The Difference Between a Vendor and a Partner
By: Kathy Del Medico
When I was a teenager, I asked my Dad if I could go to an event with a bunch of my high school friends. His response without hesitation was, “Sure, have fun!” The next day I asked him why he was so quick to let me go and not ask any questions. He simply said, “You’ve always surrounded yourself with good people. People who share the same values respect you and look out for each other. Why wouldn’t I let you go?”
I have carried that sentiment with me throughout my life as seen by my business partner, my friends, my employees, and especially the partners who support us in making every event a success. It’s not always easy, when your events span the globe, to find those vendors who are willing to truly be your partner. It takes time to build that trust and master the communication required to truly build a relationship. Without the relationship, your vendors are just order-takers. You call them, they do what you tell them, spit out a quote, and you’re off to the finish line. With a true partnership, your vendors evolve into another one of your team members and an extension of your brand. You want your partners to listen up front to the needs of both yourself and the client, then collaborate with you, sparking ideas and creating the best path to fulfill the objectives in a super cool way.
Let's back up a bit - this doesn’t happen immediately. It takes time, but with the right steps in place, you can foster a truly impactful relationship.
First, start with referrals - take the time to reach out to your local event industry chapters, your colleagues in the event location, and even your venue. Talk to them about what you are looking for and see if they have any recommendations.
Next, call the new vendor and evaluate the response – method of communication, response time, their knowledge of their inventory, the venue, and the city in which you are entering. If satisfied, start to talk about your event specifically and what your needs are; always follow up with an email to state what you agreed upon in the conversation and manage expectations.
Then, when a proposal comes in, get some face time and set up a call or virtual meeting for them to review and explain it. Too much these days is communicated through short bursts of information and instead of a thorough conversation. These touch-bases will also help you build a relationship and dive deeper into how each other works. You also get to know the level of pride in their work.
Finally, when the time comes (and it will, I promise), have the courageous conversations that require you both to be vulnerable. Most of all, respect each other and the hard work that everyone does. Not only will you have a successful event, you may make a few lifetime friends along the way.