If one were to compile a list of meeting planner grievances, the RFP process would be near the top—right up there with meeting rooms that are the temperature of a meat locker and $120 per gallon coffee.
And perhaps not surprisingly, a poor RFP process also raises the hackles of suppliers, who have to waste time wading through a tangle of poor leads, many of which don’t even meet the basic specifications of their facility.
It seems the key to mollifying both aggrieved parties is for planners to just relax, winnow down the number of properties that could actually be a fit for the group, and get specific. And for suppliers to take these refined RFPs and get back in a timely fashion.
Everybody happy now?
All levity aside, creating and responding to an efficient RFP is critical to both sides by not wasting time, and thus money, separating the wheat from the chaff.
One former hotel sales executive who has fought in the RFP battlefield is Mike Mason, whose firm Zentila (http://zentila.com) promotes a business model that hinges on making the process less painful and time-consuming, and thus potentially more lucrative, for all interested parties.
“What’s really hurting the planners today is they’re lucky to get complete bids back, let alone bids at all. They’re attaching bids to 26 or 30 hotels at one time,” says Mason, who worked for Gaylord Hotels earlier in his career. “And directors of sales have to manage their time. They’re basically filling dates and rates [on the RFPs] but they’re not filling in the other 47 ‘mandatory’ fields that are required.”
All of this confusion results in a lack of focus on what’s really important, it seems.
“So if you’re a planner you’re competing with all of the other RFPs out there—how do you get the sales manager to stop and pay attention to your RFP?” he asks.
First, Mason contends, meeting planners should limit the number of RFPs they send out, and be diligent in researching prospective hotels before hitting “send” on that RFP.
“Now that you’ve picked a lower number of hotels, you have to make sure the salesperson knows that,” he advises. “You have to brag about it: ‘You are one in six hotels.’ Tell them the number of hotels on the RFP and tell them who is on the RFP. Is it the Marriott? The Hyatt? The Hilton? You’re sort of lathering up the salesperson, because salespeople thrive on competition.
“If you tell them who they are competing against they fight harder, because that’s their nature—they will jump on your lead every minute of the day,” he adds.
Mason says that making hotel salespeople do too much work up front also impedes the RFP process.
“A meeting that needs to happen in 12 weeks is different than a meeting that’s going to happen in nine months, but there’s no correlation in the amount of work the salesperson has to put in,” Mason says. “What’s happening now is hotels are saying that it’s not even worth it because it takes time for my boss to go to his boss to get it approved, when I don’t even know if I’m in the hunt.”
If the planner has a meeting that is close in, they should ask for general availability first--space, rooms, rate and food and beverage information--and then narrow it down to about six prospective properties that actually fit the meeting’s profile.
“Every salesperson is getting pummeled by what are, in essence, non-bookable leads, so planners need to help them,” Mason says. “There’s no such thing as over-communicating on the front end. The more transparence there is the more a hotel can step up and perform for them.
“When you communicate this way, the relationship you have with the hotel is different, right out of the age,” he adds.
And if that RFP never comes to fruition, make sure to let the sales team that lost the bid know why.
“A lot of times the loop doesn’t close with the sales manager, so they sit there and wonder ‘what happened?’ with the meeting,” Mason says. “So as soon as you make a decision, let everyone know, so then they can move on if they don’t have a shot at the meeting, and also let them know where it went.”
Mike Mason writes a blog on MeetingsFocus.com about RFPs and other meetings industry topics. Zentila enables planners to plan, price and book meetings and conventions entirely online, and offers planning tools that include an RFP Genie and planner-focused hotel search engine. Zentila can be found on the Web at http://zentila.com.