Nearly every event requires a partnership with a third party vendor: registration system, tradeshow management, show decorator – you name it! Finding a vendor that jives well with your team and views your success as their success is vital. They truly are an extension of your team. Here are a few tips to guide the selection process.
1. Ask local experts or colleagues within your own professional network for recommendations. For example, if you plan to partner with a destination management company (DMC) to coordinate local tours or offsite activities during your event, ask your convention services manager (CSM) at your contracted hotel for their preferred DMC partners. Convention and visitors bureaus are also a fantastic resource.
2. Develop a comprehensive RFP to share with multiple potential vendors. Include historical meeting information and clearly define your expectations for the upcoming event. A detailed RFP will translate to a thorough proposal response, saving you time and energy in the long run by eliminating the leg work of going back to ask for clarification or collect more information.
3. Ask for references and specifically request contacts that had needs similar to yours. We have found email to be the most efficient method for reference checks, although a phone conversation would work just as well. Develop a handful of standard questions to ask each reference. Asking the same questions to each reference will make it easy to compare apples to apples. Consider questions like: Were you satisfied overall? Did you experience any challenges? What would you have changed, if anything? Was the vendor’s staff friendly and professional? Would you work with the vendor again?
4. Interview the top candidates via conference call, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc. Take the time to get to know the people you could be working closely with. It’s important to understand their approach and communication style.
5. Consider the long term possibilities when making your selection. Is there potential for this partnership to continue year after year? Perhaps this is an opportunity to “test the waters” and, if all goes as planned, you may feel comfortable skipping the RFP process the next time around and going directly to the selected vendor – possibly even arranging a multi-year agreement. We are great advocates of developing strong professional relationships and have worked with the same vendors in multiple instances including abstract management providers, mobile app suppliers and AV contractors. As the saying goes, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.