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OPINION


WORDS SCOTT DAVIES


DO YOUR HOMEWORK


In this fast-changing world, suppliers must adapt their strategies to better connect with buyers


I


AM UTTERLY FASCINATED by the dynamic between buyers and suppliers. In fact, I’ve spent most of my career trying to work it out. The corporate travel market is, unsurprisingly, the highest yielding, most profitable segment targeted by suppliers of all types. This means that the sales and account management teams within these businesses spend extraordinary amounts of time, money and brain-power trying to figure out how to reach and convert corporate clients. Of course, there are many stakeholder groups that a supplier needs to appeal to and influence (travellers, bookers, senior leaders, intermediaries, TMCs), but the most critical of all is the buyer or travel manager. Organisations large enough to have a travel programme will generally have an individual whose responsibility it is to select and manage its chosen suppliers.


So, as a supplier, how should you best engage with these priceless people? And do the


methods that worked ten years ago still work as well?


At ITM we see suppliers with great products and benefits that fail to connect with their most precious target audience, mostly because they are too interested in what they have to say and don’t do enough listening. Travel managers and buyers have less time than ever and have complex and conflicting demands within their


anyone in a large organisation navigates every day. In a recent ITM survey our buyers said that, of all the challenges they face, internal company politics was their biggest daily frustration. This means that the travel buyer must increasingly justify every meeting with a supplier, every moment spent outside of the business and most certainly anything that may resemble a perk. Corporate life today


BUYERS SAID INTERNAL COMPANY POLITICS WAS THEIR BIGGEST DAILY FRUSTRATION


companies to address. They have the ever-increasing remit of their role (thanks to data protection, the impact of Brexit and duty-of-care, to name just three trending responsibilities), along with the challenges that


is fast, intense and there’s generally a feeling that we’re all replaceable, meaning that, to the supplier, it probably looks like everyone’s a bit less relaxed and harder to connect with than they used to be. Very few buyers today will entertain a long conversation with you about the features and benefits of your product, expansion plans or loyalty scheme. They want you to do your homework to avoid them having to school you and they want you to ask what success looks like to them. Once you have this information, you need


to come up with something that will make their business work better. You can go off topic, but only if it’s going to improve the relationship or bring some other important benefit. We recommend that suppliers


spend that time, effort and brain-power looking at ways to enlighten and inform buyers, rather than perfecting a polished sales deck with the latest stuff that seems important internally. Whereas a few years ago, a glitzy evening reception or sporting event would generate introductions and those important CRM prospects, today suppliers will tend to see lower attendance and more no shows. Buyers will be more likely to attend an event if its primary purpose is to share relevant new education and insight – in other words, thought leadership. ITM creates many events and resources to help suppliers understand the mindset of today’s buyer. One of the key points we get across is that, although buyers are treated like rock stars by suppliers, within their own companies they often feel like anything but. They can struggle to get stakeholder airtime, let alone support, and travel is too often seen as pure cost rather than the essential enabler we know it to be. We discussed the dynamic at Conference in Brighton and the good news is, people still buy from people, but suppliers may need to rethink whether their current customer conversion strategies are helping or hindering them today. n Find out more at itm.org.uk


Scott Davies is the chief executive of the Institute of Travel Management (itm.org.uk) 150 MAY/JUNE 2019 buyingbusinesstravel.com


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