Building and Utilizing Strategic Partnerships

by Kathy Miller, Total Event Resources
The value of building a partnership with our suppliers as well as our industry colleagues is invaluable. Take it from someone who just spent four days in Southern California where we are going to producing a series of events this July.
We spend SO much time in the research and development of a project and it’s critical to make sure that we are aligned with the right partnerships. Having good quality relationships with industry colleagues is so important. We began the process of selecting our strategic partners by talking with our friends and colleagues in the business that know the best of the best in Southern California and know it first hand. Since they live and work there and utilize these resources day in and day out, they can cut our research time in half.
Word of mouth, referrals, media coverage and industry organizations like ISES are all important avenues in which we depend on to do our job the best we can. And building our reputation as a leader in the industry means that supplier partners want to work with us and that goes a long way in establishing a valuable and long lasting relationship.
When looking to find the right strategic partner there are many questions and much to uncover in what these strategic partners can bring to the table. Here are a few of those questions in further detail:
Why do we choose one partner over another?
Trust, reputation, experience.
If we haven’t worked with someone we lean heavily on our industry colleagues to steer us in the right direction and then we begin the process of determining if the supplier is the best fit for what we are looking to accomplish. This isn’t always easy especially when you are thousands of miles away with limited time to “get to know” someone’s product or service. We spend an incredible amount of time in the research and conversation part to help our potential partner understand our vision and our client’s goals and objectives. And from there, it’s up to the supplier to sell us on being the right fit. And I’m not talking about a “hard sell”, I’m really talking about making us feel comfortable that they “get it”, whatever the “it” is that they are responsible for. If it’s design for example then it’s important for our designer to visually show us what they can do. Sometimes that’s through a vision board, through past work of theirs, when we can it’s visiting their studio and then when we can’t visit it’s about providing samples of their work.
If we have worked with a partner, then it becomes a decision based on whether or not they are the “right fit” for the project. In the case catering as an example, we have very strong relationships with multiple caterers. Choosing to use one over the other has to do with accessing the project, the budget and the food and beverage needs of a particular event, then we can determine whose style and team has the best fit.
As well, belonging to industry organizations is another key to finding quality partners. I remember one year hearing about a particular designer who was up for seven industry awards. I didn’t know this person at the time and thought to myself, “I wonder who he is”. Low and behold a year later we were working in his town and I remembered him. We called, quickly got to know him and that was the start of a long and successful relationship. Networking for business is obviously very important, it’s just as important to network and meet partners that can help you build your business.
Loyalty is another important factor. We have supplier partners refer business to us on an ongoing basis. This is a huge testament to our relationship with our partners, they trust us, we trust them, they refer business and we continue to work together.
And lastly, in some cases, we don’t get to pick a partner because we are working in a venue where they have the resource in-house or a client asks us to work with one of their partners. When that happens, we have to make sure that we get to know them quickly and begin the process of clear communications. After all, it’s a team effort and we are team players.
What qualifications do we use to evaluate the partner?
How long have they been in the business?
What caliber of services do they provide?
What experience do they have that relates to our needs?
What other projects are they working on?
What other projects are they working on that might conflict with our time requirements?
What organizations do they belong to?
What are their people resources?
Who are some of their clients?
Do they understand the scope of work?
Are their products in-house or outsourced?
Are they certified?
Do they have insurance and workers compensation?
How are they viewed in the industry? Awards? Recognition?
Why do we use those particular qualifications in our evaluation of a potential partner?
The questions above are a few of the qualifications that we access when selecting a strategic partner. Some of the qualifications are to make sure that we are covering ourselves and our clients when it comes to insurance and some are about value and cost.
With the question relating to whether or not their products are in-house or outsourced, it helps us to understand where our costs may be. For example, we may be looking to source audio and lighting and we call a company that says they do it all and they are right, they do it all, but it doesn’t mean that they own it all. We might be better off working with a company that does own their own audio and lighting. Again lots of this depends on the scope of the project and our needs for each project.
When we are asking the question about some of their clients, we are looking for like minded people who understand the client that we are working with and that has experience within our clients industry. It’s a huge help to work with a partner that understands our clients industry. If we are working on a project for a trucking company and they have as well, then it’s likely that , they have an understanding of the product and the audience and we’re off to a good start.
Do we do anything to successfully cultivate our relationships long term?
I believe we do many things to successfully cultivate our relationships. We start by being fair and treating our suppliers as partners. We have a huge respect for our partners and look to build long standing relationships. We have many partners that we have worked with longer than the 15 years that Total Event Resources has been in business. And I am humbled to say that our partners want to work with us and I believe that has a lot to do with how we treat our partners. We expect hard work, dedication, successful results, best pricing and in return we are easy to work with, provide detailed information, feed them when we can and when they do a great job, we partner with them again. And lastly I would say, we try not to take ourselves too seriously, meaning we do work hard but we also like to have fun!