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.
Joan Eisenstodt says
Over 40+ years, many. Those who come immediately to mind:
– Alvin Brazile (of blessed memory) of the Sheraton NOLA, who just was amazing.
– Duc Lu who still works for Hyatt. He was a new immigrant to the US from VietNam and worked at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill in DC. HE was “Radar O’Reilly”, anticipating everything anyone wanted.
– Michael Conod (also of blessed memory), my first CS at the Shoreham in ’79. We bonded and he was so good and we were such good friends, we talked every night as we watched “Jeopardy”!
– Kim Peterson (Seattle Sheraton) and Devon Sloan (then Walter) (Seattle Sheraton when we met, then Hilton ElConquistador in Tucson and now retired) .. all of the above and more.
– Mike Rowan when he was in CS at Gaylord Opryland. Was there anything he coudn’t do? Anything he hadn’t read and thought about? Brilliant! Still good .. no, great, friends.
– Don Barlow with whom I worked when he was at the Sheraton Washington and then at Gaylord Opryland who made easels and mashed potatoes appear with no effort.
Thanks for this.
Adding one caution: the friendship part has to be undertaken cautiously and when negotiating or when there’s a problem, “business hats” (v. “friend hats”) have to be put on. Favors have to be curtailed entirely on both sides. It makes the two sides of the relationship cleaner and smarter.
Dave Lutz says
Wow Joan, love your list of special hospitality professionals that went above and beyond in working with you. We could use more Radar O’Reilly’s and Mike Rowan’s!
Thanks for adding the caveat on the friends and favors thought too. We got to keep things ethical and above board for sure!
Marty Brown. Not sure where he is now!
Tahira Endean says
Dave, I love this. I agree with you and Joan- friendship and business can mix, but business has to remain professional. Everything you said rings so true for the way I have designed, created and built dozens of amazing events and meetings – by surrounding myself with people who will always think ahead of me to ensure whatever crazy idea I came up with could happen, would happen, and would surprise the guests with positive impact after amazing experience, always, always with the end experience in mind, no matter what challenges – and there have been hundreds both naturally occuring and man-made – are put in our way. There are many I hold dear and can’t wait to work with again! Thank you for so eloquently elucidating why.
Dave Lutz says
Anne, did some digging and see a Marty Brown with PSAV in Chicago. Hopefully, you’ll get another opportunity to work with him!
Tahira, thanks for the comment. You’re an Isaac for sure!
Thank you for doing that digging, Dave! I do hope I get to work with Marty again.