July 13, 2024

How to ease the pain of RFPs

Like going to the dentist or filing a tax return, RFPs are something that fill travel managers with dread. ATPI's Katie Skitterall shares her top tips on how to avoid the headache

Few things unite people in corporate travel more than the dread they feel when talk turns to RFPs. Mention these three letters and watch people’s eyes roll. Despite other options available, many travel management professionals seem to be stuck in the same routine. There are so many other routes and services available now that there really is no reason to be stuck in a frustrating RFP rut, doing things the same way as before. Each company is unique and it is only right that they spell out precisely what they want from their travel provider.

So, with that in mind, here are my tips on how to put together a successful RFP that ticks all the right boxes, fits your budget and, most importantly, doesn’t send you mad in the process:

1.     Start at the beginning: Before you kick off, it makes sense to work out what you want to achieve. This could just be a simple list to start with. Are you suffering from poor adherence to travel policy? Maybe the company is now operating in new or high-risk areas? Are your travel expenses running out of control or perhaps your team is nervous about the return to travel post-Covid? Working towards a goal focuses the mind for those involved and will ultimately help TMCs deliver the best, targeted solution for you.

2.     Setting clear roles and responsibilities: It might seem like a little thing but gathering the information you need to create a good RFP will likely involve input from many stakeholders across your business. One person has to take charge of this. Like a good football manager or orchestra conductor, this person can get everyone pulling in the right direction. They should set deadlines too, so the whole process remains on track. Agreeing a time and resource budget for the project is another way of ensuring focus, as well as setting out clear roles to determine who is responsible for each part in the process. If you’ve never put together a travel RFP, the Institute of Travel Management have a great RFP toolkit that’s perfect for first-timers.

3.     Listen and learn: The key to a good travel programme and possible change is ensuring you have people on side – whether that be the senior executives or the travel bookers themselves. Rarely can a company’s travel programme be everything to everybody, but you can get close if you are willing to engage and listen to the feedback of those involved. Be sure to include input from a wide range of employees to understand their pain points to ensure that when change does come, it is welcomed. People involved in the background, such as administration teams and finance departments will also offer valuable insight. Regular catch ups with all involved will keep the RFP going smoothly and stop gripes from people who have not had a chance to contribute. Having plenty of data will allow potential partners to respond with the best bespoke solutions.

4.     Do your research: Having a scattergun approach to finding a TMC doesn’t work. Inviting too many firms to pitch creates unnecessary work for you at the review stage, and won’t be appreciated by potential partners. Instead, it is worth asking around for impartial advice and feedback from industry peers. Case studies provided by suppliers are all well and good, but the best tips are from past and present customers. Compare your need to the different specialisms on offer – the BTA and trade press are good places to start.

5.     Enter the matrix: You want to get your RFP responses back in the same form otherwise they will be impossible to compare and evaluate. Bidders have many different pricing models so you need a way of putting them side by side. An evaluation matrix and financial offer template lets you see what is being offered and at what price. It’s also worth allowing bidders the opportunity to come up with creative solutions to your needs – don’t stifle possible innovative approaches.

Throughout all the stages, keep the dialogue open in order to establish good communication from the outset and take the TMCs you invite seriously. A well thought through approach to the RFP process, and a strong RFP, in fact unites TMCs and their clients, ensuring that everyone is clear on what successful outcomes look like.