I thought I had asked the right questions… silly me. “Is there a charge for power?” I asked. “Yes, it is included in the rental fee.” What they didn’t tell me was that there was a $5,000 charge to turn on the power.

Enjoy Shep’s observations and keep asking questions… all of you. -Andrea Michaels

My brother, Rusty Hyken, was on a trip to Utah with his wife and two dogs. It’s a leisurely three-day drive for them. He made their hotel reservations, and for each hotel they planned to stop at on the way to Utah he asked, “Is your hotel dog-friendly?” All of them said, “Yes.” But to his surprise, while checking into one of the hotels he was told there would be a $120 charge for the dogs to stay in his room. This was a surprise as he called and specifically asked about dogs, and the hotel never mentioned the fee for the dogs.

So, I did some checking. Apparently, there are many dog-friendly hotels, and most do not charge fees. The Starwood Hotels and Kimpton Hotels are just two of the many hotels that don’t charge for pets and are proud of their pet-friendly policy. Kimpton will actually provide fish in your room if you crave the companionship of a pet. (Really!)

Now, I totally understand the fee for a dog. Not all dogs are “hotel trained,” which could lead to an accident on the carpet, which takes more time and costs more money to clean. Yet, some hotels will recognize this effort and cost as a small price to pay for a positive reputation among pet lovers.

All of this leads to the point of the article. My brother didn’t ask the right question. He asked if the hotel was dog-friendly. He didn’t ask if there was a charge. In fairness to him, he’s stayed at many hotels with his dogs, and this was the first to charge a fee.

When he checked in, the conversation with the hotel clerk was contentious. My brother didn’t want to pay the fee. The hotel clerk asked my brother, “I know you asked if we were a dog-friendly hotel, but did you ask if we charged for dogs?”

Are you kidding me! That’s exactly what my brother thought, too. So, he asked to speak to the manager.

The manager came out and had a nice conversation with my brother. He also asked, “Did you ask if there was an additional charge for the dog?” When my brother started to get upset, the manager informed him that he was not asking to make a case for charging him the fee. The manager wanted to know the conversation so he could teach his team to handle future pet-friendly inquiries a different way.

Many of you who read my work or watch my videos know about my concept to Ask the Extra Question. Sometimes a customer says one thing but means something else. So, asking an extra question – or two or three – can help you understand what a customer really wants. For example, when a customer says, “I need this quickly,” ask the extra question, “How quickly do you need it?” Your concept of quickly may be different than your customer’s expectation.

Yet, the situation with my brother was different. The answer the hotel reservationist gave him on the phone was the exact answer to his question. However, he didn’t ask the right question. And, that is the point of this lesson. My brother, as a guest, could have – if he knew to – asked an extra or different question. However, maybe the reservationist should have asked the extra question for him.

Truly customer-focused people ask their customers at least one extra question to ensure they understand their customers. They also ask questions on behalf of their customers, because their customers don’t always know what questions to ask.

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, hall-of-fame speaker and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. He works with organizations to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is also the creator of The Customer Focus, a customer service training program that helps organizations develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset.  For more information contact (314) 692-2200 or www.Hyken.com. Follow on Twitter:  @Hyken 

For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to 
www.thecustomerfocus.com.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of A Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THANK YOU, BUT WE DO EVERYTHING IN-HOUSE

But (the unread subtext) is: “We expect you to clean it up when it doesn’t show up, doesn’t work, or was a bad decision.”

How often do we hear from our prospects (or even old clients) that all bases are covered by their internal staff, or in the case of social events, by the bride, or her mother, or favorite uncle, or bridesmaid? And with Google being everyone’s best friend, who needs a professional?

I met with a friend yesterday who charged a wedding coordination fee for such a person. The client  insisted that she  could find and hire all her own  best vendors. So my friend offered as part of their day of assistance to call  those vendors to coordinate and manage them on site.

Let’s start with the biggest mishap first. The client failed to notify my friend of any bussing or shuttle needs, and then she hired a bus company to shuttle her guests from the hotel to the venue.  The venue was a vineyard, with very narrow and semi-paved roads and very limited turnaround space, enough for a car, but certainly not enough for a 54-passenger bus!  The bus company got lost, delaying the wedding ceremony by 45 minutes (trickle down to the meal perhaps?). And when the bus arrived it could not fit through the gates of the venue. The hosts had to gather cars to drive to the entrance to pick up guests and shuttle them to the ceremony. Makes for a great mood, don’t you think? Then, of course, the return would require the same Chinese Fire Drill.  Would the hosts want to leave their celebration to shuttle people again? My friend suggested dismissing the big bus and getting two smaller coaches for the return, along with ordering Ubers for those who wanted to leave early as Uber drivers could not only find the venue, but fit through the gates. This was agreed to, and the client told the driver, who then went home without alerting his company that they needed to send the two smaller vehicles. Holiday weekend. Office closed. Only VM.

Well, in truth there were voices… of the aggravated guests and the even more aggravated hosts. And this was only one of the missteps.

For corporate events, there are no brides and grooms but CEOs, and we can slide down the food chain from there to figure out who is responsible for managing major conferences and events where they do “everything” in-house. Really? You own an AV company, create dazzling florals, cook and serve spectacular meals while playing the harp, and perhaps do an aerial ballet at the same time? A bit of a stretch I admit, but the point is that rarely is a company as well connected as a professional planner who has extensive resources.

To take that a step farther, who then coordinates all the disparate entities that have been hired independently of each other? I will give you one such war story. In a nutshell, the planner had given all her vendors the wrong date, because event planning was only one of her many responsibilities for her company. The actual event was the day before she had confirmed. And on the day of the event she called me for a few of the items she had ordered screaming, “Where are the set pieces?”  I replied, “They’ll be there tomorrow on schedule.” She then yelled “But my event is today!” (in four hours from the time she called). There were over 50 separate piece of entertainment, several rooms of d├ęcor, and technical equipment, etc., etc., etc.

My point? Let’s educate our clients on our true capabilities and advise them gently on the consequences of not using a professional to do what a professional does best which is not making mistakes.


I would love to hear some of YOUR stories. Please share.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SO YOU'VE ASKED ME TO EXPOSE MYSELF?

Taking a break from RFPs... sort of. At least the written ones. There is another kind of RFP, and it is the verbal "ask", often very one-sided, and thus, this discussion.

Let's profile an ideal client (or so we think). Theirs is a profitable, notable, Fortune 1000 company. They have CSR initiatives, are listed on the "Best Places to Work" lists, give to charity, and sponsor valuable activities.

And then they call you, little old you, with your team of 10 (or less), working every week to make Godzilla the Payroll (as my dear friend calls it). They say, "We'd like some top tier entertainment for a major event this weekend, and we want to spend $400. You'll be getting a lot of exposure." Now they might ask for decor or furniture or catering, so don't look at the dollar figures; look at the principle.

Re-reading the previous paragraph, I remember that I once heard someone say, "If I wanted exposure, I'd stand on my lawn naked." Or, "One could die from over-exposure."

Another way the client might ask could be, "I know a lot of people." Or "Don't you know where this could lead?" Well, usually it leads to more of those "a lot of people" asking for the same thing for the same money.

I can think of numerous whippy tongue-in-cheek responses for these unreasonable requests. However, just as we don't consider the request respectful, we shouldn't make our responses just as disrespectful. That's the real subject of this blog this week.

May I suggest that we put our professionalism to work here and respond with, "I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your call to ask me to participate in your event. I do wish I could provide you with top tier entertainment (or whatever is asked for) for the price you stated. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who fits the bill. I respect your needs and know that you expect only the best. Your company prides itself on providing an outstanding product for a fair price. (Now let's pretend it's an automotive client just as an example.) Would you expect me to ask you to give me a car for a fraction of its cost so the world could see me driving it down the highway?"

Continuing... "Let me offer you some solutions for what I can do and what it would really cost. If that doesn't work for you, let me just say that I would love to work with you in the future and give you the right entertainment (or whatever) for a fair price. Please do call me again.

The point? I don't like closed doors, and if they are closed I don't want to be the person closing them.

Thoughts?

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

CANNIBALS? THIEVES? WHO OWNS AN IDEA? JOIN THE DISCUSSION

So who is stealing from whom? We fret over competitors stealing our ideas or snatching vendors. But that's a distraction. Here is the real problem, and I will quote directly from an RFP so you'll know the villain. Let me set the stage.

XYZ Corporation sent us an RFP that involved the following:

-General Sessions
-Welcome Reception
-Team Building
-Break-Out Rooms
-Tours and Transportation
-Off-Site Dinner
-Gala Awards and Ceremony
-Dance Party with Interactive Experiences
-And more

The project would be awarded based on creativity and costs. All subcontractors were to be named, their roles defined, and contacts submitted. The program was to be designed in three different locations (two of them international) with renderings, photographs, videos, floor plans, and fully detailed budgets. With all costs transparent.

The RFP required that we agree to the following:

"Ownership of Proposal Documentation: All proposals (and related materials), once submitted, become the property of XYZ Corporation. By submitting a proposal, The Provider licenses Corporation to reproduce the whole or any portion of this Provider's proposal."

In effect, to do this correctly could easily have cost us $20,000 or more in time and work product. Now get this. All the work we did and all the vendors we secured would be owned by XYZ Corporation and either shared with the winning bidder or are executed by XYZ themselves.

So, in my opinion the only reason I would ever worry about a competitors would be if XYZ shared my proposal and all of its inclusions with that competitor and asked them to reproduce it. I know that if I were asked to do this I would run like the wind to get away from that client. But a lot of companies don't. They are so dazzled by the big bucks (yes, this program for 900 people for five days and four nights ran into the millions) that they forget that they are agreeing to theft. Yes, THEFT, THIEVERY. Who has the right to own our ideas, our drawings, our list of vendors?

We spend countless hours securing relationships with partners who trust us. Our Rolodex has taken years to develop. Do we want to give all of this away?

The best news is that XYZ Corporation has been honest. They have told us (and this is the part that could be considered "ethical") that they are going to do this and if we respond to the RFP we are agreeing to it. Not all companies are so forthcoming.

It's a good reminder to always read the small print and understand what you are signing off.

With all this in mind, I need your help. What do you do to prevent this from happening? I would never agree to it. How about you?

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lesson in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Cannibalization of the Industry

Kate Patay, CPCE
This week, I'm turning over the conversation to Kate Patay, who provides valuable insight. -Andrea Michaels

After many lengthy discussions with various prominent figures in the events industry, the conversation that began with RFP's and how they've morphed into something entirely different than the original intent, the dialogue went deeper. 

We started discussing the result of this change in the process... the one stop shop that does a little bit of everything, but at what cost?

Yes, there are one stop shops that are successful and have identified and defined each area of expertise well, so if that's you there is no need to take offense. If you DO take offense to this post below from a recent NACE blog, then maybe your business model or practices should be re-examined....

Let's continue the conversation, shall we? Click below to continue reading.


Kate Patay, CPCE, is an international speaker and consultant and the Vice President of the National Association for Catering & Events. She is a faculty lecturer for The International School of Hospitality and an advisor to the Student Event Planners Association. She may be reached via kate@katepatay.com. 

Andrea Michaels is Founder and President of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning, international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life.  She may be reached at amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP PART III Or REDUNDANT, FORMIDABLE, PLODDING

The catch phrase of the year is “disruptive,” and so we have been and will continue to be as we attack this subject. I thank so many of you for your input. I’m going to use it all for this Part Three. All of you have fantastic input, definitive opinions, and great interest in making some changes. And all of you are asking “how do we do that?” By standing together and effecting change… haven’t got it all figured out yet, but with all of you continuing to weigh in, maybe we’ll get there.

I’m going to add to this some comments by Bob Abbott, a former client (now retired) and meeting planner. Here’s what Bob had to say: “Typically I did a lot of homework leading up to selecting a supplier; therefore, I knew going in which potential suppliers were likely to deliver what I needed. Enter the Finance VP or Purchasing Manager: policy demands three bids. Did I need them? No. Did they? Not really. But they didn’t understand the process because they were in the mode of purchasing manufacturing process, commodities, and services. They also tended to buy the least costly whatever. To them, relationships and results didn’t matter as much as bottom line costs.”

Bob also adds that time is at a premium so often that some “cut and paste” is faster and sometimes appropriate if the event repeats year after year. “I” (Bob) “thought of the RFP as a door opener, inviting my selected potential suppliers to the table for interaction and dialogue. If I were one of those suppliers, my first action would be an exploratory phone call to address questions.”

So, believe it or not, we are on the same page with this savvy planner.

Hopefully Bob will read this and help us out with some common concerns:

1. Many RFPs state that the client will own all ideas. This means they are receiving a ton of creativity that they can unfairly give to their chosen vendor.

I say "never"!!!! I won't bid on a job which has this clause. What about you?

2. We find that no matter how many questions we ask to make sure that the project is for real and qualified we are dependent on the prospective client to tell the truth. They ask for bids without even knowing if they have the permission to carry out their plan, have the funds, have the time, or have the decision-making power.

We always need to ask "who is the decision maker?" And "is this a definite project?" Perhaps we should consider saying that we will respond to the RFP for no charge if it is a for-sure project (check with the venue; check with the city). However, if it is a proposed project that has not been approved, then we'll need to charge for the response. Thoughts, everyone?

3. You receive an RFP on a Friday before a holiday weekend. You send questions that need to be asked in order to respond. A kick-back email message advises that the sender is out for a week, and, of course, the RFP is due upon sender's return.

I would respond that "RFP was received at... questions submitted at... as soon as answers are received we will have our response to you within 48 hours (or your time frame) of receipt. And one of the questions should be "when will the responses be reviewed and read?"

4. One reader suggests that we interview people who have worked for these companies before.

I say "amen" to this suggestion.

5. Another reader suggests that "It's sad that most procurement specialists feel that the process is their attempt to do what is best for the company. However, anyone who is good at responding to RFPs knows that you bid low, be very specific, and make your money on the add ons.

How do you all feel about this? We base our business on the fact that we don't do this; we bid fairly and rarely have add ons to the RFP requirements, only to things that were not originally included.

6. Here's a new piece of information, and I hope that hoteliers will respond to this and let us know if it is true. And if so, could it work elsewhere in our industry? So here's the claim: Most hotels have an automatic RFP response system. They are too busy to respond to the RFP by reading the requirements in it. The system reads the event dates and automatically populates a response/proposal to be accordingly emailed back to the RFP sender (event company). If the RFP sender is really serious, he/she will contact the hotel to follow up. So the hotel doesn't work on it when they receive the RFP, only if the sender follows up.

The sender (event company) had sent an RFP that was clearly written as six (6) bullet point items which were main decision points for their client's event project. Not one hotel gave a complete response to those six points in their proposals. In order to collect relevant data, back and forth email traffic took place to ascertain all the needed information.

Hmmmm... when am I "too busy" to read an RFP?

The consensus is obvious: Everyone, planner, supplier, hotelier... everyone wants the process to change. And it seems to all boil down to qualifying the business from both points of view. Let's keep on working on this together, okay? Let's share our thoughts on solutions. I think we have a good handle on the challenges. As all of us would tell our employees: Don't come to me with the problem. Come to me with the problem and your proposed solution.

Let's open up a discussion of this additional dilemma. Many of you had one major issue: clients "stealing" our ideas. If the RFP calls for creative ideas, what can we put in place to protect ourselves from this unethical behavior? Any opinions out there on this topic? If so, I'll use them to further our discussion.

Let's all work together to disrupt things and change them up so everyone benefits. Okay?


Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.