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Developing & Maintaining Great Vendor Relationships

By: Sandy Saburn, CTIE[/caption]One of the most important relationships you have as a travel advisor is with your vendor representatives. Whether they are called BDMs (Business Development Managers) or SAMs (Strategic Account Managers) or some other title, their role is to help you successfully sell their product to your client. They do that in many ways from training to problem-solving.As you know well these are extraordinary times for vendor partners just as they are for travel agents. Many travel partners have reduced staff and slashed budgets, so things they used to do readily they can’t do now. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to partner with you, it just means everyone needs to be creative about what that looks like.Regardless of the state of the industry, there are some truths that are timeless. What I am sharing today applies as much now as it did in the past and will be true in the future too.

Here are 6 ways you can develop and maintain those relationships:

1) Help them get to know you. Vendor representatives want to know who is in their territory – both those selling their product and those with the potential to sell it. In the old days of brick-and-mortar agencies, it was easy to know who was in a territory because you just walked into the office and met people. In today’s world of home-based agents, it isn’t so easy. You should be able to find out who your rep is by either 1) visiting the vendor’s agent site, or 2) ask your host agency. Reach out to them and introduce yourself. Ask to schedule a phone or Zoom conversation to get to know one another.2) Get to Know Them. Relationships are a two-way street. We talk a lot about the importance of getting them to know you, but you should get to know them too. The very best agent-vendor partnerships are relationships where each person is contributing. It benefits both of you if you get to know one another rather than just being acquaintances you see once a year. When you care about other people it shows.3) Be Respectful of their Time. These are busy people who in normal times are spending much of their time on the road. They work all kinds of crazy hours, but that doesn’t mean you should expect a response at midnight or on the weekend. Sometimes there are urgent situations where we have to reach out to a BDM on the weekend, but very rarely. Not every issue that a client is stressing about is an emergency.4) Be Reasonable in your Expectations. As much as a vendor rep may want to help you, you need to recognize that there are limits to what they can do. Just because there was a storm and your client missed the port of call they were most excited about doesn’t mean that they deserve a free cruise. (Remember, one of your roles as a travel advisor is to manage client expectations.) And remember that threatening to stop selling their product has never motivated anyone – it usually just annoys them. Also, be reasonable when you ask for co-op funds or other assistance. Remember that they get lots of requests and cannot say yes to everything (and right now they probably can’t say yes to anything that costs money). Ask their advice and see if they think it’s a good idea. They have done this a lot and want to invest in opportunities that will have a return on investment, and they probably have a good idea about what works and what doesn’t with their product.5) Honor Your Commitments. Have you ever hosted an event and had a bunch of no shows? Frustrating, isn’t it? And it can be expensive too! You planned for catering based on people who said they were coming and at the last minute they canceled or didn’t show up. Sure, things happen. But how often have you simply bailed on an event because you didn’t feel like it? Do you really have to cancel? Or is that “emergency” that popped up something that can wait? Just because a client called and wants a quote shouldn’t mean you rearrange your entire day to respond. And if you commit to a FAM the importance of honoring that commitment is 100-fold. The bottom line is that you don’t want to end up on their “naughty” list (and yes, they all have them!). This is all true now in our virtual world just as it is “in-person”.5) Don't Forget to Say Thank You.While I don’t have any real statistics about this, I would bet that for every thank you email a BDM receives they receive at least 25 problem emails. It’s human nature – we are quick to complain and slow to compliment. Be that person that says, “thank you”. You will be remembered and appreciated for that.Now is a great time to spend nurturing these relationships because the vendor reps aren’t on the road as they have been in the past. They would love to talk to people who want to know their product better or who are looking for ways to sell more of it. Reach out and make a connection!