The Think Tank is a team of nine veteran travel managers from programs that run the gamut in size and complexity – but each member contributes a unique viewpoint. Travel Buyer’s POV brings fresh perspectives and ideas to inspire innovation and thought leadership in the corporate travel industry.

Smoothing the way for a well-run travel program takes more than brilliant policy and faultless booking. The key, as our Think Tank members note this month, is partnerships with the right suppliers. After all, every traveler’s experience, good or bad, hinges on how well the hotel, the airline, the rental car company and every other link in the value chain contributes to the success of each traveler and each trip. Making those supplier relationships work requires unique points of view.

Handle with Care
The buyer-supplier relationship, especially in a mature program, is critical to the success of the program overall. I believe a travel program is only as successful as the suppliers you partner with. I like to think my supplier partners are an extension of my program. To be honest, my hotel partners see my travelers more than I do! So there has to be a level of trust, the foundation of which is integrity (both on the part of the company and their representatives), a good and consistent product, a willingness to work with our team and a dedication to traveler satisfaction. Is that a tall order? Maybe, but it is achievable.However, it is not a one-sided relationship: As a buyer I must be willing to meet the same expectations. When we bring a new supplier into our program, regardless of the service or product, we enter the agreement for the long haul, presuming that expectations will be met on both sides. It takes a considerable amount of time to replace a supplier, and time is something we are all short of these days. Build the relationship, keep the line of communications open and treat the partnership with care. If you do, the buyer-supplier relationship will serve you well.
– Cheryl Benjamin

It’s a Small World

The good, bad, and the indifferent – like all relationships in your personal and professional life, the buyer-supplier relationship can fall into these categories. The indifferent ones really just see each other as dollar signs; they are strictly transactional. The bad ones…Wow! These are the confrontational ones, the ones where it’s just not a good fit. Either the buyer never communicated the miscues, or the supplier didn’t take it well. I had an experience where I reached out to a provider to let them know that our company decided to use a different vendor. Instead of ending the call with understanding and grace, he ended it with “you’re making a huge mistake.” (All I will say is, we’ve been more than happy with the provider we decided to go with.) There is always the reminder that despite travel being a massive contributor to the global economy, it’s a small industry. Good relationships are those partnerships that span years, RFPs and even companies. The best suppliers are the ones that work with you at the time of the RFP, but then continue to be there to help when there’s an issue or reach out when there is something to celebrate.
– Rosemary Maloney

I Can See Clearly Now
Before even beginning a relationship with a supplier, I want to validate the relationship will truly be a value to the travel program. Sure there may be a swing and miss at times, but with care in the beginning, a failed relationship won’t result in harm to the program. I enter buyer-supplier relationships with transparency, and I expect the same in return. And I find more realistic goals and expectations are set as the result. I don’t care to add in a supplier with a “Let’s just see what happens” approach. I prefer the contract goals to be adjustable, allowing for changes to either the corporation’s needs or supplier’s products. For instance if the airline changes a key route which affects that carrier’s use, I want the ability to adjust. With some long term suppliers I like an evergreen contract structure, which allows adjustments to market share, discounts, service offerings, etc., to take place underneath. These agreements do require regular engagement with the supplier and monitoring performance of both parties. The regular engagement part is key to maintaining a successful supplier-buyer relationship.  
– David Smith

Smashing Success
Buyers and suppliers must have shared understanding of how each business prospers. Transparency and trust are vital to fuel a mutually successful business partnership. The customer is not always right. There, I said it. If always being right is the approach a buyer takes, their program will never find the high road to success. Be available to talk to your suppliers and be open about your expectations and potential roadblocks. Understand the value you bring to your organization and be open to including others from your organization in the supplier relationship. Suppliers, know your product and how it’s delivered. Manage your buyer-partner’s expectations by understanding their culture, their goals and their outlook on your company. But don’t use this information to nickel and dime your buyer-partner, or worse, leave them feeling like you don’t understand – or care. Know that your competition is always on the other line.In the end, all the parties desire to optimize time and resources at the best possible price. Build trust and smash those goals together! – Wendy Palmer

Style & Substance
Everyone has a different style in their supplier and business relationships.  Some are very black-and-white. Others are very ‘touchy-feely.’ I’m sure that there is a mix of both in everyone; however I tend toward the latter. We are all in the travel industry. Isn’t travel about bringing people together and meeting face-to-face to do business, educate and share ideas? Why else does anyone travel?Besides knowing your individual style in dealing with suppliers, you still must have the right data at hand in order to do business effectively. Formal, quarterly reviews with the numbers spelled out and goals tied to metrics are most necessary for a successful relationship. Listening to each other and working toward mutually beneficial targets are the essentials that make business relationships work.  
– Mark Ziegler

Golden Rule
In relationships, the golden rule should always be applied. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. I feel that relationships are actually partnerships.  Partnerships should be a win-win for both. The beautiful part of treating each other fairly – it creates trust, honesty and respect, as well a possible longtime friendship. The benefit of having these elements in your partnership is both parties can agree to the best solutions. In the travel industry, as in life, relationships are most important. Following the golden rules is key.
– Gloria Gonzalez