ICMS Australasia managing director, Bryan Holliday, believes that developing strong relationships with suppliers is the secret to effective meetings management.

Finding the right suppliers and communicating to them effectively on what you want and need is as crucial to your business success as any other element of the meetings management process.
A good supplier – one that you want to deal with over and over again – comes down to quality, price and service. Your suppliers must provide you with the services that you want at the price you want. And those services, whatever are they, must be of the highest quality – quality that is acceptable to you and to your clients.
When I hire, for example, a graphic designer to produce a conference
brochure or website, I expect him or her to be able to design what I want exceptionally well. But equally importantly – and I rate this as 50 per cent of the reason why I hire them – is that they have to be great communicators. They have to be able to inform me early if they have run into difficulties so that together we can find solutions.
When suppliers don’t communicate openly with you, and you don’t communicate openly with them, then problems can and will arise.
In the past I have not used certain suppliers again because even though they have been brilliant at their specific discipline they have not been good at communicating to me what issues could or have arisen.
In my experience, communication is the most important factor in achieving quality.
But as they say, communication is a two-way street, and it is just as important for you to effectively communicate to your suppliers what you want as it is for them to communicate to you that they understand what you want.
In any effective supplier relationship it is imperative to understand the supplier and how best to communicate what you desire. For me, the written word is the most effective means of communication, but not everybody responds best to this.
I have written to suppliers with what I have believed to be absolute clarity, precision and accuracy and what they’ve delivered has been totally different to what I wanted because they are not literal in their communication.
In all my communication with suppliers today I begin by writing down what I want and then I follow up what I want with a face to face meeting or a verbal exchange. This is particularly effective for people who respond better to aural stimulus (hearing) than visual stimulus (seeing).
Once you have sent a supplier what you require ensure that you follow up
with them and have them tell you what you want. And do it more than once. Keep checking at critical stages to see that the project is on track and that they are going to give you what you want at its conclusion.

“Communication is a two-way street, and it is just as important for you to effectively communicate to your suppliers what you want as it is for them to communicate to you that they understand what you want.”

The big picture

I have learnt from years of experience that you can never give a supplier too much information.
When I engage a supplier I tell them the whole picture of what I want to achieve and not just their small part in the game. I try and describe the whole job – not just their part in it – because I believe that the more they know about it then the better they will understand how their part is critical to the success of the entire project.
And what I also recommend is that you try to understand who they are, and what they want and need.
Many businesses – particularly small businesses – often have issues with cash flow, and so prompt payment by you of their invoices is often extremely important to them. What it also does is it strengthens your relationship with them and it means that if you do require something in a hurry they are more likely to provide you with the support you need.
At a conference a few years ago we had an additional 1000 delegates turn up on the first day of the conference. Can you imagine our surprise?
Thankfully, because of our long-term and strong relationship with our printing supplier we were able to provide extra copies of the program notes and materials the very next day because our printer understood the position we were in and because he wanted to continue working with us.
Find suppliers who share your culture for excellence, treat them well, and watch your business climb the ladder of success.

Bryan Holliday is the managing director of ICMS Australasia, one of Australia’s largest professional conference organising companies. Mr Holliday and his team have organised some of the largest association congresses in the world, and are also involved in meetings management for the corporate and government sectors throughout the Asia Pacific region. He can be contacted via email on: