As I've reiterated in my columns about outsourcing meeting production and creative services, the most important part of the client-vendor mix is the relationship itself. It's time to revisit this important issue by looking at the beginning of the client-vendor relationship--when the salesman comes a-calling. Salespeople come in all shapes and styles, from the polished, civilized, listener types (like yours truly) to the high-pressure, Glengarry Glen Ross, Willie Loman variety to everything in-between. Think of me as your local nightly news troubleshooter, cautioning you about the common but unsavory tactics of Slick Willy car salesdom.

Fast Eddie, Quick Closer Beware of Fast Eddie, the Quick Closer. An incarnation of this used-car lot staple exists in the sales ranks of meeting production companies. These people do everything they can to rush the sale: "What's it gonna take to get you to sign on the dotted line ... today?"

This mentality usually signifies one of two things:

* This person is on a quota or commission pay scale; he's more of an individual than a team player. What does that say about his organization?

* His company has fallen on tough times and needs to bring a few clients on board quickly.

Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not against helping a down-on-its-luck company, but more than likely, you will be working with a commodity vendor rather than developing a partnership. And remember, desperate times call for desperate measures: The vendor may be trying to land the account even if your event doesn't fall under its area of expertise.

Not a Penny Over Invoice Another character in the car lot is Mr. "Hey, I'm not making a cent on this car! This is the invoice price." The truth, of course, is that there's almost always a catch to the lowball technique. In the meeting production industry, if a company is offering a bid so cheap that no other company can compete, you can bet it will try to make up the difference with hidden costs like markups or with change orders.

But the biggest concern, if the company is truly producing your meeting without making money, is that it doesn't know what it's doing. Carine Clark, director of corporate marketing for Novell, says it best in a recent article in Exhibitor magazine: "If they tell me they'll do the job for cost, I won't work with them because ... if they don't want to make a profit, they're not going to be around in five years, and developing a relationship is a waste of my time."

Buy or Lease? Lastly, some salespeople will try to forego the relationship-building process and pressure you into a long-term contract. This is where you can use the language of the car lot to your advantage.

Simply tell them that you need to take a test drive. Work on one or a few small projects together before signing a long-term or short-term contract. Feel free to think of it as a lease rather than a purchase if the relationship isn't working out after a while. Bid the production out--especially if you like your vendor but feel it may need a kick start. The company should shift its creative forces into high gear to maintain its partnership with you.

Please don't write any letters to the Automobile Dealers Anti-Defamation League complaining about this article. The car salesperson is an easy target, but some of these sales tactics are all too real. Unfortunately, many salespeople are so likable that you don't realize you are being duped. When entering into new territory, allow enough distance to examine a situation from a business standpoint. If you don't, you'll probably end up with a lemon.