Mastering the art of vendor and supplier negotiation.

I hope you’re all caught up on Succession because it’s time to talk negotiations. It’s no secret that your relationships with vendors and suppliers are vital to the success of your events, but it can be intimidating to approach building these relationships.

It all starts with negotiations. Think of this process as the bridge to a new relationship with vendors and suppliers. It might seem scary to cross, but as long as you keep your eyes on the prize, take it one step at a time, and don’t look down, you’ll arrive safely on the other side. 

And lucky for you, we’re here to help! 

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Do your homework.

Break out those trapper keepers and notebooks! Successful negotiations begin with research. Not only is being prepared important for presenting a professional image, but by knowing your target businesses, you’ll be better able to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement. 

Key research points: 

  • Vendor/supplier’s market position 
  • Vendor/supplier’s typical price point 
  • Competitor prices 

By answering these questions, you’ll build a strong framework for your discussions. As important as it is to understand your targets, its equally as important to understand your business’s position, needs, and budget. 

Questions to ask yourself: 

  • What is my budget? 
  • What is my hard deadline for having a deal completed? 
  • What are my “must-haves” versus “nice-haves”? 
  • What are my alternatives in case a deal doesn’t pan out? 

A great way to gather information on potential vendors and suppliers is to go to their existing customers. Find out how satisfied they are, what they’re paying, and what it’s like working with a specific vendor or supplier. No matter how big the company, they’re all human-led, so it’s vital to know the personalities behind the business.

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Foster relationships.

Simplify your negotiations by establishing a single line of contact. You’ll develop a more personal relationship with the vendor or supplier by getting to know a single person on a deeper level. We’re more flexible with those we like. By charming one person, you can charm the whole company. 

You don’t need to be overly aggressive and impersonal in your negotiations. If anything, that’ll hurt your case. Don’t believe the hype from Wall Street or Succession. Strong communication is mindful communication. Speak in person whenever possible and listen carefully to their needs and limitations. 

When the other person is speaking, don’t think about your next rebuttal. Instead, consider what they’re saying. It can be helpful to repeat their points back to them immediately after they’ve finished. This will maintain clarity and make them feel heard. If they know you care about their needs, they’re more likely to care about yours. 

Respond in a timely manner and be patient with setting calls and meetings. Respect their time and they’ll respect yours. This is another way to telegraph that you’re interested in working with them as people, not just as a means to an end. 

Building relationships in negotiations is no different than making friends on the playground. You may be drinking coffee instead of sharing crayons, but you’re still getting to know the needs and interests of the other person and how your partnership can benefit you both.

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Offer creative solutions.

If you want to get value, give it first. By bringing something to the table that your vendor or supplier might value, you’ll engage in discussions as potential partners instead of from a place of need. This is where all that research comes in handy. 

A quick way to gain more favorable terms is to offer a long-term contract. A lot of negotiations center around alleviating the potential risks of a partnership. If you can guarantee future business—and future payments—your vendors or suppliers will be motivated to foster a healthy relationship via discounts or special pricing. 

If you’re feeling commitment shy, you can still add value by opening up a new market to your prospective vendor or supplier. We’re all looking for new ways to grow our businesses, and by making yourself the liaison to a new market, you add value to your deal and create a stronger relationship. They’ll remember you as the person who helped them grow their business and that gratitude will go right to the bank in the form of savings. 

Other ways to bring value: 

  • Will your event provide wider exposure for their business? 
  • Can you provide a stage for the launch of a new product? 
  • Can you help them move up the business ladder? 
  • Do you have shared values that you can help them pursue such as sustainability? 

Remember, the deal you’re negotiating should benefit both parties. If you put work into ensuring you bring value to your vendors or suppliers, you’ll reap the benefits of lower costs and a greater potential for long-term partnerships.

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Negotiation strategies.

Negotiation is like playing chess; it requires strategy. You don’t have to be a master, however, to get the most out of your discussions. A few simple practices will go a long way to getting you a favorable deal. 

Diversify! Speak to at least three vendors or suppliers and compare their prices, benefits, and other factors. You don’t need to brag, but by making your prospective vendors aware of each other, you’ll create competition for your business and encourage lower costs. 

Don’t be too eager! Never accept the first offer, no matter how nice it seems. This isn’t just about pursuing a cheaper price. If you accept the first offer, you’ll telegraph—accurately or not—that you have more capital to work with. This may cause higher quotes in the future if you want to keep working with the same businesses. 

Timing can make a BIG difference. If you approach a vendor or supplier during a key time for their business, either during a slow season when they’d be more eager for a big purchase or when they’re debuting a new product, you’ll position yourself as a high-value proposition. Remember, bringing value is about more than just money. 

Lastly, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to negotiate. Don’t get intimidated by all that business lingo or episodes of Succession. Embrace your communication style and remember that it’s all about building relationships. Communicate your needs and limits clearly, focus on providing value, and you’ll be sure to strike that perfect bargain! 

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This is what it all leads to—the contract. Think of your contract as the seatbelt for your new relationship; if things crash, you’ll be protected. 

First and foremost, a contract holds each party accountable for what they’ve promised to do. If someone doesn’t deliver, there is a path for redress that will protect you both from “he-said-she-said” headaches. 

Your contract should clearly state what each party is providing, what the total cost is, and what the duration of the relationship will be. Include agreed-upon deadlines, too. If things take longer than expected—which they sometimes do—have a path for redress or a grace period laid out. 

If there is a payment plan, such as installments or a specific percentage by a specific time, this should be included as well. The last thing you want is to miss a payment or hand in a check for the wrong amount because things weren’t clearly outlined. 

Keep the contract handy in an easy-to-access place in case you need to reference it. This wouldn’t always be for a negative reason. Sometimes it’s good to have a reminder of the agreed-upon responsibilities. It’s easy to forget the details in the chaos of event planning!

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Deal or no deal? 

While negotiations can seem intimidating, they’re actually one of the most exciting times in your life as a planner. This is where you first meet your potential partners in event planning crime! If you think of it as the beginning of a beautiful friendship, you’ll approach your talks with less anxiety and more charm. 

Approaching negotiations is no different from planning an event, really. Do your research, know your alternatives, and approach communications with the same respect and concern for the other party’s needs that you’d have for your attendees. See? You’ve already got the skills you need to tackle the toughest negotiations. 

Now, get those pens ready for signing!

June 13, 2023

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June 13, 2023

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