Learning To Love Contracts
By Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM
The other day, I was on the phone with a meeting planning colleague who was clearly having a bad day at the office. When I asked why she was so unhappy, she said she had a stack of contracts to get through and she was dreading it. “Send them my way!” I told her. “Negotiating contracts is one of my favorite things to do.” “Are you kidding me?!” she nearly screamed and the next thing I knew, I was defending myself as if I had just told her I was thinking of leaving the profession to become a belly dancer.
If you often feel like my colleague, you’re not alone. So how did I become a fanatic? I learned to see contracts and negotiations for what they are: an opportunity for both parties to walk away happy, appreciative, satisfied and better off. With that end result, what’s not to like?
Here’s how you can learn to love contracts too.
- Know what you want. Know what you need. Know the difference. When negotiating with hotels, if you know your attendees will book outside the block if your rate is over a certain amount, be open to paying a meeting room rental to get the room rate down to your target number. In the short term, it seems you’re paying room rental unnecessarily. But in the long run, you’re avoiding potential attrition charges and you can likely build the meeting room rental costs into your admission fees.
- Realize that both parties are entering into the discussion needing to answer one paramount question: “What’s in it for me?” If you can’t answer that question for the other party, you’re likely not going to get what you ask for. Remember, both have the same goal but different specifics as to how they want to reach it.
- To get what you need, know what the other person values most and offer it. Hotels value “heads in beds”; promotional vendors value large-quantity orders; speakers value exposure; small businesses and contractors appreciate prompt payment. Be aware of and meet the other party’s needs and they’re more likely to meet your needs.
- Only ask for what is fair. If you can’t articulate why something is important to you and why it’s a reasonable request, you’re less likely to get it. Be ready to share samples of past executed contracts that contain a particular clause a vendor is questioning. Demonstrating that what you are asking for has been acceptable to others often alleviates a vendor’s concern. Recently, a vendor told me he had never heard of anyone asking for the clause I was asking for. When I explained what it was designed to do and faxed three examples of hotels that had honored the clause, I got what I needed.
- When vendors initially question or say “No” to a request, it’s an opportunity, not a closed door or a reason to get frustrated. I look at vendor questions as an opportunity to explain myself and share well thought-out plans. Questions are an opportunity to explain and elaborate, not challenge or threaten. If a vendor is unwilling to meet you halfway, thank her for her time and go to your backup. Signing a contract you are not happy with is never a good idea. Being willing to walk away is crucial to the process and both parties will be better off for it. Signing a bad contract starts the relationship off on a bad note and is usually an indicator that it’s not a good fit for either side. Sometimes it’s just better to walk away, but keep in mind that that property may work well for another opportunity. So, stay professional and respectful as you decline the opportunity to pursue the relationship further for this program.
In my 18 years in the industry, I have signed many more contracts than I’ve walked away from. I’m just as comfortable with the process in either situation. When I do sign a contract, I know both parties are closer to their goals because of the time I invest in making the process satisfying and rewarding.
Tags: Learning To Love Contracts, Contracts, Event Planning, Strategic Events, Strategic Planners, Event Planners, Corporate Meetings, Corporate Events, Strategic Events, Event Solutions