Meetings technology has fundamentally changed how supplier relationships are built and maintained in business today—a fact that is particularly apparent when it comes to sourcing. But technology shouldn’t completely change the way meeting professionals manage their relationships with suppliers; rather, it should complement their efforts. Whether you’re sourcing the good ol’ fashioned way or using an online request for proposal tool, here are some tried-and-true tactics you can use to get the most out of your supplier relationships:
 
1. Play Fair
You’ll do better in negotiations when you are able to present years of comprehensive meetings and vendor data. So, track the business value you’ve brought to the supplier over the last three years, not the last three months.
You’re also likely to catch a break if you agree to book additional business with the supplier in the future—but don’t expect a handshake to seal the deal. Be specific about your plans and commit to a certain amount of spend over a defined period of time. Additional perspective can be provided through data-backed projections of how valuable your company’s business will be in the future. For example, share pickup history from past programs, preliminary dates for future events, and projections of the business value your group will bring (i.e., ancillary revenue).
Playing fair is the name of the game. Inflating promises of future business to cut a deal in the short term will put your long-term relationship at risk—in brief, you lose.
 
2. Be Transparent
Identify your company’s needs from the get-go. Share those tightly held budget guidelines and pet peeves with potential suppliers. How else can they really give you what you are looking for? Additionally, by telling the supplier about any flexibility you may have for the event, you give them the freedom to come up with creative solutions to meet your budget realities and overall goals. Remember: Your supplier not only must meet your needs as requested in your RFP, but must also understand the overall business value of your potential program in order to give you the most competitive rates.
 
3. Use e-RFPs Respectfully
Don’t send RFPs to suppliers that are unlikely to be a good fit for your event. All too often we think we need to “blanket” a geographic area with RFPs because it’s quick, easy, and ensures the best price—but this haphazard approach can be detrimental to your supplier relationship.
It takes vendors a considerable amount of time and effort to respond to each RFP, so be respectful of that. By researching a particular city prior to sending out the request, you’re able to strategically the select the area that meets your overall event needs, rather than choosing a venue based solely on your budgetary guidelines. Targeting your search also reduces the number of responses you’ll have to review and compare, and lets suppliers better manage the business opportunities coming their way. Plus, when you are smart about your sourcing, suppliers will learn that when they receive an RFP from you, it’s worth their time because you’re truly interested in the property.
Don’t know where to start? First identify the metro area where you plan to hold the event. Then begin your search within a specific region of that area. If you’re sourcing the venue through an e-RFP system, you can also filter through results using meeting-specific search criteria, such as the venue’s distance from an airport, ceiling heights of the meeting rooms, and square footage of the space. This information will help you to find the venue that best suits your needs.
 
4. Resolve Conflicts Quickly
There are sure to be a few bumps in the road throughout the course of a buyer/supplier relationship. What’s critical is how you resolve these issues. Be upfront and work with the supplier to reach a solution rather than trying to fix it on your own or escalating the situation to senior management. It’s in your best interest to bring only crucial matters to higher-ups. Resolving conflicts directly with the person you do business with gives them the opportunity to continue serving you and protecting your relationship.
For example, let’s say you’re having trouble adhering to your agreed-upon attrition schedule: Your attendee numbers are smaller than you expected. One of the first calls to make is to your partner in the negotiation—your sales representative. He or she may have another group that needs the very rooms you are having trouble filling, and can work directly with you to come up with a solution that is truly a win-win. Giving your contact the opportunity to work with you is going to help strengthen the investment you both have in your meeting’s success.
As another example, let’s imagine it’s the day of the event—a luncheon—and something goes wrong with your meals: You’ve requested eight kosher dishes and there is not one to be found at the hotel. Rather than escalating the situation to the general manager, ask instead to speak with your sales representative. Remember that he or she is one of the key people at the hotel who is invested in your success; so, why not give them a chance to save the day?

5. Keep The Lines of Communication Open
While using meetings technology and online RFP systems may expedite the entire process and allow for more efficient venue selection, it shouldn’t completely replace human communication. Once you’ve narrowed down your venue choices, it’s time to pick up the phone and have a conversation with the supplier about your program. Talking with the prospective venue gives you both the chance to ask more in-depth questions, refine your needs, and add that personal touch to solidify your (soon to be long-term) relationship.
 
Lisa English, CMP, CMM, GTP is Manager, SMM Strategy & Solutions, at CWT Meetings & Events. She is also Lead Instructor for the Meeting and Event Planning Certificate Program at California State University San Marcos at Temecula.