career,  corporate planner,  event manager,  event professional,  event profs,  events,  suppliers,  What I Do

Event Professionals – How a Supplier SHOULD Approach a Planner: 13 Tips

For those who are newer to the blog or perhaps for those of you who have wondered why I’m the “Traveling Navy Wife” it isn’t because my husband is in the Navy. I travel for my career as an events professional. In fact, I’m sitting in the airport typing this right now. As I get ready to return from another trip, I’d like to speak to tell you about the relationship between event planners (aka buyers) and event suppliers.

Airport essentials. Hey – ONE bottle of wine was cheaper than two glasses and this was shared. ūüôā
I’m a corporate event manager for a global firm and I love my job. Of course, as with any profession, there are things I don’t love…it’s sometimes thankless. Most people have no idea what I actually do and there are “those”¬†event suppliers who can literally make you cringe when you walk into a room. Not fun times.

In my world there are the planners (raising hand) and there are the suppliers. Suppliers need our business. In return we planners cannot make anything happen without suppliers. If you find the right organization with which to work, often this is a wonderful, symbiotic relationship. My suppliers are an extension of me. But what happens when instead of harmony you run into nothing but leeches and hard-sell salespeople? UGH, UGH and UGH.

I just attended a fabulous event in Minneapolis – the World Education Congress (WEC). It is a great opportunity for those of us in the events industry to attend educational sessions, network and to make business connections; oh – and get our continuing education credits. It’s a bit odd at the same time to be an events professional attending these awesome functions without having to do anything other than show up! It was a bit of a push for me to fit it in between trips, but I am SO very glad I did.

Highlights from WEC 2014
I sat in the sessions and soaked them up. I decided I’d like to eavesdrop on the one that taught suppliers and independent planners how to sell to corporate planners (like me). It was eye-opening and I loved it! Ironically, there was a person representing a company who sat in on that same session. He actually provides a service I feel my programs need (more on this in a second). I spoke up and directed others to listen to the voicemail messages we leave. Mine specifically says, “Do not leave a message. Please email me”, followed up with my email address. Sadly, the person who was in the same session sent me this today via email:
Hi Heather,
I hope all is well with you. Per my voicemail today, I’d like to set up 15 minutes of your time for a conversation.¬†
Do you and your team have any time next week to learn about our mobile event app technology?
I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Le sigh.

Does anyone think I’ll actually be giving him my time? He didn’t care enough to listen to my outgoing message, therefore, I already doubt his ability to listen to my needs. This particular company is known for hard-sell tactics. There were references made throughout the entire conference in regards to this: “Oh stay away from xxxx,” and “Phew! I dodged the xxx guys!” The list goes on. Their reputation precedes them and in this case, that is not a good thing.

As I sat and listened to the aforementioned session, I decided to put something together for event suppliers. Here is my advice. If you are a supplier, I can’t guarantee this will work with every planner, but I can tell you that it would work for many planners I know:

  • LISTEN to outgoing voicemails. If the planner has asked you NOT to leave a voicemail, don’t leave one! I know people HATE when someone says, “If it is an emergency, call me on my cell…” I don’t personally do that (what really constitutes an emergency?), however, that means don’t call. Selling your product is not an emergency even if your supervisor makes you feel that way. Make it part of your strategic program to figure out effective email or social media communication without achieving stalker status. Is the customer on Twitter? Send them a quick Tweet in reply to something they tweeted then tell them you look forward to connecting soon. Be creative. They’ll see it:¬†Hi @travelnavywife-Hope MWC Barcelona is going great! Check out this program we did last week in Hong Kong: (use ¬†or another application to shorten link). Let’s chat soon! ¬†As the customer it’s on me to get back to you and you didn’t use a high-pressure tactic. It’s also a reminder you’re out there doing relevant business of which you’re proud enough to post on social media. I’m a planner who will love that you use social media in your business!
  • Quick and to the point emails! Include a video link no more than 2 minutes. A supplier did this while I was on vacation. I read her email when I got back and I set up a call.
  • Send me a personal email. A “hello” and “just wanted to show you what we did at such and such event last week, hope you’re well” will go a lot further than a Constant Contact mass email you sent to tens of ¬†thousands of other people.
  • Learn the culture of the company. I work for a company very immersed in their¬†culture¬†(literally). It will go a long way if you take a few extra steps to learn what that means and to ask me how you can make the process more streamlined while considering that things work very differently in my respective environment.
  • Think outside the box. I get dozens of emails. Send a hand-written note. If you’re willing to go the extra mile for me before you have my business, I’m thinking you’ll do the same for me if and when we work together.
  • I don’t really want SWAG in the mail. Let’s be honest. It will most likely end up in a pile or in the recycling bin. Unless it is creative, I can share it with my colleagues or it is useful to me in my work, please don’t waste the stamps (that doesn’t mean expensive, but remember I’ve seen just about everything).
  • If I say let’s reconnect in a couple of months when this is more appropriate for our timing, product launch, budget, insert circumstance here – I mean it. Let’s reconnect! Please follow-up with me. It may not be fair that the onus is on you as the supplier, but most likely I will be immersed in a dozen other things.
  • If you are local, invite me to meet outside of the office. You don’t need to wine and dine me, nor do I expect (or want) it. Ask me to grab some tea. I’ll appreciate the respite and I’m less likely to be disrupted than if I take a call during the rare times I’m in the office. It also shows me you’re respectful of my time and I appreciate you weren’t the millionth person to ask me for coffee. Give me an option for something OTHER than coffee. Boba tea, anyone? Coffee? I call it the “yuck and yawn.” Just that small gesture may not seem like much to you, but it shows me you can think outside the box. Disclaimer: I know most people drink coffee. Just offer another option for those times people don’t.¬†
  • Tell me the features you offer – not just that you’ll save me time, money, blah, blah. I’ve heard that pitch before. What does your company do that I may not know about? I received an email the other day from a supplier and didn’t know they dealt in travel incentive programs – something at which I may be taking a look in the next fiscal year. I set up a call based on a short, professional email. And remember that 2-minute long video I mentioned before? They had one. I replied to the email and I’m making the time to learn about them even though my schedule is nuts right now.
  • Be ethical. Be transparent. That means being upfront with your pricing structure. No one hates it more than when you ask, “How much does it cost?” and you’ve answered with, “Well, before we get into that…we can do this for you…” My time is short. My time is valuable. So is yours. Treat it as such. Yeah, I’m corporate. That does NOT mean my budget knows no bounds. It seems many suppliers think corporate planners must have an endless supply of money. If you charge me more than my peers¬†and I find out about it, you can bet I will think you’re unethical (unless you have a 501(c)3 program in place. There are exceptions to every “rule”, of course).
  • If we are at the same networking event, PLEASE let me walk through the door before you pounce. And that is what it feels like – pouncing. You turn me off and I want a moment to get settled before we talk business. Don’t treat me like chum in shark waters, please. BELIEVE ME, I thank you for it.
  • Send me references up front. I will ask for them. I will check them. Name drop – four to six is plenty. Oh. I don’t want to talk to your friend who owns an agency and uses you by default. Send me real customers. I’ll know if someone is BSing on your behalf.
  • Remember that I know you’re a potential partner and I am aware I cannot do business without my suppliers. Just as you are responsible for your deliverables, so am I. I know that if you look good, you’re going to make me look good. So don’t just tell me why you’re the best. SHOW ME.
I hope we can open the lines of communication here. Are you an event supplier? What would help make your life and job easier that we planners can do for you?I have a plane to catch, so I will leave you with this for now. In the meantime, a couple more highlights from WEC14 and to all the event professionals out there: keep being awesome!

North Star Therapy Animals were a HUGE highlight. What a tremendous job they’re doing! Too much cuteness!

A fuzzy photo from the Visit Florida session which featured an amazing ICE session (Innovation, Collaboration and Execution – these guys were GREAT)!

Until next time,
– Heather


  • Christa Haberstock

    Hey Heather! Glad you enjoyed WEC! Bonus that you got a pic with my friends Jon and Owen from The Passing Zone! Thrilled you got to meet them ūüôā One of my speakers, Dale Partridge, spoke there – I hoped to attend but couldn’t make it this year. Hated to miss! Anyway, great blog. Do you mind if I repost your blog to our Facebook page? My network is comprised of suppliers – professional speakers and speakers bureaus. I think your perspective is important for us to remember. Thanks! Safe travels home.

    • Heather Wilson

      Christa, I also heard Dale speak – he did awesome. Sorry that you missed the event! It was rejuvenating for me as a planner and I am so glad I attended. Unfortunately, I’ll miss IMEX as I have to be in Japan. I’d be tickled if you would share this on your Facebook page. Thank you for asking. Would you send me the link? I’d love to have it! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Savvy WorkingGal

    Great information here for suppliers in any line of business – not just event planning. Listening to your customer is so important.