How to Successfully Manage Your Vendor Relationships
The proper course of action to manage vendor relationships isn’t always clear — here’s how to navigate some of the sticky situationsby Andrea Lockhart | Published in June 2009 ethics | Event Life | kickbacks | management | negotiation | vendors | Departments
You can be the best planner in the world, but if you can’t work with vendors, well, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Although it can seem straightforward — after all, we all want a successful event, right? — the appropriate course of action isn’t always clear. Here’s what I’ve learned about navigating these relationships over the years.
The Kickback Question
For every part of an event, I have several trusted vendors who are the first I endorse to clients. These vendors make my job a piece of cake — and make me look good. I don’t have to worry about how they’ll interact with my client. I know they’re going to get the contract to me and my client on time, be responsive and flexible, show up on time, and most importantly, do a fabulous job.
Some vendors have offered me kickbacks in exchange for providing them with referrals. Initially, I was unsure of how to deal with this, so I asked myself, if I were the client, what would my assumption be if I found out my planner had accepted money for referring a vendor? Obviously, I’d wonder whether the vendor was really the best for me, or if they were recommended just so my planner could make a few extra bucks. Additionally, referring unreliable or sloppy vendors only puts a planner’s reputation at risk.
I’m not averse to rewards for patronage per se, however — as long as they pass the “client’s perspective” test. For example, one of my favorite linen rental companies offers a 10 percent referral gift to planners, or this amount can be taken off the client’s final bill. I always take the latter option. My clients always appreciate the bonus — and my honesty.
Working with New Vendors
Sometimes clients engage vendors with whom I’ve never worked before. I don’t sweat it. I make my introductions as early as possible and gently suggest a plan for working together productively. This approach is usually met favorably and there are few, if any, hitches. If I feel the new vendor did a great job and was easy to work with, I gladly add them to the shortlist of vendors I refer.
Mediating Between Vendors
Unfortunately, sometimes planners end up being the mediator between vendors. Many times, I’ve had to diffuse a situation before it affected the event’s outcome. Though this is not my favorite part of the job, it’s necessary. On the day of the event, the client is relying on me to keep on top of things and put out any necessary fires — without dragging them or their guests into the mix.
Last summer, I had to mediate between a DJ and a band leader. The band leader resented the DJ being there and wanted to monopolize the evening. He told the DJ he should only play at the beginning and end of the event. Once I got wind of this, I quickly stepped in to diffuse the situation, explaining that the client hired the DJ and the band so that they would have equal playing time and that that was what needed to happen.
All in all, to work successfully with vendors, exercise patience and a bit of humor. It’s important for the client to be happy, and for the vendor to have the tools necessary to do a great job. When all of that goes smoothly, you’ve got yourself a terrific event!