How To Successfully Negotiate With Event Vendors? Building technology solutions for the event industry has taught us a thing or two about the event industry. In order to build compelling products for event organizers we had to effectively become an event company ourselves. We learned the most while literally partnering with our early clients. Watching them develop their event concepts from scratch and follow them right through the execution of their big day. While Meetmaps is fully committed to developing new channels to increasing the engagement and value of your event to your audience and partners, one area of event organizing process stood out as especially problematic:
Negotiating with Vendors
The concept of working with multiple vendors strikes at the very core of the event planner’s business. After all, more than anything else, event organizers are in the “relationship business” and their ability to create mutually beneficial, long lasting partnerships with a stable of vendors may be the most important factor to their overall success.
However, in order to ensure that their business is indeed a profitable one, event organizers must be expert negotiators. Here are a 9 pro tips for negotiating with the vendors for your next event:
1. Have confidence
Negotiations can be intimidating and many people shy away from the confrontational nature associated with the process. With practice and experience, negotiating becomes easier, but that doesn’t help the beginner just starting out. For those of you new to negotiating, in any walk of life, remember that confidence in yourself is key. Self confidence comes from simply acknowledging that your ideas and your needs are VALID. This basic understanding is the foundation for which all of your future negotiations will be built, and once you acknowledge that simple fact about yourself, your self-confidence will be rock solid.
Another quick way to boost your confidence is by researching the market. Knowledge is power and if you have an idea of the fair market value of the products or service your negotiating on, you’ll be better prepared (and confident) to strike a good deal.
Now you’re ready to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with any vendor. By understanding and self-affirming your position (your valid ideas and needs) and exhibiting your knowledge, you will automatically hold a firm stance during your negotiations and will be much more likely to get what you want.
2. Be upfront and honest
This begins with being 100% sure of your budget and your needs. Once that’s clear in your mind, forget anything you learned about dirty negotiating power tricks. Be upfront and honest with the person you’re dealing with. The goal isn’t to pull a fast one or rip-off the person sitting across from you. The goal is to reach a win-win situation that makes business sense for all involved.
In short, don’t be a jerk.
If you’re working with a client’s predetermined budget, feel free to show it to the vendor upfront. That way they’ll know right away whether or not they can compete and you’re not wasting anyone’s time.
That being said, you don’t need to always show all your cards from the onset. Depending on the situation, it may make sense to leave some room below your ceiling of your budget. This will allow you the wiggle room to go a little higher to get the deal you want.
3. Keep an open mind and be flexible
It’s incredible what you can negotiate for. Things that may seem out of your budget or off the table can quickly become bargaining chips when the vendor is trying to secure a new client. The lesson here is keep an open mind and never make any assumptions. One of the biggest mistakes event planners make is simply not asking for enough.
Alternatively, something you thought was a given may be a key point for which the vendor is unwilling to budge. This is when you get to be flexible and think outside the box. For example, if they can’t lower the price of the menu, maybe they can offer a free champagne toast.
Most people go into their negotiations with preconceived notions of what they can or cannot ask for. This is a mistake. You don’t know anything about the position of the person across the table or on the other end of the phone. They may have just had a client cancelation and are in a bind so may be extra willing to sweeten the pot to get your business.
Plus, if you simply ask for something, what’s the worst that can happen? They say no and you move on. No harm done.
4. Everything is negotiable, but that doesn’t mean you should negotiate on everything.
Well, there’s a slight caveat to #2. As we mentioned above, event organizers must always bear in mind the longterm relationships they’re forming with vendors, so you don’t ALWAYS need to negotiate. In fact, if you’re talking to a specific vendor that has come highly recommended or you plan on using that vendor again, it may make more sense to accept their first offer if it falls within your budget, of course. By accepting their first reasonable offer, you’ll develop goodwill and position yourself as a valuable no-fuss client in their eyes and set yourself up for a discount on future events.
While it is critical to realize that any price or offer can be adjusted, it doesn’t always make business sense to play hardball. Pick your battles and don’t haggle on the small stuff if it might harm the long-term relationship.
5. Keep your cool
Sometimes the person you’re negotiating with is also inexperienced in the art of deal-making so they take an aggressive, hardline approach. This can get awkward quickly.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
The easiest way to lose out on a deal or kill a relationship is to get angry or upset. Instead, try to understand the other person’s perspective or point of view. Perhaps you inadvertently crossed a line. If that’s the case, apologize and blame it on your ignorance of their business. In other cases, they simply didn’t get their coffee or their baby didn’t let them get any sleep the night before. In those cases, take a pause and see if you can resume in the talk in a professional manner. Sometimes you’ll need to walk away and revisit them at another time.
By approaching your negotiations from a business mindset rather than a personal one will help you keep your emotions from affecting your decision making skills. This is much easier said than done, as many event planners see their event as an extension of themselves. If the steam begins to boil over, take a breath, state your needs and negotiating points in a direct, but respective manner.
Remember, the person who loses their cool, loses the negotiation.
Is this too much?
Take a short break before keep on reading the following tips!
6. Start with your VENUE
The venue itself is usually the largest ticket item on your budget and likely the single most influential decision for a successful outcome of your event. Start here. Once you know when and where your event will take place, you can begin contacting and aligning the other vendors. In fact, most event venues will already have a short list of vendors available for you to choose from. These are typically trusted suppliers they can count on to offer their referrals the best possible prices on their services. This list of A+ vendors may save you a lot of time and energy as they’re already familiar with your venue and how the delivery process will work for your event.
However, before we get carried away here, securing your venue is one area of the event planning process where it ALWAYS makes sense to negotiate.
When it comes to event venues, never accept the first price you are given and never sign any agreements until you have worked out all of the terms and taken some time to read the fine print. This is probably the most expensive element of your event and any mishaps can quite literally spell disaster for the entire project.
7. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s
If you skimmed this entire article up until now, please just take this one sentence home with you:
READ THE CONTRACT CAREFULLY.
At the very minimum, the agreement should clearly state the following details:
- Event date, time, location, end time
- Their fees and any penalties
- Payment terms
- Complete description of their services – make sure nothing is left out
- Pick up and drop off times
- Delivery schedule
- Cancellation policy
- Contingency clause if something goes wrong or service is not delivered
- Signatures – sign and date plus copies for each party
These items should all be SPELLED OUT specifically in the contract in order to verify all expectations will be met.
If you’re an event planning company, this one is important:
Let your client sign the contracts.
This will save you headaches on liability or some of the fallout if the client misses a payment deadline. It also helps establish trust with your client, assuring them you’re not receiving any kickbacks.
8. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Choose your wording carefully. As we mentioned before, be careful of your assumptions, even your subconscious ones that show themselves in the working of a question. For example, instead of saying: “It wouldn’t be possible to go any lower on the deposit, would it?” say: “If we can bring the price down to $x, then we have a deal” or “We need to go lower on this price.” Be honest and firm. Trust me, they’ll respect you more if you don’t beat around the bush. Just ask.
9. Money Talks
If possible, offer to pay upfront in cash. Many vendors will prefer (and appreciate) upfront payment and may even be willing to lower their overall price or throw in other items you value in exchange.
Remember, they’re running a business too and they have their own cash flow to worry about. Take away some of that stress and you’ll be surprised what you’ll get in return.
10. Trust your gut
You’ve done your homework and researched the reviews of your vendors on Yelp or Angie’s List. You may even asked for references. Well, now it’s time to trust your instincts.
How has your interaction been so far with this vendor? Have they been responsive, quickly answering your emails or phone calls? Did you get a good sense they were being upfront and honest with you?
Chances are their pre-event behavior will be an indicator of their reliability when the big day comes. In almost every case of a good deal gone south, I’ve been able to look back and know that something wasn’t quite right with that vendor from the very start. Don’t ignore your instincts.
In the end, negotiating with vendors is a must-have skill set for event planners. It will save you money and build respect from others as you grow your empire. In most cases, simply taking aim at what you want and going after it in a respectful manner will lead to success for everyone involved. Once you get some practice under your belt, you’ll look forward to you next opportunity to negotiate, whether on a venue contract, a free tasting from the catering company or even just on your day-to-day expenses, everything is open for negotiating.