How to make your corporate travel RFP a star

February 4, 2020 Mark Dauner

You may have seen the 2018 film "A Star is Born" starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Viewers of that film may or may not know that the story has been told at least three previous times:

  • 1937 (starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March)
  • 1954 (starring Judy Garland and James Mason)
  • 1976 (starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson)

Each motion picture carrying the name "A Star is Born" is a retelling of the same basic story: A famous male celebrity discovers a new, young female talent. He helps to boost her career. They fall in love. Her star rises quickly, while his declines. He battles and eventually succumbs to various vices. The film ends with an emotional performance or premiere by the young star in which she receives a heartfelt ovation.

This differs from our first example, "Star Wars", in which each series of films was a continuation of the other films that came before or after it. Here, while specific events and characters might be slightly different based on their time period, there are themes and storylines within each film that carry through the decades. The specifics might change, but the heart and spirit of each film remains. We think there is something to be learned from here when approaching an RFP.

Who is the star of your RFP?

While this shouldn’t be the case, quite often a request for proposal, or RFP, can be the first significant touchpoint between travel buyers and travel management companies (TMCs). The abrupt nature of this process can mean that, instead of being viewed as an opportunity to begin a long-term relationship based on trust, and a mutual understanding of each participant’s needs and capabilities, RFPs are often seen as pure protocol or worse, a necessary evil.

While the travel industry has been rocked by revolutionary change, particularly over the past ten years, the RFP process and format has not. We firmly believe that the traveler and travel buyer should be the stars of the RFP process. If you don’t see a thoughtful and relevant response to your needs, challenges, and opportunities clearly at the center of the response, you shouldn’t expect anything different in a partnership.

Insider Perspectives on the corporate travel RFP process

The average business travel RFP ranges from 75 to 125 questions. Answers can be lengthy, leaving both TMCs and travel buyers fatigued by the entire process. We spoke with seasoned global bid writers and sales team members at Travel and Transport who have considerable experience in the trenches of the RFP process to identify ways of improving it for everyone involved.

Emmie Mees, senior director, global sales, thinks a good place to start rebooting the RFP process is by moving it from the beginning of the sales process to the end.

“RFPs are still relevant, as they are the binding document of all the conversations and presentations that have taken place before, and all of that needs to be documented in one place. But, they should be moved to the end of the process, after buyers have done some qualifying,” she says. “They should qualify things such as capability, technology, scale and location, and only invite a handful of pre-qualified travel management companies to respond to the RFP. Proper discussion on what can be delivered, insight into the tech investment, and what makes each TMC different are more helpful topics around which to solicit responses.”

Eric Sage, senior global proposal writer, says pre-qualification is critical. “Travel managers should get to know who the companies are and take the effort to research them before getting to RFP stage,” he says. “While many may shy away from a custom response, doing so adds incredible value.”

What questions should travel buyers ask of themselves and their organizations internally before sending out the RFP? Here are a few possibilities:

  • What are the goals of this RFP?
  • What do we need to achieve?
  • Do these RFP questions give us the information we need to achieve those goals?
  • Why do we need to perform an RFP?
  • Where does our existing travel management company (TMC) fall short? What specific capabilities or resources do we need that they aren’t providing?

Distributing an RFP for the first time? Focus on culture

The RFP process can be excruciating for travel buyers going through it for the first time. Improve it by focusing on the culture of each responder. Every TMC can provide basic travel management services. The difference just might come down to culture. Ask questions like:

  • What processes are in place for collecting and responding to traveler feedback?
  • What other clients do you serve and what is their experience?
  • Who will I be competing with for resources?
  • Can I talk with someone who understands the locales of where my company operates?
  • What are your values?

Asking the right questions of yourself and the travel management companies you reach out to could make all the difference between a meaningful RFP process and a wasteful, draining experience.

How to reboot your RFP? Ask the right questions

We asked members of our global bid team what specifically needs to change with the questions they see in business travel RFPs.

Nicola Crossley, senior manager, global bid management, says ditching that overused RFP template is a good start. “Eighty percent of questions turn up time and again. It’s okay to start with it, but travel buyers will get more valuable responses if they customize it to their specific needs, challenges and opportunities.”

Devon Niebling, global proposal writer, says sticking rigidly to the template doesn’t allow responders to show off who their company really is and what kind of service they offer. “We want to do the best for each question, but it’s not possible. We’re asked the same questions ten times in different ways in the same RFP, so it gets hard to answer those differently.”

Nicola says travel buyers need to evaluate what they want to get out of the RFP before sending it out. “Travel buyers probably don’t need our employee numbers or locations. If they’ve come to us to respond to an RFP, they should already have the knowledge that we can deliver that. It’s superfluous and can come in the RFI,” she says. “Instead, they could ask how we could support them to reduce costs, or how we help in a crisis. Ask questions about how the program would run to their needs and requirements rather than assume it’s the same for everyone.”

Eric adds that including space for testimonials and stories from satisfied customers would help draw out that information in the RFP process. “Stories and testimonials would really make this feel real and current. At Travel and Transport, our human touch is in our DNA. The way our customers feel about us is what makes us different. Including that kind of qualitative data into an RFP template would help paint a more complete picture of the TMCs being evaluated.”

RFPs: keep the best, change the rest

Although the story is pretty much the same, each version of “A Star is Born”, has something special that continues to make it relevant and compelling to new audiences. What does your RFP have that will truly deliver relevance to your organization? While a template is helpful for comparing the same information across responders, its real value lies in asking questions that reveal the character and capabilities of the TMC a travel buyer is thinking of hiring.

At the end of the day, you want to know whether a particular travel partner will be a good fit for your organization. Will they help make you a star by helping you achieve your travel goals and keeping you and your travelers satisfied?

Make your RFP a star!

Check out the additional posts in this series: 

You can also get more information and tools that will help you in guiding your travel management program with our free ebook, Skills Every Modern Travel Manager Needs to Succeed. Get it today!



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