Knowledge, innovation and communication are keys to success, says Sharon Fleming, owner of Thompson Travel, Portadown, Northern Ireland

This is a shout out to all the wonderful suppliers who look after us all year.

First, there are all those prestigious award ceremonies and celebrations that mean our dresses never get time to gather dust. We are very privileged. We work hard for all of you and I know it’s your way of saying thanks to us and I have to say, the events I have attended this year have been organised to perfection, and there are more to come.

Then there are our account managers and representatives. There are a few things that I’ve noted from a good supplier that go a long way to building a relationship. Here is what I look for:

Knowledge: Experts in their fields who clearly know their products and services and can provide a wealth of information to our staff. From in-house training to questions answered at the end of the phone, regular visits and updates, we are thankful for them all.

Quality: The quality of a brand is key but the quality of service and product is paramount – from arranging to visit at a convenient time, to knowing what works well within your business. It is important that supplier representatives choose their key accounts carefully, do their homework and understand our business.

Innovation: There is nothing better than an account manager who is innovative with their ideas. Whether that is in relation to staff sales and training or finding ways to help you sell their product. I can recall our staff’s engagement when Colin Rillie of MSC Cruises arrived dressed as Willy Wonka with his chocolate bars – he was definitely remembered.

Continuous improvement: Isn’t it great when your account manager visits you remembering what you discussed before, has up-to-date figures, is time-efficient and helps you create an ‘edge’ on your competitors because they know you engage with them? In Northern Ireland we always have flight issues, especially in relation to cruise connections, but our best account managers already have that sussed, and are always negotiating on our behalf.

Sharing risks: Some projects succeed, some fail. That’s business. It is great when suppliers take a risk with you because they believe in your commitment and know that they will work together with you to ensure both have the best outcome. Cruise partners are excellent when it comes to sharing projects. A shout out has to go to Mandy Burrie of Celebrity Cruises, Amanda Middler of Silversea and Royal Caribbean’s Jennifer Callister.

Respect: The best account managers have my utmost respect. Over the years they build a rapport and trust and, in turn, have more influence on what we sell. It is uplifting when a supplier recognises staff members. John Booty, of Wendy Wu Tours, and Martin McClaren, of Beachcomber, are two that come to mind.

Let’s give credit where it’s due, so thank you, suppliers. I have one gripe, though: next time you guys visit, will you bring fruit instead of cream buns – or I’ll soon struggle to fit into my awards dresses!