$1,000,000 an hour” Top Ten Tips For Maximizing Supplier Relationships

Partnerships canadianspecialeventsBy Alex Bickers

I once had a new client call into the office looking for a quote for temporary event staff. Nothing out the ordinary for my business, but what struck me as odd was the abrupt approach…

“Hi, I need some staff for an event. How much is it?” Slightly taken aback, I replied that I could certainly be of assistance but would need a little more information.
“When and where is the event taking place and more importantly, to whom am I speaking?” The response took me even further aback… “Listen I don’t have time for any of that, how much is it?”

Having no out here, I calmly replied, “A million dollars an hour”

The silence was deafening for a few moments and then (luckily for me and my passive aggressive attempt at humor) the client burst out laughing.  Ice was broken and what followed was a productive conversation about the client actually needed.  Below are my top ten tips and tricks to make sure you make the most out of your supplier relationships.

1. Be clear about your needs (or be clear that you may not know them yet)

When reaching out to a potential supplier partners make you have a clear  outline of your needs. Often times clients will call in a pinch to get an “off the cuff” quote for a proposal that is due in the next hour. These are very difficult for suppliers to respond to. Suppliers know nothing about your event requirements. You may have had the Request for Proposal (RFP) for quite some time but remember, this is the first they are hearing of it.  When you find yourself faced with an event to plan and you know you are going to have to send out a series of requests for proposals, what helps is to take the time to review each of the components you will need and identify where you are going to have to partner up. Then allow yourself the time to collect those quotes so you can present an informed proposal to your client or stakeholders.

2. Have an idea of budget and never assume you know the costs

Prices more often than not vary by market. Just because you have worked with a supplier in one city previously doesn’t mean that the costs will be the same in another. Try to be mindful of local market values, labour costs, etc… It is never recommended to base your budget on last years prices or what was done is in a different city.  Also, have an idea on what you are willing to spend on a particular service. Tell your potential supplier that number. It only helps them draw a baseline when establishing what services they can provide at that price. Tell your suppliers what you want and what you have to spend and they will let you know what’s possible with their particular business.

3. If you are purchasing on price, let them know

Why waste anyone’s time with a 100 page RFP if you are only going to buy on price? If price is your main qualifier, then pick a list of suppliers you trust and let them know you are simply sending a Request for Quote (RFQ) and will be solely buying on price because you would be happy to work with any bidder invited. Its quick and easy for all involved.

4. Share your bigger picture

It is very helpful to share your bigger picture with your suppliers. It may seem unimportant but when preparing a quote for any component of your event they need to know how they fit in and what they need to bring to the table. Remember as a supplier, we all want to be the best partner we can so all parties can walk away successful, the more we know the better we can be.

5. Be clear on your disqualifiers

Disqualify as many suppliers as possible before seeking quotes. If you event has specific needs that are non negotiable for you or your client, send out a soft lead first. Email your full list of suppliers advising them you will be seeking quotes but will only be working with suppliers who meet certain criteria. Examples may include suppliers who have experience with events with over 5,000 attendees or those who have worked with not for profit organizations. Ask for a brief summary of qualifications and make your shortlist from there. Also be mindful to notify both successful and unsuccessful candidates so both can adjust their lead files accordingly. Nothing is more frustrating than sending a quote and hearing nothing back.

6 . Ask YOUR questions in RFPS

Be thoughtful when sending out RFPs. It makes it more challenging and takes your potential suppliers longer to reply to boilerplate requests that require hours of work and which you may not end up reading all the way through. Be clear on what are the most important pieces of information you need from your potential partners and ask for it.  In addition, if you are asking for an in depth, detailed, reply to your RFP  which includes design plans and fully developed strategies, be mindful there is time and cost associated with that and you may need to pay a refundable or non refundable fee for that information.

7. Be mindful of requesting references

Like you, suppliers clients are busy people and don’t necessarily have the time to answer every reference request. Decide on how many references you actually need to make your final decision and then call them only when you are about to select your successful supplier. Be aware that some businesses will not give you references until the decision process is in the home stretch and may also ask to be involved in the call.

8. Use your networks

Use your association networks and other suppliers to get an idea of who would be the right fit for you. In Canada, MPI , ISES or CanSPEP may be able to help.

9. Don’t “Frankenstein” quotes

If you have requested a quote for full services from a potential supplier, don’t pick the quote apart. If a supplier has itemized services, now is not the time to start deleting items because you want to get them from someone else.  It is important to know that the quote is based on the volume of services requested and will likely be revised if you take pieces out. Obviously if a reduction in services is required due to constraints related to the event then the quote will be adjusted. If you want to purchase individual components from multiple suppliers in the same field then let them know that in advance. Some suppliers are happy to work with others but some are not. Give them the option to opt out.

10. Avoid becoming a “challenging” client

Everyone likes to be challenged but when working on a project collaboratively, you need to think of your suppliers as your true partners not the ones on the other side of the table. Your suppliers are there to support and help you, treat them as they are part of your team. Trying to get the best deal is valid, but taking it to the point where the supplier feels held hostage is not a great approach because it doesn’t inspire them to go above and beyond for you or your event, and that’s what you want from them. The VERY best they can offer. If you can’t be an ally to your supplier, it is going to be a long road to success.

These tips will ensure you get the most out of your supplier partners. Nothing is more gratifying that a successful partnership and working with people you enjoy, trust and support. You may just build some long term partnerships that take your business places you never thought possible.

As for my relationship with the “$1,000,000 an Hour Client”? We’re still gong strong.

Alex Bickers CSE 2014   




Alex Bickers is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Nasco Staffing Solutions and the 2015/2015 ISES Vancouver Chapter President. www.nasco.ca