Most people shy away from negotiations, including meeting planners. Bargaining for a great deal can be awkward if it’s not something you do every day. Many planners feel uncomfortable about requesting something above and beyond the asking price. They’re convinced they’ll get "no" for an answer anyway. Others ask for concessions but fall short because they don’t clearly define what they want.
Whatever the reasons, negotiating is a skill you can learn easily. In fact, getting what you want often comes down to having the right timing.
When sourcing your next company meeting, think about the strategy most people use when shopping for a new car. You don’t just walk into a showroom and ask for their best price.
Instead, you compile a list of models and set a price range. Next, you do a little homework and test drive a few cars. You might engage with a few sales managers and discuss your needs. Then, you narrow down the list to your preferred vehicles – aka: your Short List.
Where You Have Negotiating Power
You’ve proven you’re serious about buying but haven’t committed yet. Your salesman is all ears now. You might even hear the line, “what do I have to do to put you in this car today?” This is where sales people pull out all the stops. They might include that upgraded stereo you want or agree to the purchase terms you spoke about earlier.
The point is this: It’s much easier to get exactly what you want, the closer you get to buying.
Negotiating a great deal on your company meeting is no different. Create a similar strategy to buying a new car. Go through many of the same steps, including shopping different properties and brands.
It’s especially important to shop around now. Hotels are seeing some of the highest occupancy rates in 20 years. What does that mean for planners? There’s a shortage of availability, and that drives higher rates. Meaning: It’s sellers’ market.
5 Steps to Set Yourself Up for Success
But even in a challenging market, you can get hotels to compete for your business by setting up a competitive bid environment and controlling the timing of your negotiations. Here’s how it works:
Submit your RFP to at least 3 hotels (but no more than 8)
To create competition, you'll need more than one hotel in the mix. On the other hand, sending your RFP to 15 or 20 hotels tells the sales people they don’t have much of a shot at booking your meeting. So, keep the number of hotels on your RFP between 3 and 8. This is a big motivator for sales managers, as less competition means a higher chance of closing. And that means they’ll drop everything to respond to your RFP.
Tell hotels who they’re competing with up front
Include all hotels that will receive your request at the top of the RFP. When venues know which properties they’re up against, they work even harder to win your business. This gives them the opportunity to deliver a stand-out proposal. And that means a better deal for you.
Share details about your selection criteria
Add fuel to the competitive fire, by disclosing your objectives and requirements. For instance, are you looking to improve on the experience from the previous year? Would you like to see meeting space options with natural lighting? Do you need 8 suites for executives attending your event? In any case, share specifics on what you’ll be looking for when making your selection.
Set a Short List date
Tell hotels when you plan to narrow the field to just your favorites. This isn’t your final decision date – it’s simply the date when you’ll tell them if they’re still in the running. This will motivate venues to respond faster and will likely generate better offers. Your Short List is a powerful motivator when done right.
Set your Short List date close to the date you send your RFP. This lets hotels know you’re serious, and it speeds up the whole process. When bids come in, you’ll know right away which proposals you want to keep, and which ones won't work for your meeting.
Keep in mind a proposal isn’t a hold on guest rooms or meeting space. And proposals have a brief shelf-life, with rates and occupancy changing daily. So, moving quickly lets sales managers know you’re interested and keeps them engaged.
Negotiate the details
As you may have guessed, the perfect time to negotiate is when sales managers are the most eager to book your meeting – after they’ve made your Short List. That means they’ll be receptive to special requests. Who knows? They could even offer concessions they wouldn’t have included when they were one of many hotels. That’s the power of the Short List!
Follow these steps, and you have the recipe for a competitive bid process that helps ensure you get stronger proposals – even in a seller’s market.