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Avoiding the hard sell: Steps to smoother supplier negotiations

25 April 2016

When it comes to planning events, negotiation is one of the most powerful and frequently required tools in a PA’s arsenal. From striking deals in person at conventions and in meetings, to requesting services via phone or email, the relationships formed with vendors and suppliers can make or break corporate events.

Unfortunately, discussions with vendors can be fraught with cross-purposes. While it’s your obligation to find a supplier who understands your vision and will work with you to realise it, many vendors are focused on making quick, large-scale sales, piling on the pressure before you’re certain of what you’re getting.

We’ve pulled together some tips to ease the process of finding a vendor you can work in partnership with, at a price that suits your needs.

Lay the foundation

Don’t enter into negotiations blindly. Gather a range of opinions as to what your specific needs are, from your colleagues and CEO, as well as from prospective event attendees. An online survey in advance of an event can give you a unique insight on what to look for in terms of new suppliers.

Identify suppliers of differing levels of experience and exposure - big name vendors have proven effectiveness, but fresher alternatives may offer creative options at a lower cost. Look into testimonials for each, and try to answer questions from the practical - “How cost-effective is this option?” to the conceptual - “How do the values of this vendor align with our own?” 

Draw hard lines

Make sure you walk into any negotiations with a clear idea of what you will and will not compromise on. Separate your priorities into the needs that you refuse to back down on, and the wants that may sweeten a deal. Vendors may offer your bonuses and upgrades, but don’t let this sway you away from your priorities.

It is prudent to have a set budget in mind, but you don’t have to disclose this during the negotiations - bear in mind that vendors will often try to upsell services for a sum just above your budget, so keeping this number to yourself until you’ve heard all the options gives you an upper hand.

Demand a decision-maker

“We’ll get back to you” may be the most infuriating sentence a vendor can utter in the middle of negotiations. As well as costing you valuable time, postponing decisions takes the ball out of your court, allowing vendors to come back with another up-selling tactic.

Lessen the need for costly delays by asking to speak to someone with the authority to make decisions on the spot. If you’re speaking with a representative at an event, show your enthusiasm by asking for the details of a decision-maker, and arrange a more focussed meeting with a definite time limit. This allows more room to negotiate a deal that works for your specific needs, rather than being pressured into the particular packages that are being promoted at the event.

Be transparent

Confidence is key when closing a deal, particularly when in person. It can be easy to falter under the pressure of a hard sell, but the best way to avoid doing so is being unyieldingly transparent about your terms and feelings from the beginning. If you think a service is too costly, say so. If you think a package is lacking a key element, be up-front with your opinion.

Don’t be afraid to mention that you’re looking at other suppliers, and to demonstrate that you are aware of the average rates. Far from offending vendors, drumming up a little competition will show your own business nouse and ensure that you get a competitive rate.

Reassess regularly

Don’t be complacent about long-term relationships with suppliers, as it’s always worth renegotiating as your needs change. Even if you’ve been procuring services from the same vendor successfully for years, keeping an eye on the market can open up new opportunities that you hadn’t previously considered.

If you use the same supplier regularly, don’t allow them to become complacent either. Take advantage of your position as a valued customer by touching base whenever your needs change or you’re tempted by a better deal elsewhere, and you may be rewarded with preferential treatment and even more attractive options.

Finding a middle road between your business needs and a supplier’s financial objectives is never going to be entirely straightforward. However, by entering negotiations with a firm idea of what you are and are not willing to compromise on, you can take control and create a positive business relationship which, if you play your cards right, may blossom into a mutually beneficial partnership.

Looking for seamless event management? Get in touch to discover how we can meet your objectives and turn your visions into exceptional experiences.

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