If you want to get meeting planners and other event industry professionals worked up about a topic, bring up Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Controversy can arise whether one is using a highly structured, formal process or sending out a simple email request.
To keep the RFP process ethical and hassle free, here are some land mines to avoid.
1. Stop wasting people’s time
There are many abuses that fall into this category. The most vexing is when a company has already selected a supplier, yet goes through the charade of requesting proposals. The excuse for this is that the company has a policy of requesting three proposals. Not only is this unethical, but for small suppliers, responding to these phantom RFPs can eat up a significant amount of time.
If you need to do some benchmarking, then say so. There is nothing wrong with calling a company, indicating that you run a retreat or plan an incentive trip every year and you want to do some benchmarking to identify best practices. Many companies will be happy to spend 3-5 minutes with you answering a few questions—but be prepared.
As a general “rule of thumb,” don’t request proposals unless you are able to give them serious consideration. If your inquiry is preliminary, send out a Request for Information (RFI) instead of an RFP. Be honest and indicate that you need the information for planning purposes only.
2. Stop mining proposals
An abuse that is rampant in the meeting industry is requesting proposals when there is no intention of using an external supplier. The company or association collects proposals and then goes through them to mine the best ideas to implement using internal staff or to hand off to another supplier. This constitutes theft of intellectual property and a serious breach of ethics.
If you are short of ideas, engage an event planner to meet with you and do some brainstorming or review your plans to determine how they can be improved. For this, many meeting and event planners will charge you their hourly rate. It’s a win-win scenario.
3. Avoid duplication of effort
Another abuse that qualifies as a time waster is asking a number of suppliers to source venues when you know you are going to be doing this yourself. (For the life of me, I don’t understand why this happens. Perhaps someone who is reading this can clarify.)
If you are concerned that the venue may not be giving you the best rate, simply ask, “Is this your best corporate rate?” Venues will be happy to suggest options that will help you meet your budget. For example, some venues will indicate that if the company books more than one meeting at the same time or arranges for guests to register for their rewards program they can extend a better rate.
4. Don’t say it’s urgent if it isn’t urgent
The trend is for almost all requests to come in on an urgent basis. More and more these urgent requests come in after hours and expect a response first thing in the morning on the next business day. Then, decision making drags on for months until the client falls off the face of the earth.
It’s simple, provide a realistic timeframe for a response when you send out RFPs.
5. Stop using external planners to do your location scouting for free
If you are attempting to get independent or external event planners to do your venue sourcing for free when you have no intentions of using their services, this is highly misleading.
Be honest. Indicate that you need some help with location scouting and ask for the fee for that service. It will likely be hundreds instead of thousands of dollars.
6. Mind your manners
Never just “fall off the face of the earth” and leave suppliers hanging. Successful relationships within the industry are based on open communication and trust. When you keep external meeting planners hanging, you are causing them to burn their relationships with their own suppliers.
As soon as there is a decision, send a brief email to inform any companies that were not successful of the outcome. This will make it possible for them to close the loop with venues and their own suppliers.
7. Don’t hold venues unless the client has engaged your services
In the past, holding hotel space or venues was standard practice in the industry. With the number of abuses of the RFP process, it is best to use holds at a later stage of the process.
Confirm pricing and availability for the preferred dates. Let the client know that no space has been held. Once a client has engaged your services, request a formal proposal. Hold space only when a client has expressed a serious interest in using a venue.