Top face-to-face marketers view their well-qualified vendors as partners. From creative design to trade show exhibit construction, they know the right vendor will educate, challenge and collaborate as only a true “partner” can. These clients recognize the value of a high-level vendor/client relationship and how it will set them apart from their competition, every time.
There is no one simple report card for qualifying a strong vendor resource. You can try to reference the right studies and ask the right questions but on paper, results rarely equal real-world quality and performance. When it comes to the trade show industry in particular, qualifying world-class vendor partners is more art than science. It’s more of an in-process, ongoing activity rather than one upfront Q&A session followed by a solid yes or no.
We have learned this from decades of first-hand experience with high-end clients from virtually every industry. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, in the best client/vendor partnerships. Whether you’re searching for better ways to team with an existing resource or looking to replace your trade show exhibit supplier incumbent, keep the following tips in mind.
1. Use your budget as an ongoing qualification tool. Trust your vendor partner with your budget. Every project has a budget. Every trade show display supplier wants to find the balance between exceeding your design expectations and respecting your budget criteria. When the creative flow and financial parameters fall out of alignment, you’re set up for failure right out of the gate. If you don’t trust your vendor and are not willing to tell them the truth, you have the wrong vendor. Playing “hide and seek” with the real budget number will simply frustrate you both and your project will likely fall short. If you trust them and disclose your budget, and they aren’t listening, yes, you guessed it…you have the wrong vendor.
2. Be clear and forthcoming with information… throughout the discovery process. Tell the designer what you REALLY WANT and then tell them what you REALLY NEED. Rest assured, we have great design talent on our Skyline Genesis New York City team. They are not, however, mind readers. A clear hierarchy of needs vs. wants vs. wishes goes a long way to producing a great design solution. Once clarified, you can measure your vendor partner’s listening skills and design deliverables objectively. If they remain on the mark, they’re a keeper.
3. Hire MacGyver! Ask any trade show veteran and they’ll tell you that Murphy was a trade show marketer and his “law” was written on a show floor. You want a vendor partner who can fix whatever may (will) happen before, during or after a show. The popular 90’s show, MacGyver, highlighted a guy who could fix anything with a paper clip and chewing gum…the ultimate problem solver. When qualifying your MacGyver, don’t ask about their greatest successes. All suppliers have well-crafted success stories. Ask about their biggest problems and failures and how they stepped up to address them. That’s what you really want to know. Every vendor is a good vendor when everything goes right. You really find out how great of a vendor partner they are when something goes wrong in the eleventh hour. Did they have the smarts, systems and resources to fix it? Did they go the extra mile to ensure your success? Did the results exceed your expectations?
4. Develop an ROI strategy… and share it with your vendor partner. Then hold them accountable to help you hit the target. Every CMO and VP of Sales knows that a successful show is far more than walls with pictures on them. In the end, it is a multidimensional marketing activity that should produce measurable results. Set the goals and keep score to see if the team scores or fumbles. True vendor partners are fully committed to that touchdown. If your supplier fumbles your ROI, it’s game over.
5. Work with a team that can teach YOU something. Ordinary vendors sell commodities. Vendor partners work alongside you throughout a specialized, complex process. These are trusted advisors who elevate your understanding, creativity and productivity. Establish and maintain high-quality vendor partner connections that can provide valuable guidance and new insights into face-to-face marketing, and specifically the trade show world. Yes, you need reliable, hardworking Sherpas to help you reach your summit. But if you’re not learning something in the process, you’re missing a valuable opportunity for both professional and personal growth.
Exhibitors can stand out, especially with an awesome vendor partnership. If you’re an inline exhibitor or want to be, read the Trade Show Tips for Inline Exhibitors white paper that includes 25 articles on exhibit design, booth staffing, promotions, lead management, measurement, and more. Click here for your free copy.