Getting the most from your DMC partnership
Thursday, January 26, 2017
You've been given the program of a lifetime — large budget, great group of attendees, a dream client, etc. But, and here is what keeps you up at night, it is at a destination where you have no experience. How will you pull this off in unfamiliar territory where you have no contacts?
You know you should work with a destination management company (DMC), but you have a number of questions. Can you trust them? Can you afford their services? Can you show the value of using a DMC instead of going direct? Will they care about the attendees as much as you do? Will their service standards meet your expectations?
I spent most of my career as a third-party meetings and incentives planner and had many of those same thoughts and questions. I also didn't know what I could do to have the best partnership with the DMC to get the results I needed.
My reputation was on the line each time I selected a DMC, and I wasn't always sure of whom I was selecting. And if something didn't turn out right, it was a reflection on my credibility and abilities.
Now that I have spent the last few years working for a DMC, I wanted to share a behind-the-scenes look at the DMC world, what I have learned about the partnership and what a DMC needs in terms of some direction on communication, timelines and budgets.
Consider the DMC your partner, a destination expert who becomes an extension of your team. Share with them your decision-making time frame and the process. Be prepared with lots of questions for the DMC and have them advise you on what is hot and what is not.
Let them make suggestions even if you've been to the destination before as things change quickly in the hospitality world. So many times clients come in stuck on a set of ideas already in place and miss out on what the DMC can bring to the table.
The bottom line is the partnership is really about trust and relationships, and those only come with time. Whenever possible, give yourself the time to develop a relationship. Spend time on the phone, do a site visit if possible, email back and forth to make sure you are in sync before you select your DMC.
Often, procurement and other decision-makers will push toward making a decision based on dollars. However, money is never an indication of reliability or the relationship needed for a successful program.
Once you have established a relationship, the DMC should do everything it can to bring you the best value for your dollar (ask them up front if they will if you aren't sure). A good DMC should have no problem telling you they don't think something is a good spend of your money.
The DMC should never be an order taker, but a trusted advisor whose job it is to communicate to you what is available in the destination and makes the most sense.
Let the DMC know your expectations, what you want the experience to be like for your attendees and what your hot buttons are on a program. Communicate any specific thoughts or ideas about your program they should know.
One of the most frustrating aspects in the DMC world is when someone expects everyone to read his/her mind. As your partner, the DMC wants to know your goals and ideas and then exceed expectations by bringing in their local knowledge to take it a step above. A DMC should have a vested interest in the success of your program both as a reflection of them, the destination and of their company.
Something to consider is to let the DMC know your preferred method of communication. In this day of emails, phones, text messages and more, don't assume they know how to update you. Most DMCs want details on paper to show what has been offered or what you've agreed to, so you will often receive emails. If your preferred method of communication is telephone, let the DMC team know.
I've worked out with clients who I will call them when sending them an email so we can review over the phone. This was a lesson learned after a client kept complaining that I wasn't communicating with him, and I knew I was sending regular update emails. As it turned out, the client never read my emails as he only wanted to talk on the phone.
When you request a proposal from the DMC, you will want to allow enough time for it to be fully developed. It takes time to create something that is unique to your group and expectations. I would suggest allowing a minimum of two weeks for a response from the DMCs you contact.
One of the best situations was a client who gave me one month to put together the proposal with the expectation at the end of the month that the proposal would be creative, unique and complete. It is amazing how many times DMCs are given 2-3 days to fully develop a proposal. Most DMCs will get something back to you, but it may not be as complete as you would like.
After receiving a proposal request from you, DMCs usually go through a three-part process.
Step 1: They start by determining what experiences to recommend for your group. That is where the local expertise becomes invaluable to you. Whether it is activities, décor, restaurants, venues or transportation, they have to brainstorm through each part of the process and what will work (especially in conjunction with the selected hotel). This can take 1-2 days after learning everything about the group and their needs.
Step 2: DMCs then reach out to suppliers to provide or confirm the most up-to-date pricing and availability. This is where the DMC can negotiate and look at getting the best value for you, while also making sure the supplier can provide the high level of service required. There is nothing so frustrating if the DMC has to come back later, after you've set your budget, and tell you the pricing was incorrect or something isn’t available. This is also when the DMC is finding out if there is something unique that would be a good fit or something new to the market. Step 2 alone can take 3-5 days when given the time to do it properly.
Step 3: Finally, the DMC puts together the full proposal and pricing for you. This can take another 2-3 days with double-checking for accuracy.
Once you have reviewed the proposal and pricing, the DMC wants your feedback. What is being offered are suggestions, and everything can be tweaked. You won't hurt feelings as the main priority is to meet your goals and expectations.
As you progress through the program planning, again allow the DMC time to get you the answers you need. Too often, the planner is running behind and is frustrated when the DMC doesn't have the answers that are needed within the hour.
If your internal client has given you a deadline, let us know. We are usually working on multiple programs with multiple needs simultaneously, and without a deadline the most pressing will be handled first. If you give a deadline, the DMC knows how to prioritize your request.
Money is often one of the more difficult discussions to have. If you have a budget, be upfront about it and keep it real. Your concern may be that if you give the DMC a dollar amount, every penny will be spent. A recommendation would be to ask for the proposal to include the essentials and then a "menu" of enhancement ideas from which you can select to stay within the dollar amount (offering both low- and high-end enhancements).
For example, with dinner décor you know the linens, centerpieces, basic lighting and some type of entertainment are most likely essentials. The chairs, chargers, bar fronts, décor vignettes, décor for food stations, enhanced lighting, red carpet, 10-piece dance band and lounge furniture are all enhancements and will take the event above and beyond.
You may be able to include some in your budget but not all. So request those elements be line-itemed on the proposal. Ask the DMC to make recommendations on where you can get the most for your money depending on your group's size, the location and what you want the experience to be.
What DMCs don't want to do is miss the mark and put together something for you that will never work. If you say there is no maximum budget so that it doesn't limit creativity (or you don't give a budget), you could get a dream look with everything included. That may cause sticker shock and you may think you can't afford a DMC.
Don't be afraid to come back and ask for options. There are always less expensive looks, but picking yourself up off the floor could have been prevented with budget guidelines offered from the beginning. If you truly don't know what your budget will be, or what things may cost in a destination, you can always start out by asking for a destination overview including price ranges on all the elements.
There are times when the DMC may have sent you pricing in the proposal that needs to be updated down the road. That is a difficult one for everyone involved, especially in a partnership. Sometimes a supplier has changed their pricing, sometimes the DMC has to change a supplier and the new one is more expensive, sometimes what was sent wasn’t clearly written, and sometimes it is simply a mistake.
DMCs don't want to have to send price changes and do everything to prevent them. Sometimes it does happen. DMCs need your understanding and flexibility through the proposal and revision process (until the program goes to contract) with some of these necessary changes.
One final recommendation is to request quotes from at most only a couple of DMCs at the same time. If you have reached out to more, remember there are only so many suppliers in each marketplace. With multiple requests, you can create an inflated sense of demand on the market, which drives up prices. The DMC loses their negotiating power to work on your behalf.
The same applies if you go direct to the suppliers. The more you use the DMC for all your needs, the more buying power it gives the DMC and the more negotiating power it gives you.
When it comes down to it, you have to decide what you want from your DMC. If you are looking for a partnership, someone you can trust to advise you, make sure you are communicating with them about your decision-making process and ask about the DMC's process. Talk through timelines and get real about the budget.
The more detailed your direction, the more complete the end result, the more successful your program.
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