Dealing with vendors is a basic part of planning and executing meetings. So it only makes sense to cultivate good relationships with the folks who provide the necessary facilities and services.
“We need each other to be truly successful,” says Jody Brandes, senior meeting partner at Genentech, a San Francisco biotechnology company. “It may be possible for planners to plan meetings without creating relationships with vendors, but it’s much more rewarding to care about the people you work with.”
She says that good planner-vendor relationships pay off when problems arise.
“It’s great when everything runs smoothly, but we know that is not 100 percent of the time,” she says. “People are more willing to cooperate when a relationship is there.”
Brandes likes the ability to count on a vendor for an extra measure of help.
“If my preferred vendor is booked and can’t accommodate my meeting, I trust them to provide a good referral for a competitor,” she says. “If their referral is great, it makes me want to work even more with that original vendor. Referring a competitor doesn’t make someone lose business, it almost guarantees business to come back to them.”
Brandes relies extensively on hotel global sales offices.
“Many times I have meetings at smaller hotels, and they are not familiar with Genentech’s preferences and agreements,” she says. “When I run into trouble with a hotel, I can give my GSO a quick call and email, and they save me time by stepping in and educating their property as needed.”
She says the relationship with the GSO becomes even stronger when they’ve connected on LinkedIn or met face-to-face.
“When you find something in common outside the business it creates a bond,” she says. “I do believe that the relationships I have encourage my vendors to work harder for me.”
Brandes advises a forthright approach in dealing with vendors.
“Communication is king. There are a million things that change and happen with each event. Everyone needs to be on the same page to avoid any potentially costly mistakes.” — Jayna Cooke
“Be genuine, be honest and be kind,” she says. “If you don’t have any business with a particular vendor, tell them you don’t have business for them right now. Don’t ignore their emails and voicemails.”
She adds that you never know when things will change and you could need each other in the future. Or given that job situations change, you could work together someday. In any case, vendors will appreciate your honesty.
“The planner-vendor relationship is a key to the success of both organizations and ultimately a positive impact on meetings and events,” says Kerri Begley, vice president, conferences and special events for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. She notes that a positive relationship helps develop trust, commitment and partnership for successful meetings.
Of course building planner-vendor relationships may not be as important for one-time situations, notes Jayna Cooke, CEO at Chicago-based EVENTup, an online marketplace supporting selection of event venues.
“We see many clients who are interested in trying new venues, new service providers, or are planning events in markets other than their own,” she says. “So in those cases there isn’t a big advantage to taking the time to build a relationship.” But when a relationship is likely to be continued, she agrees that it’s important to cultivate it in positive ways.
In fact, it’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of vendor-planner relationships, according to Sarah Bigorowski, director of events at the Georgia Pharmacy Association.
“Our industry is all about hospitality and when there is a good connection driven by customer service, relationships and trust, we all win,” she says. “It shows that we are all in this together, and that there is a commitment by both parties to execute a successful event.”
Respect and understanding are vital to a good relationship between planner and vendor,” says Emily Houg, principal of Echo Events in Tacoma, Washington.
“The relationship between a meeting planner and a vendor is part of the foundation of putting together a great event,” she says. “Without mutual respect between the two parties, you might as well kiss having a calm and well-executed event goodbye.”
Giving credit for the talents that vendors bring to the table is a great first step in fostering productive relationships.
“Respect vendors’ time and talents as the experts in their fields,” Begley says. “Provide timely communication and expect to pay fair market value. Also refer them to others, the biggest compliment a vendor can receive.”
Houg recalls an event where an attendee lost an anniversary ring that had been a surprise gift from her husband. The woman was beside herself. In response, the entire facility staff joined Houg in sifting through garbage until they found it, an action Houg attributes to the excellent relationship she enjoyed with facility staff.
“I can’t say that any other facility or staff would have gone the extra mile to help find the ring,” she says. “At many places, they would have just taken a description of the ring and promised to contact her if it showed up.”
At the same time, don’t assume it’s okay to be pushy with a vendor or make unreasonable demands.
“Make sure your relationship is a win-win situation,” Begley says. “Don’t use your relationship to request special deals above and beyond what is appropriate. At the end of the day, business is business, and we all need to meet our organization’s goals.”
Obviously good communication is key when it comes to dealing with vendors. When breakdowns occur, more often than not the problem can be traced to either a mistake in communication or a lack of sufficient exchanges between the parties involved.
“Communication is king,” Cooke says. “There are a million things that change and happen with each event. Everyone needs to be on the same page to avoid any potentially costly mistakes.”
She tells of a recent communication breakdown where there was confusion about the number of days required for a venue rental.
“We thought it had been adjusted for three days, and initially quoted the client at the two-day price for three days. Everything ended up working out alright in the end, but that could have easily been a big mistake.”
How can such errors be avoided? One strategy is to use at least two different forms of communication. If you’ve been communicating with a vendor rep by email, for example, take the time to connect by phone also. Not only does that help establish or maintain personal relationships, but you can use a phone conversation to confirm details conveyed via email. The reverse also can work well.
“Although it’s great to get on the phone, after conversations our event planners make sure to send a recap via email to the service provider to make sure that everyone is on the same page,” Cooke says.
Communication after the fact is also important, according to Bigorowski. This applies not only to taking care of event details, but also to the problem-solving process.
“Balls can be dropped and miscommunication happens and then there are the wild cards — the things no one could have predicted but we have to respond to,” she says. “It’s how we handle these instances by working together and providing honest feedback between client and vendor that can strengthen the relationship.”
A strategy anyone can follow is taking the time to connect with key staff and let them know you appreciate their work. That’s not only the right thing to do but also a great way to foster cooperation, according to Houg.
“Make an effort to say hello and thank you to everyone that is involved,” she says. She affirms that management and sales might be the front of the house and those with whom you work closely and see the most often. But the back of the house staff (catering, custodial, housekeeping and so forth) really make any event happen. They include the people setting up the room, clearing and cleaning facilities, serving your attendees or otherwise assisting them with a variety of requests.
“They are the faces of your event as much as you the planner are,” Houg says. “Their job might not be in the limelight and they might prefer to be in the background, but don’t forget they are just as important in the process of implementing a great event as the next.”
She says that talking with staff and treating them with respect will reap benefits in the long run.
“They will remember you,” she says. “And the next time your event is at that facility, they will go that extra mile for you when it is needed the most.”
Cooke agrees. “Be thankful,” she says. “Always make sure to thank the service providers after a great event. This is often overlooked, and a thank you goes a long way.”
Solid personal relationships often form the basis for cooperative problem-solving, Houg points out. Because of the relationship she had with a local facility and caterer, when the numbers for an event increased unexpectedly, the vendors were able to make things happen two days before the event started.
“Space was made available to accommodate the increase,” she says. “And F&B made sure there was plenty of food to handle the group, even with an increase in the numbers for special meal requests.”
Begley describes a longtime relationship with a provider of audio-visual services.
“We consider them joint partners in the success of our meetings and events,” she says. “When we work together onsite I know they will do the best job possible to make our meeting a success. I trust they will do this, and I shout their names from the rooftop any chance I get.”
In one instance, a hotel attempted to deny some concessions that had been promised.
“As the hotel’s in-house AV company, my contact went to bat for us and made sure the promises were met,” Begley says.
The likelihood for such cooperation may be greater when you treat contacts as individuals and take the time to identify common points of interest, Bigorowski advises.
“Make a point to know one or two things about your vendors on a personal level,” Bigorowski says. “What are their hobbies? Where do they like to vacation? It’s fun to get to know one another and build connections.”
Taking things further, if a vendor of yours is hosting a client event, attend if you can, she suggests.
“They will appreciate the support and a familiar face in the crowd. Even better, bring a fellow planner or colleague so the vendor can grow their network, too.”
Certainly, positive relationships are vital in all aspects of business. When it comes to dealing with vendors, successful relationships can assure that everyone comes out a winner.
“Through the vendor relationships I’ve developed over the years, I have made dear friends and a network of resources,” Begley says. “That not only allows me to be successful at my job, but also to have a lot of fun doing it.” C&IT