Online RFP platforms make it easy to assume that the process is monolithic — completely standardized, homogenously formatted, and more or less the same for everyone. But planners have their own individual methods for putting their meetings out to bid. Here are three:
Sharon Collins, CMP, SMMC, strategic meeting partner, American Cancer Society (ACS): Collins estimates that ACS uses an online RFP platform for “98 percent of our meetings” — pretty much everything except for “a very, very, very small percentage … typically for smaller international hotels.”
She finds the system convenient and valuable. “It is very useful to, first of all, find out availability, so if a hotel has available space or sleeping rooms, or both or neither or whatever,” Collins said. “And then it helps us get a gauge of where the rate is coming out on the property. So it's a vetting mechanism — it's a good way to see what's out there and see what responses come back, and then to go to the next level of the process.”
Marian Long, CMP, meeting services director, American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE): Long almost completely eschews online RFPs, choosing to send out AADE's meetings “the old-fashioned way — you know, it's like a Word document, and here's the marketing and here's the deadline, and let us know if you have any questions.”
Distributing her own RFP, her own way, is “not that big a deal,” Long said. “Half the stuff that I have is already in a Word document somewhere, so I can probably cut-and-paste. I get it. I could do it online, or maybe I could do my own jerry-rigged version of it via email, saying, ‘Hey, send me a spreadsheet with all this information in it.’ I just haven't had a need for [eRFPs] myself.”
Larissa Schultz, CMP, CHA, owner, LJS Meeting Strategies: During her career first as a corporate planner and now as an independent, Schultz has done a little bit of everything — using an inhouse RFP process, working with third-party RFP vendors, and preparing her own RFPs from scratch, which is what she mostly does these days. “I think we need to utilize the technological systems that allow more finetuning that you can do within the system,” Schultz said. “A lot of the RFP systems are very standardized. It is very hard on the planner's side to really input exactly what it is you need.
“One of the main things the RFP system needs to be able to have included is the objective of the program.... From the planner's side to the supplier's side, they should be discussing, what are you trying to do with this program? I don't think we can address the objective aspect when we're doing the eRFP.”