Conference organizers who are in it for the long run know that partnerships really matter. In my mind, the best partnerships are the ones where your supplier is doing everything they can to help you win. If you’re strictly looking at them as an expense that needs to be cut, you’re probably working with the wrong “partner” – or possibly for the wrong employer.
During a consulting gig a few years ago, I learned about an AV guy named Isaac. Isaac was so good that one association would follow him, regardless of which company he went to work for.
This association’s experience with Isaac – an individual who went above and beyond expectations – led the organization to reevaluate its overall vendor and partner selection strategy. Whether seeking to work with an exhibit service contractor, meeting technology or other service provider, they had to find their Isaac or move on.
What made Isaac so special – and do you need supplier partners like that for your conference? I think you do, but the RFP mentality of most organizations often prevents them from realizing the intangible benefits of the Isaac advantage.
Five Attributes of Strategic Suppliers
If your partners have the following five key attributes, you’ll know you made the right long-term decision.
1. The people that do the work matter most.
You should absolutely do your due diligence to ensure the company can deliver the goods and at a fair price. But after that, go a step further. Ask your partner to identify who will be primarily responsible for delivering and servicing post-sale. Get their bio. Interview them. Call several of the clients they serve. Basically, treat the selection process like you were interviewing a new critical hire.
2. You’re their favorite.
Account or project managers should make you feel like you’re the only (or best) client they serve. They tend to go above and beyond what’s contracted or expected. On occasion, they may even put your best interest ahead of their employer’s.
3. They think long-term.
The best supplier partners will get to know your conference and organization as well as your most valued co-workers. After a couple of conference experiences, they should evolve from being order takers and implementers to advisors you trust. Their ability to anticipate and problem solve will be noticeably better. They might even get to the point that they complete your sentences.
4. They help you day in and day out.
Partners who only show up with advice and resources during contract renewal don’t deserve your business. Be sure to award suppliers who are looking out for your best interests on a regular basis. They should be giving you advice to get the most bang for your buck, sharing ideas from their experience with other clients, and referring you to vendors or solutions without the motivation of a kick back.
5. They become friends.
You think so much of this person that you’ll friend them on Facebook. You might even break bread or have a couple drinks together just because you enjoy their company. In the case of Isaac, you might even want to play matchmaker and introduce him to your best friend or niece. In our business, relationships still do matter and the best suppliers are often good friends.
If you work for an industry supplier, take good care of your Isaacs. While more and more customers are short-listing their suppliers via a spreadsheet, decision makers have a greater appreciation of the long-term benefits of strong partnerships.
Have you had the chance to work with an Isaac at your conference? What did they do to make themselves an invaluable asset to your team?
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2014.