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Can You Really Build Supplier Relationships Online?

Planners can learn more about a possible supplier partner over one shared lunch than from months of Zoom calls, but they simply might not have that option. Here’s the alternative.

The web of business relationships needed to deliver a successful event is large and critical. In addition to the executives at the convention center or hotel with whom you negotiate and execute the event—national sales reps, convention services managers, and chefs—you need to build trust with the audiovisual, destination management, and transportation companies that can make or break the experience. 

Even as in-person events return, many planners will find that building supplier relationships remotely is more necessity than ever. Yes, business-to-business trade shows and site visits are back for some, but virtual communications are now normalized and pervasive in a way that wasn’t true before the pandemic.

Meeting planning is a relationship business, so what does remote communication mean for the way planners get to know a supplier’s capabilities and develop trust that they’ll follow through? That is the topic of research conducted by two professors, Jeanne Brett, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Tyree Mitchell, Louisiana State University, for their new book, Searching for Trust in the Global Economy.

In an May 11 article for Harvard Business Review called “How to Build Strong Business Relationships — Remotely,” the researchers discuss their findings (spoiler alert: it’s hard to assess suppliers in virtual settings) and provide lessons for building relationships with business partners.

Here is some of the online meeting advice from those the researchers call “expert
trust builders.”
1. Be intentional about spending some time on personal topics.
2. Get advice from your professional network about the supplier.
3. Use a new supplier for a small piece of business before trusting them with something larger.

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