For most companies, "account management" is usually about selling what you've already got to customers you already have. In contrast, "business development" focuses on finding new clients, and sometimes creating entirely new products to serve them. In today's sour economy, a number of event companies are adding business-development managers to kick-start growth.
Being vice president of new accounts "can often mean just new business," explains Troy Bryans, who joined Super 78 earlier this year as vice president of business development. The Los Angeles company provides educational media-based guest experiences for venues including museums and theme parks. However, Bryans' post requires him not only to develop new business but also to "leverage existing accounts into new opportunities, identify strategic growth opportunities and oversee marketing and PR," he says, noting it's "a bit of a hybrid role."
THE VISION THING
Bryans credits his background in business development and production along with vision, tenacity and effective problem-solving as his major assets. Vision is key; "The core question we're always asking is, 'Where do we want to be in five years,' and drive all of our activities around that question," he says.
Event company Extraordinary Events, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., added trade-show and convention veteran Patrick Flanagan to its team in January as director of business development. Management is looking to Flanagan's background to "open up wider the doors to the events that surround and are entwined with trade shows and conventions," he explains. "My personal relationship with trade-show managers and general services contractors helps us to get in on the beginning planning of various shows."
GETTING BY THE 'BUNKER'
A unique challenge in today's tough times is what Flanagan calls clients' "bunker mentality." "They are pulling in their heads and waiting for this whole mess to pass," he explains. "Meeting planners are having a difficult time selling their bosses on the idea that meetings and events are a vital part of doing business. And everyone is afraid of perception. Even clients that we have done business with in the past seem to look at us as though we are bringing them a very hot potato."
To address this, Flanagan stresses the need for companies to serve as advocates for their clients. "In approaching our clients, we need to look at our costs in such a way that they understand that we understand their situation," he says. "Our approach needs to be the teamwork approach, and we are all on the same team." He adds, "We must also be sure to sell value. We also need to educate them on the value of not only our own services, but on the value of an event or a meeting."
INVITING NEW BUSINESS
As director of business development for Santa Ana, Calif.-based Envelopments, Patty Randall is helping the company expand beyond its original business--offering custom wedding invitations—to include high-end corporate and business communications. She joined the company in January.
A former event planner for Disney, Randall is working to "create a new set of designs--or 'recipes'--specifically geared for helping companies better communicate to their clients in a refreshing and memorable way," she says. "What I love about business development is that it goes beyond just finding new customers, but diversifying Envelopments into a new market segment I’m most passionate about. And diversifying now is a smart move to better position us when the economy recovers."
TIME FOR THE TURNAROUND?
And when will the economy recover? Bryans expects an upswing in the fourth quarter of this year, he says. Noting the recent stock market gains, Flanagan is hoping for a turnaround in the next six to 10 months. "We also are of the opinion that over the next few months, companies will begin to come back to the fold and understand that the meetings and events that they have held in the past are important to their business," he adds. "We believe the meeting that the events industry has had with the Obama Administration will have an effect on the way these events will be seen and reported on in the future."
But Flanagan urges event professionals to be patient. "Most companies are not making quick decisions," he says. "We need to be persistent in following up, but we need to understand that we need to lead them through the decision-making so we can convince them that working with us is the fiscally sound and the most expedient way of working."
But for some event companies, recovery hasn't come soon enough. A DMC with multiple offices in the Western U.S. created its director of business development position in January, but eliminated the post within three months. "We're not good for your story," the president says wryly.
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