Getting the Most from your Supplier Relationships: Some Do’s and Don’ts

By Gayle Gilberto, Event Designer & CIS

After working as a supplier in this industry for 16 years and in another for five more, I’ve had every kind of working relationship with meeting and event planners. I’ve also had the privilege of supervising others in their working relationships. From my experience, I’ve gained insight into how different clients’ techniques, systems, and working styles affect their programs from the bidding process to the final on-site results. I’ve compiled a list of some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that will help you get what you need and perhaps something extra from your suppliers.

people working together

Do: Take three bids, and tell your suppliers you are taking bids. The competition will drive your suppliers to sharpen those pencils and create quality proposals.

Do: Compare apples to apples! When sending out RFP’s, make sure each supplier is working with the same information. Be as transparent as possible, and let the suppliers know which elements are most important and which ones are not.

Don’t: Hedge on the budget question. I understand that there are times when you legitimately don’t know what your budget is; however, I recommend using past experience or event as your guide. Also, make sure to give each supplier the same budget range to avoid getting wildly different proposals back at various price points. Even if you have to modify the budget after receiving the bid, you’ll start with information you can use to access your three bids properly.

*Helpful Hint*: If you do know your budget, shave a bit off the top when sharing with suppliers. That leftover “padding” can be used in the future to add elements you don’t see in the initial proposal!

Do: Ask for other suggestions. You don’t have to be an expert on everything yourself. You are reaching out to experts in each of their fields. Let them share their knowledge with you by encouraging them to add suggestions and different options. You might end up liking the new ideas better than the ones you initially thought of!

Do: Be realistic with your proposal, timeframe. Try to get RFP’s in as early as possible and ask the supplier how much time they need for the turnaround. There is an old rule from my days in the film industry that equally applies to event production: “Good, Fast, Cheap!” Pick two!”

After the Bid: The Working Relationship

There are two ways to get what you need when you need it:

  1. Be an ally

We all enjoy doing beautiful things for our friends. That’s why clients and suppliers who are “friends,” even if only in the working world, tend to get better service and extra bonuses. Being thankful, considerate, and fostering a positive relationship with someone can go a long way.

  1. Be a ‘Squeaky Wheel’

We are all constantly busy in our industry. And although your suppliers genuinely want to give equal time to all their clients, the reality is that some clients make sure they get more attention than others. The ‘squeaky wheel’ is someone who is both present and persistent in getting what he or she needs. Clients who call consistently tend to get pushed to the head of the line.

Don’t: Be mean

Try not to confuse being ‘squeaky’ with being rude. Beating people down is not the same as being present. I’ve seen senior suppliers jump away from the phone in fear when they see a certain number come up on their cell. I’ve seen others pass on potentially lucrative projects just because their point person proved to be complicated. Suppliers can make or break your next program; keep them on your team by treating them like professionals, not servants.

Do: Feel free to ask for that extra something. Even if you’re pretty sure the answer is “no,” it never hurts to try. You’ll be surprised at how often you’re happily surprised by the outcome.

Event or Program Start Day

Do: Arrive early to make sure things are progressing smoothly. Get ahead of last-minute changes and potential snags during your set up.

Do: Act before you react. As we all know, unexpected contingencies arise on site. Elevators and trucks can break down, backups happen on loading docks, and people get sick. If your set up isn’t going as expected, find out what the challenges are, and ask for solutions.

Do: Request a walkthrough before anyone is dismissed.

Do: Request a rehearsal, run-through if AV, talent is involved.

After the Fact

Give feedback! Everyone wants to know how they are doing, and feedback is always appreciated. Suppliers should welcome constructive criticism so we can adjust and improve in the future. Leaving a review, especially when someone hits a home run, can forge a friendly feeling that will surely benefit you the next time around!

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