As I read more about “relationship selling”—a method of sales the relies on building a friendship or relationship with your prospective clients—and watched colleagues interact with suppliers and suppliers do favors for planners, I saw how blurred the lines were during the negotiation process and beyond.

I wondered how others handled these issues, so I turned to people who hire planners and suppliers, to two valued colleagues who have been in sales, and others for their valued input. These four people—Mike Gamble, John Potterton, Tammi Runzler, and Jim Zaniello—were gracious to give their time and respond to some questions I sent out. Note that not everyone answered all the questions and I asked Tammi slightly different questions, because of her different role now in the industry.

Where she answered what the others did, her comments are interwoven; where she had a slightly different questions, her responses follow the others at the bottom of this article.

Because this Friday With Joan companion piece is all about relationships, I’ve added notes about how I know each of those interviewed and the relationships we have and why they were developed.

Let’s start with some background on the respondents.

Mike Gamble is president & CEO and co-founder of SearchWide (@SearchWide). Prior to serving as president & CEO of SearchWide, Mike served as senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PCVB). During that time, the Philadelphia Business Journal named him one of the city’s most successful business leaders under the age of 40. While at the PCVB, he was integral in recruiting the sales team that worked with him to attract  major conventions including Meeting Professionals International (MPI), American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the 2000 Republican National Convention. Previously, Mike spent 9 years with Marriott International in various sales leadership positions in Dallas, San Antonio and Chicago.

Joan’s note: I can’t remember when and how Mike and I first met though I know that our relationship grew because of our service on the MPI Foundation Board and our passion about ethics, diversity and inclusion. He is a listener who has compassion and drive, which go together nicely in his work. And though we see each other rarely, he is a friend I value and know I can count on.

John Potterton, who holds a master’s degree in counseling, is manager, corporate university operations, with TechnipFMC. He’s been in the meetings and learning business for 37 years. His experience includes teaching at the high school, college and post graduate levels; designing, operating and selling corporate conference centers and learning facilities in 9 countries; and identifying and delivering learning solutions for corporate and association leaders.

You can reach Potterton via email, or call him directly at 713.826.5840.

Joan’s note: I met John through IACC, the International Association of Conference Centers, where we bonded over education and education design. I’ve had the privilege of presenting with him and for him to his customers. One of the nicest gifts he ever gave to me was making sure I attended a dinner at an IACC meeting where he knew I was to receive the Pyramid Award and I didn’t and wasn’t sure I had enough energy to show up! More, he knew one of my favorite songs was “Rainbow Connection” which is what was played to introduce me and that still didn’t give me a clue until my name was announced. John too has been honored by IACC in many ways. John and his wife, Dolores Bopp Potterton, are volunteers and activists for good causes.

Tammi Runzler has spent over 25 years in the meetings and hospitality industry, in hotel and destination sales roles, both as an active sales person or in a leadership role. She currently works with all types of meetings and events to incorporate socially responsible activities into their programming. You can reach Tammi via email at or, or by phone at 407.234.7381.

Joan’s note: Tammi and I met years ago when we negotiated a contract for a client of mine who was booking the hotel at which Tammi worked. What I admired so then and still do is her attention to detail. We think it took nine months (though not every day!) to finish as she too questioned why the hotel company’s language was written as it was. What she didn’t share with you is her volunteerism in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, her establishment of an orphanage and an organization, My Neighbors Children to help fund the work to care for the children. Seeing the photos of “her” children and hearing her stories is humbling. She is a true humanitarian as noted here in a profile from Meetings Today.

James (“Jim”) Zaniello

James Zaniello, FASAE, is president of Vetted Solutions, an executive search firm focused on recruiting for associations, nonprofits and the hospitality sector. Jim has been an executive director at several associations and nonprofits, and was a senior executive with association management company, SmithBucklin, where he served as executive director of Osteoarthritis Research Society International, among others. Prior to his tenure at SmithBucklin, he was editor and managing director of CEO Job Opportunities Update, the biweekly resource for nonprofit executive search. Jim also served eight years in the membership and communications departments of several national trade associations, including the American Society of Interior Designers and Menswear Retailers of America.

Joan’s note: Jim and I met, I think, through ASAE. We bonded over ethics (see a theme here?) and used to meet regularly with a colleague who preceded me as Chair of ASAE’s Ethics Committee, for ethics discussion breakfasts where we hashed out the issues facing association executives. Alas, now that the other person has moved from D.C., and with very full schedules, we’ve not spent face time together in a bit. Jim and I also presented together for ASAE on the topic of ethics in hiring. I value Jim’s input here as I do on issues in my personal life and professional activities.

And now on to the questions, first up are the ones I sent to everyone.

Joan Eisenstodt (JE) Q1a: We say the hospitality industry is a “relationship business.” Do you agree that we are? 

Answers to Q1a:

Mike Gamble (MG): Absolutely! While many other industries tout their service “greatness,” our industry (travel/tourism/hospitality and events) was the pioneer and sets the bar. It is the one common thread that connects all of us who work in this industry. Customer (attendee) service has to revolve around exceptional human skills and deep relationships.

Tammi Runzler (TR): For the most part, yes.  There continues to be some sales roles which are more transactional, typically for the smaller meetings market. However, the vast majority of the industry is really relationship driven.

Jim Zaniello (JZ): We are in a relationship business and we must remember that if we want to last in business. When sales executives forget that, prospects often find others with whom they enjoy doing business.

JE Q1b: What does that mean to you in how we conduct business between buyer and seller? 

Answers Q1b:

MG: … buyer and seller relationships were much stronger 15+ years ago. Technology (while needed, wanted and welcomed), has diverted our attention and caused us to spend less time developing strong and meaningful relationships. Just ride any bus or elevator at any convention or tradeshow. We used to talk, listen and learn, and really get to know one another. Now, our devices consume us.

JP: Building and maintaining trusting relationships is at the foundation of any successful business. It is not specific to the meetings/hospitality business. How has this impacted me?  Everything I have done in my career has been focused on one main goal—helping others achieve success. Whether it be coaching co-workers, exceeding customer expectations or agreeing to a fair/ethical contract with a service provider, my goal in these interactions is to put my ego aside and focus on achieving mutual success.  

TR: I believe people simply like to do business with those they know, and trust. That is true [in] most aspects of life. I do not believe that “friendship” is the only factor, and I do believe that sometimes the perception is that if I become your friend, you will do business with me. It is more about having a positive relationship, gaining someone’s trust through competency, being dependable and fair, etc. I believe that in business, as in our personal lives, trust and respect must be earned. That is true for both the buyer and seller. Good communication is critical. And, sometimes, in the business world, personal friendships can be created and that is a wonderful thing. However, we have to be mindful that business is still business so that personal relationships do not become a negative nor exploited.

JZ: It’s so important to remember that the sale needs to be beneficial to both parties.  When one side feels that it’s no more than a transaction, everyone ultimately loses.

JE Q2: Planners, especially in corporate positions, are often guided by Procurement Departments, and sales people by Revenue Management. Procurement and Revenue are all bottom-line driven and often set up what is more transactional than relationship driven. How can relationships thrive in transactional settings? Or should they? 

Answers Q2:

JP: There needs to be a healthy balance between transactional and relational work. [You] can't have one without the other. It is the work that is done on the relational side that more often than not leads to achieving and exceeding the financial goals of the business. The key is to be honest and transparent. 

JZ: Relationships should thrive in situations like this. Once you’ve become a partner to an organization it’s easier for them to do business with you in the future. Perform as best you can and you should find you are asked back!

Eisenstodt Q3: With some hotels now setting monthly (versus quarterly) sales goals for individuals, the pressure to rush through contracts—or as one DoSM wrote to me "... just don't want the extensive details holding things up."—is ever greater. When do relationships help or hurt the process of getting final products completed?

Answers Q3:

JP: Hurt: Spending too time building relationships with individuals who are not able to influence a sale or close a contract. While I am not suggesting these people be ignored completely (they could be a good source in the future), your time with them needs to be limited so that you can focus on relationships with individuals who are in the position to make decisions.

Help: In healthy relationships, people genuinely want to help each other achieve success. When we establish these relationships, we begin to gain a solid reputation in the industry as a person who is knowledgeable and trustworthy. We are more likely to refer business to people we know and trust. We will even go out of our way if necessary. 

JZ A3: I think strong relationships help each. Each side can say let’s cut to the chase since we both want to get this finalized as quickly as possible but in a way that’s mutually beneficial.

Eisenstodt Q4: Lastly, when hiring a planner or salesperson who says, in an interview and/or resume, they have “great relationships” in the industry, what questions would you ask and why?

Answers Q4:

MG: First step would be to call three to four customers to learn more about the depth of the relationship and the effectiveness of the person.

  1. Please give us an example of a time when you had an unpopular business decision to make, and how it was handled.
  2. Please give two examples of difficult client problems that you had to resolve and how you did it.
  3. Please give an example of a customer relationship that deteriorated over time. How did you rebuild that relationship?
  4. What three or four words best describe your leadership style/approach?
  5. What board or leadership roles have you served on in an industry organization?
  6. What will you look to achieve in the first 100 days of employment?
  7. What does “win-win” mean to you?
  8. In the past three years, what part of your professional skill set have you improved the most?

JP: [Numbered answers start below].

  1. What do your "great" relationships look like?  
  2. What is the process you go through to establish great relationships?
  3. Give me an example of a time when a business relationship you had led to a disappointment or failure.

JZ: Our reputation with our partners has been earned by years of being a good client that values the relationships that we have developed. 

  1. How would you maintain or enhance our reputation in this regard?
  2. If I were to call your hotel, AV and transportation partners, what would they really tell me about what it’s like to work with you?
  3. Ethics in our industry are critically important. Each organization defines this differently. What does the word mean to you?

And finally, here are two questions I sent specifically for Tammi Runzler (TR).

JE Q1: You’re now out of the industry or working peripherally. With some hotels now setting monthly (v. quarterly) sales goals for individuals, the pressure to rush through contracts—or as one DoSM wrote to me "... just don't want the extensive details holding things up."—is ever greater. You and I worked for nine months once on a contract, ensuring that we got it as “good” as we could and that the parties were satisfied. What was different then and could this still happen today?

TR A1: Honestly, I always worked under monthly goals, and with a quarterly bonus program. That was true for all of my career. And, with various managers, the pressure at times was very positive or very negative. However, there was always pressure to make or exceed goals. Not only were our earnings at stake, but at times our ability to be promoted or even employed was based on hitting these goals. This was a constant for me throughout my career. I always tried to manage my “funnel” so that I could manage the stress of these goal ... [which was] not always as easy as it seemed.

However, I always tried to make sure that every signed and completed contract was fair to both parties ... the organizations which employed me as well as my customer. At times, this simply required more time. I believe with our negotiation, that was simply the case. A hastily written contract, or one that is rushed through without proper attention to the details, is simply worthless in my opinion. A good contract should be as detailed and as specific as is possible, should cover as much as can be anticipated, and should be fair and protective of all parties involved. It might take more time on the front-end, as with us, but most often will save time as the contract lives and is executed. This should be the goal of anyone who has the authority to negotiate and sign contracts! It should never be about rushing to signature. Ask any good services person who actually manages the group contract through execution (either at a hotel or a convention center). They spend a lot of time dealing with poorly written contracts, trying to fill in the blanks, clarity vague statements, etc. They are probably the real on-site experts of the value of a good and clean contract versus a cookie-cutter, vague document.

JE Q2: If you, from your years of experience in the industry and then in philanthropy, could give advice to planners and suppliers—no matter how much experience they haveabout how to build and maintain relationships while still satisfying those who watch the bottom lines, what would it be?

TR A2: Do what is right for all involved. Maintain ethics, and integrity, in all of your work (and personal) habits. Be honest, trustworthy and reliable to the best of your ability. Business will come to those individuals and organizations that operate in this fashion. Learn to manage stress of deadlines and goals, [including] other “measurements,” and recognize them for what they are, and aren’t. AND ... challenge yourself to always keep learning about new techniques, and trends, and changes in the marketplace, [in other words] keep working on your skillsets. Education will always be important, and being updated and educated is extremely important.

And now ... questions for YOU.

I’m ending this Friday With Joan companion article with questions for you, the readers, to which I hope you’ll respond to in the comments at the bottom of this article or on my related blog post.

  • What threads do you see in the above responses?
  • In what ways will what the respondents wrote here and I, in the blog, affect how you approach industry relationships and negotiations moving forward? In addition, how will it impact your future relationships and friendships that result from industry work and volunteering?

Our industry has many of us who have been around for a long time. I have hope that the next generation of industry professionals will learn and act ethically and openly.

Click here to view additional content in the 08.04.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.