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Selling in times of Adversity
By Eda Ozden
I was never trained as a sales person or as a marketer. I never intended to join the MICE industry - one that my parents had helped build in Turkey. I wasn’t even planning on going back home after obtaining my College & Masters Degrees that had me living in Washington, DC and London. It was all fate that while Western Europe was facing one of the world financial crises of its history in 2008, the year I graduated, Turkey was booming. And I really mean booming! Istanbul was the HOTTEST destination both to live and visit. (Turkey increased inbound visitor numbers from 8 million to 42 million between 2000 and 2015.) Hotels, museums, bars, clubs, galleries – it was all happening. Almost everybody I know moved back home at this very juncture.
Turkey was the easiest sell. Within months of joining I attended my first IMEX in Frankfurt, I had barely grasped all we did, let alone learn about all our clients, yet I went back with a dozen great leads. Despite the massive number of inventory, we had trouble finding availability. My first 3.5 years passed on, my sales & marketing budget was through the roof, and so was our business. We were averaging 40 groups a month. I was crisscrossing the globe, building a network that would help me massively in the later difficult years.
June 2013 saw the largest peaceful protests to ever happen in Turkey (Occupy Gezi Park). We’d spend the day between the office and joining the crowds outside. As luck would have it, 2013 was to be the best year in MEP’s history both in terms of volume and in revenue. Then came the cancellations. The next two years had me explaining politics in sales calls, exuding positivity, while always remaining honest. This would prove to be my biggest challenge; how do you explain an impressively complicated situation and appease worries without pushing on anybody’s buttons?
Then came June 2015, when Turkey started facing heart-breaking acts of violence and we entered a state of unknown. Within a year our business decreased by 95% along with my budget. We had to diversify, balance our costs, keep in touch with our clients, and find new business at the same time. Turkish tourism officials never had a comprehensive marketing strategy to deal with this. To this day, they are reactive observers at best.
We too had to become better prepared. At MEP we needed to up our game when it came to safety, security, and crisis management. We reviewed our procurement policies, further trained our staff, put in place crisis management SOPs with the help of security consultants, amped up our connections to local enforcement officers, and revised our insurance policies. Now, at the very least, I can say that we at MEP are prepared in the face of this new world order. I never thought being prepared would be a selling tool, but we took it further than that. At a time when bypassing DMCs became a trend, in this uncertain world having a reliable local partner became a must! I had found my calling! We had become essential once again.
Later on matters did calm down in Turkey, but my challenges remained: a hugely shrunk sales & marketing budget; staff that resigned to leave the industry altogether; and a hesitant client base. This time around relationships came to the rescue. For all the talk about 21st century and technology, these difficult times showed the importance of human connections. We had exclusive tradeshows invite us to exhibit for free, industry partners that showed their solidarity through social media and introductions to conferences where I could speak, friends that went above and beyond to get me hosted at various industry events, and even clients who had me come over to have discussions with/for their clients. Being a part of SITE Global also helped, allowing me to keep our company name in the market through our involvement.
Today we seem to have come a long way, but my own journey seems even longer. I’ve learned that you should never get too comfortable, you should keep diversifying, and most importantly, you should value your relationships. People come through at the hardest of times, after all; machines do not feel empathy yet.
And no, I don’t regret coming back home nor joining the industry. MICE in Turkey may be uncertain, but at least it is never dull!
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