RFPs: A view from both sides of the events industry

RFPs: A view from both sides of the events industry

By Jennifer Glynn and Joe Nishi

Getting a quote on pricing for your meeting and event is more challenging than ever. Trying to find the right venue, at the right value as quickly and efficiently as possible, with fewer resources than ever can be stressful for meeting planners.

On the other side, venues have sophisticated revenue models, yield management and space optimization parameters that must be followed. There is constant pressure to increase profit margins to make up for past years’ losses and pay for capital improvements. Plus the increased use of eRFPs (request for proposals sent over an online channel) has caused the amount of requests received by suppliers to explode.

Not only are industry suppliers struggling to deal with the flood of RFPs, but some requests have very little information and history – leaving the supplier no chance of differentiating themselves from others and winning the business.

The new RFP reality

The world is changing in the way in which RFPs are processed, and this leads to both challenges and opportunities. In June 2015, the Global Business Travel Association and Convention Industry Council APEX eRFP Efficiency Workgroup completed one of the most comprehensive studies on the issue to date. In it, they examined the impact of the flood of eRFPs from all the industry stakeholders’ perspective to determine recommendations and best practices.

So much more could be said on eRFPs that it would fill this entire issue, so we will focus on building an understanding from both buyer and supplier perspective on the frustrations that both sides feel on the RFP issue. In addition to sharing some of our experiences gained over 25 years in the meeting site sourcing business, we interviewed industry professionals from both sides to share their perspectives. What better way to understand what your client or supplier wants then to understand their point of view?

The buyer’s perspective

All of us can relate to receiving back incomplete RFPs or no response at all. An RFP that is fully completed is unfortunately a rarity in our industry. However when you do receive one that is done properly, it is immediately placed on the top of the consideration list. Completed RFPs reduce the need for the buyers to go back to suppliers to chase down answers.

With limited time and resources, buyers may not go back to their supplier because others have done “the basics” correctly. Creativity is helpful when submitting your RFP, but the basics are the most important and must be highlighted.

Common frustrations from the buyer’s side:

1. If the RFP asks for you to respond to multiple dates, but the supplier only answers one.

Clients understand that it is extra work to ask you to search to see if you can accommodate multiple dates. But there could be factors as to why:

  • The conference or meeting happens across many cities, and it allows them to lay out the best timing.
  • Rates are a factor, and they are seeking the best time of year for their conference or incentive.
  • Dates that are being considered for internal scheduling may shift due to different executive availability.
  • Asking the supplier for multiple dates from the onset also cuts down on the back and forth.

If the RFP does not mention alternate dates, be proactive from the start by providing alternatives especially if you do not have ‘exactly’ what they need — alternate dates, meeting set-ups, locations for meal functions, etc. Do not wait for the buyer to let you know if they can consider alternate dates. Go ahead and offer them. It shows your commitment to winning the business and doing everything possible to meet the buyer’s needs from the start.

Be reasonable; don’t suggest a Saturday/Sunday stay when you know it is a business meeting that needs to take place during the week. You don’t like travelling away from your family over the weekend, and neither do meeting attendees. Also, know your holidays on both sides of the border!

2. Incomplete function space grids or quoting the bare minimum meeting space sizes to accommodate the group.

With space optimization, a reality at many properties, quoting the bare minimum size meeting room for the group is standard practice. This can put you at a competitive disadvantage because groups generally want more room to move, and set-ups are less traditional (i.e. incorporating new trends in meeting design so the old formulas of what fits 50 in half rounds are not always accurate).

If a client asks you for ceiling height and square footage of the room, and you don’t fully complete the form, you are sending a clear message: You are creating work for them. You want to make it easy for them to select your product, except now they have to spend time doing the research themselves.

3. Non-response to RFP.

If you do not have a robust system of receiving, vetting and acting on RFPs within a 24-to-48-hour time period then you need one as soon as possible. Chasing down responses is both frustrating and time consuming to a client. If this becomes a trend with a particular supplier, then it cannot help but impact willingness to source that supplier for future meetings. The natural instinct is to work with people who make your life easier and whom you make feel valued.

4. Not completing information fully (i.e., applicable taxes, resort fees, surcharges).

We know some of the questions that are asked are sometimes tedious and repetitive. However they are asked for a reason. Taxes, fees, and surcharges can change and certainly vary between cities, regions and venues. Including all critical information when putting together budgets for buyers can make a huge difference in the overall costs.

In today’s automated world, it’s important to build a connection with your customer. Understanding their frustrations and then exceeding their expectations by avoiding the above will make it easier to do business with you.

Now, let’s flip to the other side of the buyer/supplier relationship. Suppliers are just as frustrated by the lack of information and response they receive from clients.

The supplier’s perspective

Quoting dates, rates and space is more complicated and time consuming than ever. There are daily meetings to determine what to quote and which space to offer. Suppliers are under constant pressure from revenue managers to continue to push profitability and also from the directors of sales to “close on the business.”

Here are the most common frustrations from the supplier’s side:

1. RFPs with lack of information

History and background info may not always be available, but clients should try to include it whenever it is. Other information that your suppliers are looking for in order to complete the best response is:

  • Value of your group — Do you use the spa, golf, restaurants, lounges? What other incremental revenue does your group bring, not just rooms and meeting space? The hotel needs to understand the total package of why they want your group. This knowledge will help you leverage your spend.
  • Demographics — Tell the supplier the age, activity level and type of group so they can showcase to you why their product is the perfect fit for your group.
  • History — What has worked in the past, level of hotel, resort versus city? You don’t need to share rates, but if you can share level of hotel that will ensure your hotel partner or GSO is not sending it to a Four Points when you want Ritz-Carlton.
  • Customize your RFP — So that the hotel understands what is truly important to your specific program.
  • Concessions — Ask what is important to you. Don’t just have a generic list that you submit for any RFP; that is not going to get you cost savings you are looking for.
  • Hot buttons — Let them know if it is about team building, creating a wow or just costs.

2. Being shopped and not receiving qualified RFPs

The fact of the matter is that there is no real way of knowing the true intent of the RFP. However, over time patterns will develop, and you will get a sense of which channels and which buyers do more “shopping” than “buying.” Just know that most buyers are sourcing your venue because they are truly interested in your property. Clients, be respectful and select suppliers based on what is the best fit for your venue — not just a click of a button within your eRFP system.

3. No response after I respond to RFP.

Due to time constraints and volume of meetings that a client may have, they don’t always have time to respond back to every supplier that has completed the RFP. If clients know the timing for a decision, setting expectations with your supplier is beneficial.

Suppliers: Follow up as soon as you think you need to. Personal contact with a phone call or quick email saying that you are looking forward to discussing next steps when the buyer is ready is being proactive and makes you stand out.

4. Being one of many RFPs — How to make it to top of the list.

Follow up with a personal email on the reasons that they should consider your product. Engage your global sales contact or someone within your industry that may be able to provide you insight into the client or the particular piece of business that you are bidding on. Be sure to include anything that is new with your venue. If pricing/concessions are hot points, then address them aggressively; you may not have a second chance to tweak your proposal.

Your RFP is certainly your opportunity to stand out. Add a few facts that are going to entice them to think of your product (hotel, DMC, speakers bureau, etc.) when they are short-listing their options. Ensure that these facts are relevant to them, so that you make the customer feel like you understand their needs.

The bottom line is that success in any industry is about the relationships you develop and keep. The key in developing those relationships is communication, which leads to the ultimate goal — the ability to trust each other. Understanding what your client or supplier wants and needs is so important and is gained with experience and hard work. Attention to detail and the willingness to be flexible will lead to stronger business relations and is proven to result in more business in the long run.

The RFP is really the “first response” and can set the tone both positively and negatively for the duration of the process and beyond. If both sides treated RFPs like it was their last one, then the quality of information going back and forth would improve and would result in the ultimate goal of finding a perfect fit for both the buyer and supplier.

About the authors

Jennifer Glynn and Joe Nishi are Co-Owners and Managing Partners of Meeting Encore Ltd, Canada’s first meeting site sourcing specialist. Meeting Encore recently celebrated its 25th year of assisting clients with their meeting needs and their team is located across Ontario and Quebec. They can be reached at 905-403-9646 or via their website at www.meetingencore.com

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