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How to make the RFP process better – for both buyer and TMC

Given that the average RFP (request for proposal) for a travel management company runs to hundreds of questions and the answers can read like War and Peace, it is not surprising that both suppliers and buyers are fatigued with the entire process. And worse, according to research undertaken by consultancy Festive Road, when asked why both parties persist with this format, each cited the other as the reason. However, it only takes one buyer to raise their head above the parapet and do it differently…

The buyer – Alice Linley-Munro, global travel analyst, Oil Spill Response
I am already dreading the next the RFP for a TMC and it’s not until 2019. We sent out an RFI (request for information) to 12 TMCs with only four questions and we knocked four out straightaway, including our incumbent, whom we had been with for 11 years. That was a difficult conversation. We sent a 300-question RFP to eight and spent months wading through the responses until we got it down to the final two, who came in and gave presentations.

I think it was like that because it was the first RFP we had ever done for travel. We were asking about CSR and environmental initiatives, and when we got it back we thought, that’s lovely but is it going to affect the service they give us or the pricing? No, it’s not.

The final two were neck and neck, and, in the end, we made the decision on personalities, which has worked out really well for us. It would be good to give TMCs the chance to show off why they are different. I think the best way to do that is to get them in much sooner in the process and try to cut down how much they have to write.

The ITM (Institute of Travel Management) does workshops with six or seven TMCs, who get ten minutes to present to buyers. Then they go out and the buyers spend ten minutes talking about the TMCs. That gives you much more of a grounding in the TMCs than what we did. It is a nice way of doing it because I think you should have some personal experience before you start the process, and the buyer collaboration is a friendlier, more sensible way to kick it off. Hopefully, we will do that when we come back to tender.

The TMCs – Vanessa Bailey, director of client partnerships, Business Travel Direct
A lot of RFPs are question and answer; one had more than 100 questions and all that was required was a short answer for each, not more than one paragraph. To answer all these questions can take hours, days, and then it’s a pricing exercise. If that’s the case, they could send out a price list and then do a conversation with the questions.

It is remiss not to discuss it. We always call companies and sit down with them to find out what they want to achieve, then they can get a feel for us; but if they refuse and just want us to fill in an RFP, we do a no bid.

A consultant might send an RFI and from that have a one-on-one meeting. That leads to a shortlist of those they want to work with and they send an RFP. Ideally, they would ask you what your values are, the type of service you are offering, to find a good cultural fit. A lot of companies overlook culture and look at price rather than trying to find the right partner.

Emmie Mees, senior director, global sales, Radius Travel
RFPs should be the end of the sales process, not the beginning. In sales, we qualify prospects and ask a range of questions to check whether we are the right fix for the client in global scale, technology, cultural fit, service; and we qualify every prospect to get a good handle on what the client wants and whether the business is winnable. In some cases, the same RFP is sent to 20 people but buyers should invest time in making sure potential suppliers can secure the business; they should qualify a TMC in the same way as people qualify a prospect.

If I was the customer, I would ask: Will my voice be heard? Which other clients does the TMC look after? Whom will I be competing with for resources? Is the TMC the right fit? We are a service industry. The bulk of the spend of a small bill customer could be in ten markets, with a long tail of countries where they are spending a small amount of money. Understanding the client is all, and if we have had no good pre-sale relationship with customers and are not servicing them in any markets, we are likely to no bid.

I urge buyers to engage with local folks and make sure they are gathering information on country nuances. They also need to build up an internal business case: What are the goals of the RFP? What are they hoping to achieve? And make sure the goals are the motivation for their coming out to bid. We get a lot of RFPs that are scant in information, but have a long list of requirements.

If there’s nothing wrong, why go out to bid? There is an element of integrity in going out to bid, so be honest about what you are looking for and what the challenges are so that the partnership gets off on the right foot.

It’s crucial to narrow down what is going to work for you as an organisation and the type of company that would fit your profile and culture; then approach relevant players.

The consultant – Louise Kilgannon, associate, Festive Road
We launched a campaign during ACTE for a ‘3Cs’ sourcing model – advocating a balance of Capability, Culture and Commercials – to ensure the right choice of TMC. We realised the current model was cut and pasted for the entire industry. Although some companies had the ability to be more creative, they were starting off with long questionnaires; but buyers have to mark them afterwards, which is really time-consuming, and it limits TMCs’ ability to distinguish themselves.

One of our clients did a lot of RFI activity, established their requirements and the agency’s capability early on, and then they did some great workshopping sessions. Not all TMCs were entirely comfortable with that; it is almost a case of be careful what you wish for.

We all know that TMCs can issue tickets, provide duty-of-care and have a technology roadmap. But, when it comes to finding the right fit, we need to go back to the 3Cs. Culture is so important, there is no one TMC that fits every customer, and the only way to see whether their company values match yours is in workshops.

We are encouraging our clients to look at the 3Cs before they engage in an RFP process. From there, they may not go out to bid because you can stress-test the relationship with the incumbent and often they stand up well to that investigation. An RFP is not always the answer – sometimes you can fix what you have in place and drive the relationship forward.

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