Press release: Taking the pain out of RFPs

How to make the RFP process in finding a new travel management company a positive one.

Hands up if you’re using the same Travel Management Company (TMC) you’ve used for years – even if you’re not especially happy with their service? Now, put up your hand if you’re sticking with that service provider simply because you can’t face the onerous task of putting together a request for proposal (RFP)?

You may believe that it will be painful for your organisation to undergo change at a time when there has already been a lot of uncertainty thrust upon your staff, for example, or that they don’t have the time or capacity to put together an RFP.

But what if I said that the RFP process doesn’t need to be particularly time consuming or painful? And that it can have an enormously positive impact?

Travel today looks very little like it did back in 2019; probably the last time your team undertook any serious travel. They may be preparing to pack their bags once more, but they’re going to find that they have a brand-new set of challenges to deal with –and the reality is that the contract you currently have in place with your TMC may no longer be adequate. For example, risk management, duty of care, and new approval processes are more important than ever, and your current TMC may not measure up.

But how do you go about formulating an RFP so that you get the desired results? It may sound obvious, but the quality of the information you request – and, in turn, provide – is crucial. Many companies find that their match with a TMC is like unsatisfying date – they may have some things in common, but that true and all-important connection is lacking – and that’s because their RFP isn’t as precise or detailed as it should be.

Here's how you can avoid this situation: 

1. Understand your business’s travel needs
Is your relationship with your TMC transactional or strategic? If your travel requirements are on the basic side, chances are it falls into the first category. If, on the other hand, you need a partner who goes beyond sourcing costs (who handles multi-leg and multi-country trips, for example), buyer and TMC alike need to be willing to invest time in the relationship.

The same holds true if travel is an integral part of the business, helping to generate value; or if your travel culture is such that people like to be able to consult with an expert rather than taking care of all aspects online. A good way for buyers to get this right is by asking all pertinent members of the team – not just the C-suite and budget holders, but the frequent travellers themselves as well as finance and IT teams, risk management and HR departments, and the people who actually make the bookings – what they want and expect from a travel policy.

2. Identify current pain points for travellers within the organisation
What are your team’s biggest frustrations? What needs are not being adequately met by your current TMC?

3. Rank your top 10 travel requirements in order of importance
Is it vital for your travellers to be able to access TMC team members at all hours? Would you prefer for them to be able to manage changes on their cell phones? Do you expect discounts on air fares and accommodation? Think about these carefully because they will be at the core of the RFP process. You can use a template, if necessary, but take the time to tweak it so that it fits your business – after all, no two organisations have the exact same needs.

4. Be generous with information
The more a TMC knows about you and your needs, the better it will be able to gauge whether it will be a good fit for your business. Include details like your geographic footprint, company culture, online adoption, travel policy, spend levels and payment solutions. Transparency is critical here, as a failure to focus on the nuances of your programme is often at the heart of the disconnect between an organisation and its TMC. You should also provide information around your current pricing and payment structure, security risk assessments, code of conduct and your objectives related to relationship management.

5. Think about how you would like the responses to be formulated
Here, you’re trying to maintain the fine balance between efficient use of time, and gathering as much information as you need. That’s why a spreadsheet might not be the answer: it doesn’t give the TMC much scope for explaining what makes it different to competitors. On the other hand, you don’t want to encourage them to add one attachment after the other, either, as this makes the process extremely moribund. One solution here is to state the appendices that may be included as attachments, such as case studies. You could also invite them to submit videos featuring an explainer about the company. This kills two birds with one stone, giving you insight into their company culture at the same time. Finally, be sure to give responders sufficient time to provide detailed, customised answers.

6. Weight the responses
Each of the responses provided by the prospective TMCs will relate directly to one of your business requirements – it’s up to you which you think should play the greatest part in helping your select the ultimate partner. For example, you may place greater weight on cultural fit than on sustainability, or maybe pricing trumps all.

7. Set aside sufficient time for presentations and engagement
This gives responders a chance to answer questions that you would like to probe further, while also offering an opportunity to meet more members of the team. You could, for instance, ask for a demonstration of their preferred technology.

Make sure too, to ask about their onboarding and change management process. Once a decision has been made, you want the transition to be as smooth and seamless as possible.

8. Decide on a pricing model
For example, transaction pricing or subscription pricing, and make sure you understand the prospective TMC’s unique pricing methodology – what factors are included, and how are they procured? This makes for easy comparison.

9. References
If you’re going to contact references, focus on what matters: you want to find out if there are any weaknesses to a supplier’s approach, and how the relationship can be best managed.

10. Debrief all involved in the process.
When it comes to awarding the contract, be punctual – but also respectful of the time and effort invested by everyone involved. Unsuccessful parties will appreciate a little feedback when they don’t get the job, and you may find that you are able to gain some valuable insights in this final part of the process, too.

There’s no doubt that this is RFP season. Organisations are emerging from the pandemic, looking ahead, and starting to send out requests for proposals.

Done right, the process can set you up for a successful, strong and enduring partnership. It will crystalise exactly what your team’s corporate travel wants, needs and priorities are and – with any luck – introduce you to new systems, technologies and possibilities. Remember though, that while it’s important to implement a formal and rigorous process, start as you mean to continue: with great communication, fairness and transparency.