Suppliers as consultants

A guest blog from Barbara Scofidio, editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives:

“If your business is nothing but a travel fulfillment company, in a couple of years you're sure to be a twitching corpse.”

That well-meant warning from Martin Lewis, editor of the U.K.'s Meetings & Incentive Travel magazine, during the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives' recent international conference in Mérida, Mexico, had attendees rolling in the aisles, but surely made a few people uncomfortable. That's because they knew he was right.

SITE's members include incentive houses of every description, from the major players that offer strategy and marketing among their services to those focused solely on logistics. As procurement departments have become more involved in purchasing incentives, these suppliers have had to become more professional.

One example is Roger Tondeur, president of MCI Group S.A. in Geneva, Switzerland, who is opening branches throughout Europe and structuring them more like consulting companies. “We're developing specialists by industry — insurance and pharmaceutical, for example — and they're expected to go to trade shows in their industries, learn the issues, and read the trade magazines,” he said.

Other incentive houses and destination management companies shared stories of pressure from corporate procurement buyers to be more innovative, timely, responsive, and price-conscious. They spoke of their willingness to go the extra mile, whether that meant picking up a client at the airport or running an errand that they didn't expect, in order to get on that preferred supplier list.

SITE's educational offerings were rich with strategies and hands-on tools for working with procurement. Incentive suppliers are learning to itemize every service for their clients — for the first time — and to charge for extras. There was much discussion about how incentive pros need to start adding a consulting line to their bills. It was clearly a new way to view what they do.

Attendees called on SITE to take a strong position with procurement professionals as the voice of the incentive industry. I agree. It's time to educate these new buyers about this side of the business and how it differs from the meetings side. Before we have any twitching corpses.

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