Hiring a Trade Show program management company can be one of the most important functions when it comes to trade shows. If you have worked in the tradeshow industry for any amount of time, you’re probably familiar with one or more program management companies. Perhaps there was one in place when you arrived at your current position, and you became familiar with them “on the job,” so to speak. As your career moved on, some of the relationships grew, but some kept getting more awkward. Not unusual. I’m sure many of you at the time thought about those first few bumps as an anomaly. But if that turned out not to be the case, what are the next steps in replacing that key vendor? Interviews to qualify prospects need to be highly structured and planned out to get the right answers before hiring a trade show program management company.
Create a 5 Step Process
Because everyone will be trying to sell you based on their specializations (what they’re good at), focusing on what you need will keep the process manageable. Here are some topics that will help formulate a process when searching for that perfect trade show partner.
Step #1 – Is it a Good Cultural Fit?
The most well-known company in town is not always the best. Think about how your company operates and what your core values are. Are you comfortable with the personalities of the people on their team? Could you rely on them in a crisis? A good trade show management company will act as an invisible extension of your team. Therefore, consider whether or not your two organizations can work together cohesively (and have fun doing it).
What Constitutes a Good Cultural Fit?
The door swings both ways on this one. Are you comfortable with the personalities of the people on their team? Would they mesh personality-wise with your team? In other words, do you have the same values, such as sharing a strong desire for attention to detail? Could you meet for a bite to eat after a long day at show site to continue building the friendship with your vendor/client?
Step #2 – Size Does Matter
Find a partner that sincerely wants your business and will value your time. If your predominant booth size is a 20 x 20, you should shy away from vendors who strictly cater to the 50 x 50 and up crowd. Know the prospective vendor’s business model. If there is a lot of overhead, you may be paying a premium price to cover it. Therefore, we call that the Casino Rule: (because somebody has to pay for it.) On the flip side—if you have a wide variety of needs, make sure that your prospective vendor has a broad network of experienced partners who can get any job done.
Also, go to their website and see what they view as their successes. If you don’t see examples of projects that you could get excited over, maybe there’s a disconnect somewhere!
Step #3 – Setting Expectations Up Front
What are each company’s end expectations? How do they communicate? Are they available on the weekend if something comes up? Discussing your expectations upfront in addition to your goals will help to quickly get a sense of whether or not a company is right for you.
Step #4 – Checklist of 10 Things To Talk About
- Share your core values.
- Discuss the value you bring to the relationship (in your own words)
- Explain why the last vendor wasn’t a good fit as it should/could have been.
- Share your internal processes with the prospective vendor to see if there might be common ground and a pathway to mutual success.
- Explain what the real pain points were in the last relationship? What didn’t you like the most? Often it turns out to be a lack of predictability that ruins a relationship. Surprise billings!
- Share your weaknesses (where you need real help) as well as strengths
- Discuss how you would resolve conflict should it arise
- Payment terms & Methods – Any flexibility?
- Learn what metrics the vendor uses in their company to evaluate prospective new clients.
- Predictability & Transparency in the areas where you need them- qualities that are either there or they aren’t. If they aren’t, go home!
Step #5 – Other More Touchy/Feely Topics To Bring Into The Conversation
- Find a partner that earnestly wants your business. How? Let them tell you. Don’t ask.
- Find a partner(s) who you genuinely enjoy being around as people (Cultural Fit)
- You should know each team player.
- Select a partner who has a proven record of success with other companies your size. (Business Fit)
- The prospective vendor should offer references from other vendors who have similar needs.
- Trade Show Industry Knowledge of the principal players on their team- Who, How Long, and What Capacity
A Good Process Provides Light at the End of the Tunnel
Wise decision-making shouldn’t be a challenge. It begins with knowing what you need, being honest about your needs, and not compromising. And, with this information in hand, refine your process. The right program management team will make your life less complicated, not harder. A little work upfront can lead to years of a successful partnership, and hopefully, a dose of FUN in the process!