The issue of brand loyalty has moved to the forefront in recent years, particularly for businesses that need to establish strong vendor relations. In 2007, weakness in four industry groups–finance and insurance, real estate, construction, and mining–accounted for most of the slowdown in U.S. economic growth, according to preliminary industry accounts statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (1). While hospitality construction held its own through 2007, it has seen a decline in the first half of 2008. Much of the decline is blamed on rising fuel costs. Hotels, for the first time in years, are beginning to see REVPAR and ADR slowdown (2). All predictions indicate we are in for a very tough couple of years (3).
Through 2007 and continuing into 2008, vendors are focusing more on actively listening to the needs of customers, and they are paying close attention to brand loyalty. Competing in today’s marketplace is tough when you try to do it alone. I have been on both sides of the fence, hotelier and vendor. As a vendor, I have brought forward with me the need for vendor relations to reflect that of a true partnership.
In reviewing partnership opportunities and customer relationships, Hotels should consider both the long- and short-term potential conflicts and positive aspects of the vendors they engage. Evaluating your vendor relations enriches what we do with products and services. Vendors value honesty and integrity when presented with an opportunity. The more information a hotelier can provide upfront, particularly about brand loyalty goals and direction, the more efficient and effective the meetings leading up to evaluation and purchase will be.
In optimizing vendor relations, open lines of communication between vendor and hotelier are critical. There are things that can be done to mitigate significant loss of financial and human resources. Take heart that vendors do recognize in tough economic times each hotelier is vying for the same dollar, whether it is corporate, leisure or social. It is important in your valuation of the vendor community to identify vendors who incorporate the approach of consistently evaluating and aligning their product road map to meet industry demand and ensure brand loyalty.
As you plan meetings with your vendors, it is important to keep all parties informed of your short- and long-term goals, including your brand loyalty focus. Ensure all your vendor partners understand how you plan to differentiate yourself. This knowledge empowers the vendor to offer tools and services which complement your brand’s direction. The more details you can provide while establishing vendor relations regarding business process, re-engineering, time-lines, and growth planning, the better results you’ll see in terms of vendor outcomes.
Vendor Relations: The Other Side of the Buying Process
Helping prospective and current clients identify the right solution for current and on-going needs should not be a job, but a passion. Much like your dedication to hotel services, vendors who put strong vendor relations at the top of their priority list understand that brand loyalty for your hotel or management company is of the utmost importance. To determine if a vendor is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
Does the prospective vendor focus on service as an obsession? Is the company driven by customer satisfaction (your satisfaction) and quality client-vendor relations? Does your vendor work overtime to provide you with the level of round-the-clock support you need?
Does the vendor have the ability to efficiently assist you and your team in a consultative fashion with a full review of your needs and assist in matching the right solution based on desired end results, documented goals and objectives?
Is your vendor committed to meeting the varied needs of all your brands and departments? Will your vendor understand the unique challenges associated with your place in the industry, market niche, and need for brand loyalty?
Will your vendor take the time to understand your customers as much as you do, promoting strong customer and brand loyalty for your hotel or organization?
How much freedom does the vendor extend to your teams from an R and D perspective? Is the vendor willing to modify its products and services to support your hotel or brand’s goals? How agile can it be in making your requests a reality? And, at what cost?
When exploring references, is the vendor able to provide positive references that demonstrate its ability to respond to issues and maintain solid ongoing vendor relations with its clients?
Can you explore the internal tools the vendor utilizes to manage your account? Does the vendor have internal software and processes that ensure the vendor’s entire team have immediate, accurate access to your data? Do they understand your personal preferences as it relates to communication methods and data sharing?
Vendors view management companies, ownership groups, brands and independent properties as opportunities. Each opportunity presents itself with unique challenges and benefits. Can you identify the vendor’s past performance showing it provides services and products that encourage hotelier valuation? Whether it is the support model that promotes brand loyalty, account management teams, regional sales group or access to development, vendor relations should revolve around and support a hotelier’s need to be fully engaged. If you can weigh your responses posed in the questions above and view them with an unbiased perspective, you will be able to determine a vendor’s commitment to your opportunity.
Choosing the Right Vendor
The establishment of vendor relations that fit your business is as important as choosing a vendor that holds customer service and brand loyalty in as high a regard as you do. Many vendors, as hoteliers, have an area of primary focus followed by supporting offerings. Finding a vendor that will work with you, provide consultative guidance and recognize the need for brand loyalty while presenting options that meet your goals is paramount to success of the project. If you take the time to look around and formulate a plan based on the criteria above, you’re sure to find a vendor that appreciates your business and works endlessly to improve vendor relations, understand your market, customers, brand loyalty concerns, and business goals.
To recap, it is important as you prepare to meet with vendors, draft an RFP or solicit any opportunity that you do so in an objective, diligent manner. Being prepared with identifiable requirements for your business when setting up vendor relations will give you and the vendors you evaluate a solid foundation in which to select the best solution, meeting your needs. Remember, speaking as a vendor, if you are open and honest with what you really need and want, we can quickly get to the details of a solution. We truly do not want to waste your time showing you things that you really do not want or need or that run counter to your issues with brand loyalty. It’s okay to ask if you need guidance, it will benefit everyone in the long run. If you have a detailed list, be prepared and open to discussion. Share your business processes, branding elements, goals and objectives.