Meetings: Triage and Answer Your e-RFPs
By Debi Scholar President, The Scholar Consulting Group | September 22, 2013
Pick up your phone, chat with your buyer buddy, strike a deal and plan a meeting. If these are the steps you use to bring group business into your property, then you've been hiding under your tainted bedspread for too long. Today, many hotel sales organizations rarely have the opportunity to speak to meeting planners because of the planner workload, travel schedules, procurement guidelines, and technology advancements. And, who can blame the planners for not wanting to talk to ten different hotel properties per day? More time wasters are when each brand, sometimes multiple properties within the brand, in one chain contact the meeting planner regularly. While this barrage of ineffective selling does not usually happen with buyers who are lucky to secure a global or national sales manager, many hotel sales people still single out the small to mid-sized buyers in hopes of selling group space by frequent calls. However, answering eRFPs is another method to make a good impression on your buyers.
Hotels can be more effective in selling their space by triaging and answering the incoming electronic RFPs (eRFPs) using meeting/event date and space availability, complexity levels and value drivers as key factors that influence the time and effort that are dedicated to answering each eRFP. Some hotels are experiencing a 40 percent increase of eRFPs from buyers which necessitates hotel lead generation improvement processes to provide the buyer with the right answers quickly. If hotels treat all incoming eRFPs equal, then the magnitude will feel like the I Love Lucy episode with Lucy and Ethel stuffing chocolates in their mouths, blouses and hats because the speeding conveyor belt rushed toward them. Yet, hotels are not quick to adapt to new technology.
Even though eRFP technology for groups has been around since at least 1997* many hoteliers have practiced conscious incompetence in answering eRFPs. For example, in a conversation with a prominent, large chain property in Florida, the Director of National Accounts said, "Debi, if we get two leads and one is through technology and the other is through the traditional method, I will always give first priority to the traditional RFP." And, unfortunately, his response is echoed by hundreds of hoteliers today because they have not wanted to restructure their RFP lead generation resources properly. Granted, the technology may be onerous, but meeting event technology improvements are being made regularly. In comparison, our first computers with floppy drives were hard to operate too; we didn't ignore them, we used them.
In contrast, there is probably more hope for the unconscious incompetent hoteliers who may not be educated on answering eRFPs. In a recent client interview when I asked about eRFP usage, the meeting planner responded that in some cities like Panama City it worked well but in contrast, the hotels did not recognize the email with the eRFP link in Santiago. Hotels must continue to learn about eRFPs, how to answer them properly, and prioritize them using a triage system as more global organizations move toward eRFP automation.
If any hotel believes that eRFPs are out of control, then they haven't been following the strategic meetings management initiatives, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) conferences, the incline in technology usage, or the rising procurement influence. Strategic meetings management has been formalized since 2004, by the GBTA Groups & Meetings Committee efforts, and we emphasize the importance of automation to increase visibility and efficiency, and reduce costs and risks. We knew that eRFPs and electronic evaluations were coming for years; meeting planner adoption to using eRFPs continues to increase with improved technology functionality.
With procurement departments governing the buying processes, it is important to understand and abide by some key guidelines that are summarized in an acrostic that I developed when the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was released. The acrostic, to help us remember procurement guidelines, is "Accountability Instills Smart, Equitable, and Responsible Business." The first letter of each capitalized word represents: