Press release: Rethinking the RFP

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Finding the right travel partner might require a radical new approach, says FCM Travel's Bonnie Smith.

by FCM Travel general manager Bonnie Smith.

Believe it or not, an RFP can take six months or more to complete. It is often an exhausting, time-consuming process (for all parties) that yields little insight into a travel management company’s (TMC) true capabilities or the buyer's travel needs.

Fortunately, change is afoot and the days of generic, 40-page, "tick-the-box" RFPs may be coming to an end. Not only are we seeing more electronic submissions, but we’re also seeing clients take a far more collaborative approach – and this is where the magic happens.

What do I mean? Researchers at the University of Tennessee coined the phrase “request for partner” to describe a collaborative RFP – and it’s one that workshops new ideas and potential solutions during the actual bidding process.

This is very different to traditional bid presentations. It’s all about knowledge sharing and requires a level of trust and respect between buyers and suppliers. But it is a great way to get a sense of a TMC’s approach, strategic insights, capabilities, and whether they’ll be a good fit for your organisation or not.

And with new priorities coming to the fore, including sustainability, DEI obligations and traveller health and wellbeing, it is more important than ever that your TMC understands your business goals – and shares your values and culture.

Obviously, the wheels turn more slowly in the government sector, but is exciting to see the private sector beginning to rethink the RFP process.

If you’re about to embark on the search for a new TMC, here are 10 steps you can take to ensure success:

1. Understand your organisation’s travel needs

How much does your team travel? Is your relationship with your TMC transactional or strategic? If your travel requirements are fairly basic, and you’re happy with your current TMC, chances are you may not even need an RFP.

On the other hand, if you need a partner who goes beyond merely sourcing the cheapest rates (who can handle multi-leg and multi-country trips, for example); who is able to identify savings and opportunities; and able to save your team both time and money, then you might be in the market for a new TMC.

2. Rank your top travel requirements

Is it important for your travellers to be able to access travel support at all hours? Is cost still your biggest driver … or is it sustainability? How important is tech in your ideal travel management scenario?

Think carefully about your organisation’s unique requirements and rank them in order of importance so that everyone is on the same page.

3. Have the right people in the room

In order to understand your current travel needs – and pain points - it’s important that travel managers, bookers and travellers are part of the process. What are their biggest frustrations? What are you currently getting wrong when it comes to travel management, and what needs are not being adequately met by your current TMC?

4. Be generous with information

The more a potential TMC knows about you and your needs, the better they’ll be able to gauge whether they are a good fit for your business. Include details like your geographic footprint, company culture, online capabilities, current travel policy and spend. You should also provide information about your preferred pricing and payment processes. Transparency is critical here, as failure to give enough detail is often the cause of the disconnect between an organisation and its TMC.

5. In return, consider what information you need … and what you don’t

Case studies. Great. Client references. For sure. But do you really need CVs for the entire team? Gathering information for an RFP submission can be a laborious process, and while in South Africa certain information is required, like a company’s B-BBEE standing, other attachments – like supporting CVs – are unnecessary, especially as staff may move on, be transferred or promoted during the RFP process.

6. Think about how you’d like the responses to be formulated

There’s a fine balance between efficient use of time and gathering as much information as you need. A spreadsheet is great (and beats a 40-page tender document hands down), but make sure TMCs can also include supporting links, case studies and videos. After all, you want to get a sense of their company culture – and what sets them apart from their competitors.

7. Weight the responses

Each response provided by the prospective TMCs should relate directly to one of your business requirements – it’s up to you, which requirements are the most important in helping you select the ultimate partner. For example, you may place greater emphasis on cultural fit than on sustainability, or maybe pricing trumps all.

8. Set aside sufficient time for presentations and engagement

Think about replacing a panel presentation with a workshop. One which gives you an opportunity to engage with more members of the TMC’s team, so you can get a real sense of their culture, capabilities and ethos. You could also ask for a full demo of their platform and tools. Either way, make sure you set aside enough time.

9. Discuss the onboarding and change-management process.

This is important, as once your selection has been made, you want the transition to be as smooth and seamless as possible.

10. Debrief all involved in the process.

Unsuccessful parties would appreciate also some feedback – and you may find that you are able to gain some valuable insights in this final part of the process, too!

An RFP process is, in essence, about finding the perfect partner. So, whether you decide to go old-school or whether you try a more collaborative approach, you need to start as you mean to continue – with great communication, fairness and transparency.

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