Hotel Sales RFP’s Circa 2020: How To Be The Best, Not Just The First To Respond – By Doug Kennedy

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Hotel Sales RFP’s Circa 2020: How To Be The Best, Not Just The First To Respond

When I speak with hotel sales leaders at my training workshops and conference presentations, and when I read interviews with them in hotel trade publications such as this one, it seems that most are buying-in to these three myths about hotel sales in the current era:

– The most important factor in closing more leads is to be the first to respond.

– The second key to success is having the coolest PDF or online brochure, with more pictures than everyone else.

–  Planners who send digital inquiries do not want to talk or correspond; they only want to get the proposal they asked for.

Let’s tackle these mistaken beliefs one at a time, and along the way, point your sales team to what it really takes for sales success in the soon-to-arrive new decade of the 2020s.

I’m not quite sure where the myth that responding first is the key to closing more sales.  Perhaps it is because CVENT shows “bid ranking” results. However, the bid ranking simply indicates who responded first. I asked my high-level contact at CVENT this question: “Is it true that hotels further down the list at ‘bid ranking’ either no longer receive RFP’s, or receive fewer RFPs?”  His response was: “There is no algorithm or tool at Cvent that determines which hotels get how many RFPs to bid on etc. We don’t stand between hotel and planner.”  

For further evidence, one can simply look at the results from CVENT’s “Planner Sourcing Report, Global Edition,” which is free to download. (Editor, insert link here.  https://www.cvent.com/en/resource/hospitality-cloud/2019-cvent-planner-sourcing-report-global-edition

On page 15 a survey heading reads: “Areas to improve RFP Responses,” and results show that 32% of planners cited “Attention to detail,” another 14% Of respondents specifically cited “Thoroughness,” and another 7% cited “conciseness.” Between these three somewhat similar responses, 53% selected something to do with what I will collectively call “precision” as their top suggested improvement for hotel sales, while only 20% instead cited “Speed.”

The second myth worthy of debunking is that sending planners an “online brochure” complete with dozens of professional images and extensive lists of features is going to increase lead conversions. Some sales teams send PDF’s, while others use online proposal platforms.  These are certainly nice, but the problem is that on the receiving side it creates a sense of “choice overload.”  PDF proposals are usually put together with the best of intentions by a marketing guru who is so very proud of the professional images they paid to have produced. Rather than providing hotel sales/event sales staff with an easy way to personalize them, most are being forwarded on the proposal as is. There are too many images overall, too many that irrelevant, and too many unnecessary “feature lists,” so in the end the recipient becomes so overwhelmed that they only skim through what is sent.

When sent in PDF, these documents often have images inserted in full resolution so that the file size exceeds the 5MB limit on many receiver’s inboxes. When sent via an “online brochure,” it is often coming from a third party source, with the actual sender being masked as the email of the hotel salesperson, so it goes to spam.

Further, these PDF’s and “online brochures” typically include the same copy and images that are found on the hotel’s website, which was the likely starting place for the RFP sender.  Here’s a direct quote from a planner that was included in the aforementioned CVENT report:   

“Many hotels do a one-size fits all approach. It would be great if they could have more attention to detail in the beginning and personalize it to my organization’s needs.”

On to the third myth, which is that planners don’t want to talk or correspond because they already told us everything in their RFP. While this question was not specially addressed in the survey, responses to CVENT’s published survey are myth-busting here as well.

As reported on slide 17, respondents indicated their “Top factors preventing a return to an existing venue.” According to the CVENT report, “59% of planners rank lack of professionalism as the most important factor preventing them from giving the venue repeat business. Many more planners cited this factor than did in 2018 (45%).” Results also show that the overall experience of the booking process is a top return consideration (35%). It just makes sense that if a hotel salesperson shows attention to detail in their RFP response, and shows a desire to be precise by reaching out before responding, this would build the buyer’s confidence and trust. Here’s another planner quote from CVENT’s report:

“Even if a venue does not provide something we want, this should be clearly stated in their RFP response. We do appreciate, however, when a venue applies lateral thinking to our needs and makes unexpected recommendations.”

 Having “busted” these prevailing myths, here are some sales tips from my training workshops for the coming decade:

– Respond first by email or “in-app” to acknowledge receipt of the RFP and to indicate that you are going to take a bit of time to read all details and respond with a thorough proposal.

– Make a phone call to stand out, even if you get voicemail, which presents an opportunity to personalize the exchange. State in the introductory remarks of a call, or in the VM, that you are “Just calling to clarify a few details so that I can send a more specific and customized proposal.”

– If you only get voicemail, also send an email or reply “in-app” such as CVENT. Experience shows that most planners will reply in some form. If they do not, then proceed with sending a proposal within a reasonable time, based on what you can surmise from their RFP.

– Customize proposals and contextualize the content. Most hotel salespeople are doing the minimum, which is inserting the company or organization name and maybe a logo. Go beyond this and delete images that are not relevant, focusing on those that are. Edit the copy, especially in key areas such as the opening few paragraphs.  Delete details regarding amenities, facilities, and services that are not relevant to their meeting or event.

Doug Kennedy

November, 2019

About Doug Kennedy

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com.

Doug is the author of So You REALLY Like Working With People? – Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.