Relationships, and how you can have better synergy between your partners and your team.
It feels really good to have this pause and its actually allowing people to catch up. Do you feel like you are able to catch up?
I absolutely do! It’s so funny because I’ve always said I don’t take vacations because I do travel so much, I feel like staying in my own home is a vacation a little bit. I feel like this is a little bit of a blessing for me, and I hope that’s not offensive to anyone, but I’m going to go ahead and soak it up while I have it. Obviously still wishing everyone the best, and praying that this passes quickly, and all those types of things, but it is a moment to kind of get caught up on a few things and take a breath for me.
For all of our listeners out there who maybe aren’t super familiar with SeneGence, and what your company does, help our listeners understand more about who Melanie is and what you do!?
Absolutely, well I joined SeneGence about 2 years ago, my entire career has been in the events industry, and I had a reference from a previous manager, who said “hey, a head hunter had called, and is looking for someone, and I think they are looking for you!”. And I had never heard of SeneGence before, which is crazy because we are a 20-year-old company and the founder is from just right outside of Tulsa. Her name is Joni Rogers-Kante, and she founded this Direct Sales Cosmetics and Skin Care company that is just amazing. The headquarters are in Southern California with offices all around the world. I was selected by them and recruited by them to head up their Global Events, which is a department that hadn’t really existed before, and for a company that has seen the success that SeneGence has seen, is a pretty amazing thing. Incentives, Women’s Retreats, and Training Conferences is what we do, so our distributors sell all our products globally, and they achieve the opportunity to attend our events or be treated to an incentive. It’s been an interesting ride for me because its not the events that I come from. The events industry is so broad, although it feels so small, it feels like such a tight knit community, there are just so many aspects to it, and so this has given me the opportunity to spread my wings even further and face some new opportunities and challenges.
This is a good time to dive into our topic that we have been talking about, which is the value if relationships. The relationship component seems to be the common denominator here; it’s hard to get a new relationship with people right now, but for those existing ones it’s a great time to go deeper right!? So, I wanted to just get into your philosophy on the events business and building great relationships like you have …
I think, when I look back, thinking through my career, I didn’t have events and global events in my mind when I graduated from university I just fell into the industry. I just couldn’t be happier that I did, and I think it was the right fit for me, and I didn’t event know what I was doing to be honest with you. I was absolutely blessed with a job that was way above what I should have been hired to do straight from the beginning, and I was in that role for 10 years, and it really set me off on the path of understanding the value of relationships, friendships, and partnerships. Because I think when you surround yourself with the right kind of people, and there is that give and take of pushing each other forward, I know I wouldn’t be where I am without them. I mean, like the recruiter that called my former manager; if I wouldn’t have had a good relationship, and mutual respect, I wouldn’t have gone to the next level with SeneGence. I look back and see, without knowing what I was doing, I can see a lot of it stemmed from kindness, being thankful to people, and being open to learning. Because, people want to help those who are interested in helping themselves. If you see somebody who is starting out, they might not know what they are doing, but they are open to learn, they are open to hear and listen, which I probably wasn’t like that all the time, but the times that I was is what really set me up for some amazing friendship and relationships that continues to push me to the next level.
As an internal Vice President of Global Events in an organization, I’m sure people are always reaching out to you. What is the mindset you use, as somebody internally looking externally, what do you value as you look for new partners?
I think that the long-term value is absolutely built on trust. You can’t go into these relationships without a level of trust. If it’s not there a relationship ends, but if it is there you continue to build on it, and the trust builds on itself. And I think what starts that off on the right path is transparency. In the events industry we are dealing with millions and millions of dollars. Of our company’s money, of our distributor’s money, of our attendee’s money, I mean it’s a pretty big responsibility. There can be those relationships where you get blindsided with costs after the fact; and it’s not just monetarily related, its all of those little things that lead into it with any of those little things that come out of no where really. Setting up a relationship correctly, is transparency. Here’s our case studies. Here’s the feedback we get from other customers. I have been blessed to be able to take some of the relationships and partnership that I have built throughout my time in the events industry from one company to the next. So, once you have that trust with someone, it doesn’t matter what company YOU are working for in the industry, you will need those partners that know your hand signals and facial expressions. Just being able to build those and continue them from one company to the next has been a huge benefit for me, but that transparency and trust is the biggest thing.
I think you touched on something really huge, which is the transparency that leads to trust. On that same vein, when you see somebody make a mistake, do you have some tips on how someone can recover from that and be transparent?
Well I think everyone deserves a second chance. Especially when you start a new job and you inherit relationships, and there’s already contracts there. So you have to get to know the new company and what’s going on, then you have to learn this new partnership. There’s just so much that can be solved with communication. Again, it goes back to that transparency, and I think sitting down and getting to know someone and having a basic level of rapport can sometimes get lost. We, as an industry, can often be somewhat copy and paste, even from sending out an RFP, how repetitive is that. Thinking “have I really checked this and flushed this out, so that the bid that I am actually getting is correct and actually to scale”. It must really start there, I think. Pause on the copy and paste aspect of it, because it can get a little easy “oh I’ve done this one before, it’s just all of these elements…”. So just stopping and analyzing that, since we are typically going from one thing to the next, and so pre-cons, post-cons, correct bids, evaluations in-between, I think everybody always deserves a second chance, especially if they haven’t been set up to succeed. There’s always time to make amends for that.
How do you build trust and transparency with your internal team, so that when you are planning and working on the event, you’ve got their back and they have yours? How do you do that properly?
I’m lucky enough right now, that the team I have right now, is 90% the team that I have at my previous company. They came with me! Looking back at my previous company, we were traveling and producing events for 99% male audience, very technology heavy, science heavy content, not a whole heck of a lot of creativity, but still so many learning opportunities. And I have always just tried to be very transparent with my team, if they don’t know something, and I don’t know something, well surely, we can just learn it together. I think that’s hard too, because when you have a title or a position, you want to come across (especially when you are younger, you want to come across or be perceived as) knowing what you are talking about. And nobody always knows what they are talking about. I’m still learning, and we might as well learn together, I think that has given my team trust in me. I try to me that information sharing type of person as well. Because I have had managers in the past that make it feel like information is power, and doling out a little bit, just enough to keep you going is fine, but often times the more you know helps you see a bigger picture. I think knowledge can really be an engaging tool. I’ve always tried to develop that in my staff. But again, it goes back to that transparency word. Being transparent as a leader, and helping people understand “I’m growing, you’re growing”, and let’s sit back and take a look at the bigger picture, and how can we move forward together.
Personally, I have so much more respect for the leaders to are transparent with their people in the good times and in the bad times …
Well, I think more and more people want to know… they are hungry for that vision, what are the goals, what’s the motto, wanting to be searching for that more and more. Maybe back in the day they really weren’t, it was more clock-in, clock-out, and get on with your life. I certainly feel like I have grown into my career in a way that it is so much a part of me, and who I am. I think some of my closest friends are somewhere in the world, but they are part of the events industry, and I met them through doing events. That company vision that people want to latch on to is really a big piece of the puzzle for companies to put out there. And again, it doesn’t have to be behind the scenes, confidential notes from ever board meeting, obviously we know that you can’t share all the information. But to your point, just being able to have enough to grab on to and ride it and get excited about things.
How do you go about cultivating helping people feel connected to the vision and the mission?
SeneGence has been one of the biggest eye openers in that aspect, because these ladies who are distributors for SeneGence are so dynamic, they really are on the forefront of everything that is happening. They are attending other events outside of just ours, getting a taste for such creativity, with solid intensive training and keynotes, so it’s a consistent challenge to stay ahead of them, and give they a little WOW. They really love communication. Since this all started, we have been going live on Facebook at the same time every day, in the exact same way, on the same platform, we are there every single day. One of us from the executive team is there every day, it’s not like I had a ton to say today, but I was just talking about a “postponed event and here is what we think the agenda is going to be, and here’s the exciting elements that we are still able to bring to you guys…”. That consistent communication keeps them so engaged.
After this is all over, when we can go back to having live events again, how do you structure that event for the distributors (direct sales representatives) who are coming to the event?
Well, we do the full-blown incentives, where we are treating them to a once in a lifetime trip with either their spouse or their partner. Then, we have one where they can bring their children along, so it’s all about pampering them, and making them feel like they achieved something amazing that no one else could get. Then, there are some small-scale retreats and our larger scale training conferences. We do a lot of engagement with the leaders. Some of the girls have been with the company for a great number of years. We do a post event survey every time, and they have PLENTY of feedback … they will let us know if we aren’t meeting expectations and setting them up for the experience they want. Because the attendees, like most direct sales companies, are paying their own way. They aren’t sponsored by a corporation. So, hotel, flight, taxi, and the registration fee are all coming out of their personal budget. So, everything must be flawless and meaningful. They are not shy about feedback. But, that relationship, that open communication, is kind of the cornerstone and foundation of keeping our events moving and lively and thriving.
So with an audience as large as yours (6,500) how do you go about structuring those general sessions to make sure that you are thinking about all the feedback they are giving you, and all of their expectations? How are you making sure they are getting what they want out of it, and feeling closer to the brand when they leave?
It’s a challenge, because they can’t just be motivated and fired up for the moment, they still have to walk away with tangible things they can do to build their business, grow being business, to leader their teams. So, the challenge is having all of the content and real meat on the bone for them. We have a really amazing sales team that keeps an eye on the field, and the hot topics. We are constantly looking for hot speakers. Not just people that can just come in and get everybody cheered up and motivated but taking it a step further to really give them that content and business building tips. We always have some of our executive team at all of our events. So, they are always on stage, interacting with the audience, and we are producing most of our events in multiple cities at the same time, so it does require us to spread people out. But it’s really cool to see how they are connected with different executives in different ways, because everyone is bringing different value.
What are your some of your pet peeves, that when you are on-site, or planning an event, that drives you nuts!??
You know, I am usually so excited, that I don’t have a lot that bothers me, but if I have to pick something I would say those people that show up who don’t prepare. They don’t listen on any of the calls leading up, and don’t even know what time registration open.
You know, one of the other things that bothers me just a hair is how people underestimate how much work goes into the pre-planning. The skill, the time, the organization … but, I think a lot of time we make it look quite easy. There’s skill there, there’s amazing talent, and it’s a big deal to put these events on.
Okay, next up, what’s your superpower?
I would say, just kind of being calm. I am excited about the events, but when we are in the middle of it, remaining calm. Crap hits the fan all the time, not just once, but you are juggling all those pieces. Even if I am boiling over inside, and stressed to the max, I can be calm on the outside. And, the reason that’s a superpower is because it keeps other people calm too.
Lastly, what bit of advice would you give people who are starting a career in the events industry?
You must, buy, travel with, and use thank you notes. Because when you are doing an event in Spain or Asia, you are meeting new people and building relationships with people you may want to stay connected with throughout your entire career. You want to thank those people who are the director of catering, the event manager at the hotel; you may never do an event with those people again, but they need to be recognized. A small thank you note, a handwritten note is such a big deal. It’s a small effort to make a really big impact, and it builds relationships. It sets you up to be someone they remember, and who they want back. Start that when you are starting in the industry!