Seven best practices for success with eRFPs

success with eRFPsBy Mike Mason

eRFP technology has made fundamental changes in the way meeting planning works. The technology was designed to let planners send meeting requests to hotels in a couple of clicks and magically receive complete proposals back in a few hours.

In reality, though, the technology that was supposed to save hours of work is now the No. 1 reason why planners are not receiving timely and complete proposals from hotels. The problem with eRFPs is that they have made it too easy to send requests to far too many hotels. It’s not unusual today for planners to send a single meeting to 40 to 50 hotels at once.

This phenomenon is called RFP spam, a term Zentila coined several years ago. In the past few years, hotels have seen an astounding 300-per-cent increase in leads and an 87-per-cent decease in closing rates. Hotel sales managers today are forced to sift through the piles of eRFPs to find the one that’s most likely to book, which means more and more RFPs go unanswered or only partially answered.

These tips below can help you cut through the eRFP clutter and generate faster responses from hotels and better meeting deals. By adding just a few extra bits of information, you can make your eRFP stand out in the sea of leads hotel salespeople receive daily and entice them to stand up, take notice and do what they love to do – fight for your business.

In their shoes

Start by understanding how hotel salespeople think; knowing what drives them will help you get what you need. Nothing gets salespeople more motivated than believing they have a real shot at booking your meeting. This is where the problem of RFP spam comes into play. Consider these stats:

  • If you send an eRFP to 20 hotels, each sales manager has a five-per-cent chance of earning your business.
  • If you send that eRFP to just five hotels, each sales manager has a 20-per-cent chance of closing.

Put yourself in the sales manager’s shoes. If you think you’re one of 20 or more hotels to receive a new lead, you probably aren’t feeling too good about your chances. Hotel salespeople spend roughly 90 minutes on each lead response. Will they work harder on the lead that has 20 to 30 hotels on it or the one with just five to eight? It’s easy to see which leads get the proper attention and ultimately the offer that best fits the meeting requirements.

RFP credibility

Create a customized list of the right hotels for your meeting, and keep the number of competing properties down to eight or less. A little extra research goes a long way in eliminating venues that probably won’t work for your meeting. By reducing the number of hotels on your RFP, your eRFP credibility will skyrocket, and hotel salespeople will work harder to win your business.

Transparency

Maximizing eRFP credibility really comes down to communicating your intentions. Provide the names of competing properties, with the understanding that sales managers will fight harder for your business when they know the hotels they’re up against. You’ll bolster your credibility by letting them know up front that your eRFP isn’t going to 40 to 50 hotels. In other words, they have a real shot at your business. When you give your hotel partners just a few additional key facts, the results will amaze you.

Flexibility

Never tell a hotel your dates aren’t flexible, even if they’re not. When you acknowledge up front that you aren’t willing to consider a shift in dates, you’re not only limiting your hotel options; you’re also limiting your organization’s ability to realize big savings. Even if you’ve been told there’s no flexibility, you should still keep your options open. The right hotel will often offer major incentives in return for your flexibility. You may get one or two stellar bids that just might change everyone’s mind about how flexible they are. Most groups have some flexibility in their program, especially with enough lead time, and they have a real need to save money, while delivering more to their attendees. True, sometimes your dates really aren’t flexible — but imagine the possibilities. You’ll never know until you try.

Short list date

This is the date when you tell the hotels if they’re still in the running. If done correctly, the short list date is very effective in creating a competitive bid process that helps ensure you’ll get the best possible outcome. Keep your short list date close to the date you sent the original RFP. You should need no more than three to five days to review the proposals and select the ones that jump out at you.

Remember a proposal isn’t a hold on rooms or meeting space – and it has a brief shelf life, with rates and occupancy changing daily. Moving quickly lets the sales managers know you’re interested and has the added benefit of keeping them engaged. The time to negotiate is when your sales manager is eager to book your meeting. That means they’ll be receptive to special requests, and they could offer concessions that may not have been included when they were one of many hotels. That’s the power of the short list!

Closing the loop

Every day, sales managers are left wondering what happened to that meeting they spent so much time working on. Not knowing the outcome can be costly to hotels. That’s why it’s so important to close the loop. If you don’t, you might get flagged in the hotel’s account management system as a non-credible lead source – a bad position to be in next time you seek a bid. What’s more, you could find yourself on the other end, looking for a venue for your next meeting only to hear there’s no availability because another planner hasn’t released space.

Avoid these problems by sending quick updates on the decision progress before the salesperson even asks you. Don’t worry if there’s not much to report. You’ll make a salesperson’s day if you just shoot him or her an email along the lines of, “Wanted to let you know everything is on schedule for the decision in three days. Your bid looks great.”

Dear John

Once you’ve selected a venue, communicate your decision to every hotel that responded as soon as possible. By notifying everyone quickly, you enable sales managers to move on. You’ve maintained your RFP credibility throughout the process and are set for the next time you work with the same hotels.

Let them know what hotel you selected and why. Salespeople are naturally driven by the competitive nature of their work. Letting them know they lost your meeting to the hotel next door – and why – will help you when you work with them again. And you know you will be working with them again, given the size of our industry. They’ll know your hot buttons and will be far more focused on getting you exactly what you need.

About the author

Mike Mason is a 25-year meetings/hospitality veteran who has headed up sales and marketing at leading companies, including Marriott, Wyndham and Gaylord Hotels. He put that experience to use to build Zentila, a strategic sourcing solution. Zentila enables planners to source and book meetings in a few days instead of a few weeks, while also capturing vital data on meeting spend. The result is an award-winning platform that saves money for companies and times for planners. Contact: [email protected].

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