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In today’s market, booking company meetings demands a strategic approach. Learn how to get the most out of strategy, opportunities, and tools available to strike the best deal.
Whether you are a first-time planner or a seasoned pro, booking a venue for your company meeting has its share of challenges. It seems there must be a better way when you consider all time spent chasing down venues for responses, on top of the frustrations with negotiations.
However, in order to change your results, you’ll need to make changes to your existing processes. In this guide, we’ll walk you through several strategies and explain how just a few minor changes can affect your desired results. In the end, you’ll deliver more value to your attendees, while building better relationships.
One of the first steps in the hotel selection process is contacting hotels to get rates and check availability. You compile all your meeting details into your RFP and hit send. After a week or so, you may get a response that has details missing, incomplete answers to questions you've asked, and uncertainty as to whether they even have the meeting space you need - leaving you essentially right where you started. But why? Where could you have gone wrong?
The problem: eRFP technology has made it too easy to send RFPs to way too many hotels.
On any given day, hotel sales managers receive more meeting RFPs than they have the time to respond to. Because of this volume of RFPs, they typically don’t have the time to give each one the individual attention you might expect.
Try a progressive path to selecting a hotel for your next company meeting. It will save you tons of time, ensure that you get complete proposals and the best offers from the hotels.
Think of your site selection process in terms of steps, where each step narrows the field of hotels and at the same time, asks the hotels to work harder. By taking this tiered approach and asking more of hotels as their chances grow (each cut reducing the number of hotels, and increasing the remaining hotels’ chance of booking), you’re telling sales managers, “Hey, you’re part of the chosen few!" which dramatically shifts their attention span and directs it right at you. The result is that you will be far more likely to get their best because they know they have a real chance at booking your meeting.
Step 1: Search broadly - Get room rates, F&B minimums, room rentals and a yes or no to the question of sleeping room and meeting space availability. Send to 8–10 hotels. (This is not the time to get them to respond to your concessions, agree to your addendum, or assign meeting room names. I promise, you’ll get far more value later on.)
Step 2: Narrow your search - Based on the first pass of availability and rates, reduce the number of hotels down to five–seven.
Step 3: Inform the hotels - Sales managers, start your engines! This is where you begin to energize those salespeople. Tell the hotels that made the cut and also let them know who else is on the short-list. Be sure to notify the others that they didn’t make the cut.
Step 4: Put your chosen hotels to work - Open up the dialogue and connect. It’s also time to give your “chosen few” more information on your meeting, to include your concession requests, addendums, etc.
Step 5: Narrow again - Yes, that’s right. One more cut down to your top three is critical to getting the most out of your hotel relationships. Imagine the excitement of those three salespeople when they hear they’ve made it. I’ve been there, and I can tell you by that point I was driven to win the business.
Once you’ve completed this five-step process, you’ll have all the information you need to select the best offer. Make your decision with confidence, pop champagne with the winner, and let the others down quickly so they can move on.
This path will save you time and it will ensure that you get the right information and the best offers from the right hotels at the right time along the path. And that, in turn, will ensure that you get the best possible outcome, because the effort at each step – both yours and the hotel salespeople’s – is equal to the opportunity.
First to understand this, let’s walk in the hotel sales manager’s shoes for a moment. Once you see it from their perspective it will all make sense.
Then we’ll explain a few ways you can make your RFP more compelling to get faster responses, with competitive offers. It can be done. By providing just a few additional details to your RFP, you can change the outlook on your request to get results faster AND drive competitive bids in the process.
Hotels have seen a 300% increase in RFPs over the last five years with little to no growth in salespeople. What does that mean for you as a meeting planner? Your RFP is getting lost in the 40, 50 or even 90 other RFPs that your hotel is receiving. In 2010, Zentila coined a term that is now standard in the industry to describe this phenomenon: RFP SPAM.
So, what does RFP SPAM have to do with your meeting request? Plenty.
For planners everywhere – whether you use an eRFP tool or not – your meeting RFP is getting caught up in this hairball of leads in the sales office. Sales managers are now resorting to picking through the pile to find leads they want to fully respond to, then trying to find time to get to all of the others.
The trick for you is to make sure your meeting request jumps out and says, “Yo! I know you’re busy, but you should respond to this meeting request first!”
So, what can you do to get your RFP to stand out and get detailed, accurate proposals the first time around?
Answer: Think like a salesperson!
Salespeople “sell” you. Then they “sell” your meeting. Hotel managers have gotten very good at picking which meetings to take and which meetings to pass on. This process has many names, but it’s usually called RevMax or Business Review. Each day, salespeople go before a group of internal decision makers, which likely includes the revenue manager and general manager, to convince them that your meeting is appropriate for the hotel. They may even find themselves competing with other sales managers for the same dates.
What happens when two or more groups are interested in the same set of dates? Your hotel salesperson starts by presenting all of the reasons why your business is the best business for the hotel. The guest room and Food & Beverage budgets are a huge consideration. However, there is another important factor when determining a great piece of business: the Space-To-Rooms Ratio (SRR). Meeting space is the most valuable resource in any hotel. Without it, hotels aren’t able to maximize their occupancy and revenue.
Don’t worry if you don’t. Most planners have never thought of it. The calculation is simple, but the knowledge is critical to negotiating the best deal. The lower the SRR, the better the meeting. If your SRR is over the hotel's budget, you’ll know quickly what to adjust to get a good deal. And if your SRR is under the budget, the hotel will really want to book your meeting, which means you’ll be able to ask for more concessions up-front.
Your SRR is first calculated by day and then averaged out over the length of your program. Here’s an example program for one day:
Simply count the number of seats in unique meeting rooms that you’ll require. Leave out any evening events, when space isn’t at a premium. The events that count are highlighted in red above. You can see that Monday’s events require 150 total seats in four rooms.
Now it’s time to get the total square feet needed for 150 seats. To do that, multiply the seats by 20 square feet. That brings the total space needed to 3,000 square feet.
Last, take your room block (the number of guest rooms) for that day, and divide it into the total square feet. Let’s say that you need 50 guest rooms. This means the SRR for this day is 3,000 / 50 = 60.
Here’s where it gets tricky: Your first and last days often have very a high Space-to-Rooms Ratio, because you’re blocking a lot of space but few guest rooms. In this case, the hotel may ask you to delay your set-up or reduce the space needed for set-up. This is all in the name of maximizing their meeting space use for every group. Work with them to reduce your set-up time, bringing your space needs in line with your room block on those days.
Now I’m not talking about when Columbus discovered America. In this case, I’m talking about your meeting history: Where and when you’ve held this meeting before, and how many guest rooms you occupied.
When you provide the hotels with at least two years of history regarding your meeting, you create instant credibility for your event. You’re showing the hotel that you have consistent room pick-up every year, and that your group will meet its contracted room block commitment. You also give the hotel a chance to forecast its guest room inventory more accurately, allowing the best opportunity to sell out the hotel.
First-time meeting with no history? No problem. The key for hotels is understanding why your group will attend the meeting. So, although it’s never been held before, it may be a meeting in which it’s mandatory to attend. Tell the hotels this right up front.
Or use some other meetings that you’ve held every year to show you know how to block rooms. Leveraging other meetings is often overlooked, but the hotels will use the information in a similar way.
Finally, if this is truly your first meeting and you have no other meetings to help prove your credibility, be prepared to describe how you’ll get attendees there. And also, be flexible. Hotels will likely take your meeting and put it over dates where there’s less risk. I’ve seen some remarkable deals made for groups that are willing to fit the hotel’s need dates.
Nothing takes the air out of a salesperson's balloon than those dreaded five words, "these dates are not flexible", it stops them in their tracks. And you’re more likely to get a turndown or no response.
Worse yet, you limit your ability to be a true savior and budget-conscious guru. Yes, I know – sometimes you’re really not flexible on dates. But why not let the hotels show you what they’re willing to offer if you were to be flexible? I have both offered as well as seen offers made that could easily save 10% to 20% off your overall budget if you’re willing to be flexible.
Why not have these options to take back to your meeting owner? Imagine going back and saying, “Hey, I know these dates aren’t flexible but the XYZ Luxury Hotel just gave us a complimentary opening reception worth $10,000 if we push the meeting forward four days.”
So, how do you get these types of offers? At the top of your RFP, add the words: I’m willing to explore alternate dates if you make it worth the effort to change from my preferred dates.”
Every great salesperson loves a little competition. But it’s discouraging when you know that you’re competing against every hotel in a 200-mile radius.
In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that the “shotgun” approach can hurt your search. A recent American Express study drew a strong correlation between the number of hotels receiving a meeting request and the percentage of hotels that respond late or don’t respond at all.
Sending an RFP to too many hotels can hurt your chances of getting the right response from the right hotel, and the overall proposal will likely be higher.
By sending your meeting request to fewer than eight hotels, you’ll send a strong signal to hotel salespeople that they have a real shot at earning your business. This is the #1 motivator for salespeople: Less competition means a higher chance to close, which in turn means they’ll drop everything to respond to this lead. But first, you have to get credit for your keen sense of sales motivation.
Tell them how many hotels are receiving the request and, if possible, tell them who they’re competing against.
As a former salesperson, nothing motivated me more than knowing who I was competing with. This information enabled me to put together a killer proposal that focused on my hotel’s strengths in a way that was meaningful to you, the customer.
Beyond knowing the competition, the next big motivator for salespeople is knowing whether they’re in contention, or whether they’re out. The short list date isn’t your decision date ... it’s simply the date when you’ll tell the hotels whether they’re still in the hunt or not. This important step in the RFP process is a great way to get the salesperson to respond promptly and completely.
The short list date works best when you follow two simple rules.
The short list date also gives salespeople valuable information that they can use to sell your meeting internally at the RevMax meeting (from tip #1). Because they know you’ll tell them quickly whether their proposal has a shot, they can “sell” your meeting hard.
It’s all about revving their competitive engines. Great deals come when your salesperson is engaged once they’ve made your short list … and not before.
Often, salespeople are asked to jump through incredible hoops before they even know if they’re in the hunt. It goes something like this (with just a little exaggeration for thematic affect):
"I’m sending this meeting lead to eight other cities with 10 hotels in each city, but before you can be considered for this meeting you must respond to the attached 5-page, single-spaced, concession list and 12 contract addendums.”
Seriously. If you were in their shoes, would you spend time on this? Or would you pass it up to find a meeting that you can actually book?
So, save the important requests for when the stakes are the highest and when you have the salesperson’s undivided attention … that is, once they’ve made your short list.
Once on the Short List, salespeople will dig deep to earn your business. That means agreeing to many requests that likely would not have been approved prior to being shortlisted.
Sending regular updates to salespeople ensures they and their teams know exactly where you are in the decision process. What you don’t want is a salesperson who, when asked during a business review, “What’s going on with XYZ group?” has to say, “I’ve left 15 voicemails, 25 emails, and I even wrote their company’s name in the sky and … nothing!”
The poor salesperson looks uneducated about your meeting, and pretty soon the team will stop talking about it in the RevMax meeting. That leaves you wide open for losing your dates. It also makes negotiations that much tougher if you do decide to work with that hotel.
Even if you have no update, send them an email letting them know that – and do it before they ask.
True sales professionals delicately balance between being an ambassador for the hotel and an advocate for you. Communicate often and you’ll have confidence that they’ll look out for you and your meeting.
A wise salesperson once said, “I love to hear yes, I can live with no … but I will starve with MAYBE.” It seems so simple, yet so many never close the loop with the salesperson. I estimate that 75% of the time, a salesperson never learns the outcome of the proposal they submitted. This has a real effect on their time management. It means that while they’re trying to get the update for a meeting that already booked somewhere, they’re not responding to your killer RFP that has everything they could want in a great meeting lead.
"75% of the time, a salesperson never learns the outcome of the proposal they submitted"
Keep in mind that while salespeople may be disappointed that their hotel was not selected, they’ll always appreciate the news. It’s also important to share why they did not win your business. When you close the loop, you add to your credibility and increase your chances of receiving a timely and complete response from those hotels next time. Doing so keeps the lines of communication open and creates an opportunity to work together in the future.
Are you cashing in on savings opportunities for your event? If you’re booking an event that includes 10 room nights or more, be sure to include a few concessions to drive additional value to the experience.
What are concessions? They are the “special deals”, typically discounts or complimentary services you would like the hotel to include in their proposal. Those deals can include waived parking fees, complimentary WiFi, suite upgrades, food & beverage discounts, VIP amenities, and more. These extras can help make the experience for your attendees that much better, without breaking your budget.
Hotels expect to see a few concessions included in your RFP, and it helps your sales manager to understand what is important to your event to deliver a knockout proposal. Here are some of the most popular hotel concessions to consider for your RFP, along with a description of how to request them. We’ll start with some basics, then we’ll cover some advanced concessions that can drive a ton of value to your event.
Here are our 10 most popular concessions:
It’s bad karma to ask for all 10, so consider which concessions are most important to your meeting. Your chance of a successful negotiation increases when you focus your efforts on the main ones.
This enables you to get credit for your group’s guest room pickup.
Your request: “1 complimentary room-night for every 50 rooms picked up, cumulative.”
What this does: If you pick up 50 room-nights, no matter how many days it takes to get to 50 room-nights, you’ll get one room-night free. Pick up 150 room-nights, you’ll get 3 complimentary room-nights.
This is a big deal if you have attendees who will be driving to the meeting.
Your request: “Complimentary self-parking for drive-ins up to 25 cars [or whatever you think the number is].”
What this does: Hotels typically outsource their parking and have a large bucket of complementary and discount parking passes to use up. Ask for them.
Believe it or not, most meeting hotels charge for internet in guest rooms. Ask for this every time.
Your request: “Complimentary internet in sleeping rooms.”
What this does: There’s no middle road here; the hotel will either say yes or no.
A bit tougher to get done because this is a big revenue source for hotels. You’re more likely to get a percent off than complete waiving of the fees.
Your request: “Complimentary internet in meeting space.”
What this does: Rather than asking for either complimentary or discount, this leaves the door open for the hotel to fight hard to get your business. This has a big impact on your total meeting cost.
This is only applicable to hotels that provide airport transportation.
Your request: “Complimentary airport transportation for the group.”
What this does: Another big expense for your meeting. Leave the door open for other discount offers.
Want to impress your boss or CEO? Ask for this concession and really wow them. Hotels will likely agree to this if you have a minimum of 25 rooms each night. Less than that, ask for a discount of 50%.
Your request: “One complimentary round-trip town car airport transfer.”
What this does: Makes you look like a rock star when you tell them it didn’t cost you anything.
This is the insurance policy on your meeting in case it cancels. You want a rebook clause to mitigate paying cancellation penalties. An enormous risk mitigation technique: Your company will have an opportunity to rebook a meeting in that hotel within a certain time frame.
Your request: “Please include a rebooking clause.”
What this does: The hotels do this all the time. Let them come to you with the rebook terms. Any rebooking clause is better than no rebooking clause.
Another insurance policy against a last-minute downturn in your attendees showing up at your meeting. Attrition is the number of rooms the hotel will allow you to drop from your contracted block before they start charging a penalty.
Your request: “20% cumulative attrition for the room block.”
What this does: If you’re contracting 50 rooms for 2 nights (a total of 100 room-nights), then as long as you use at least 80 room-nights, you avoid any attrition charges. Make sure the hotel calculates this cumulatively for your program – in other words, on your total room-night block instead of day-by-day.
Depending on your needs, this can save your company a bunch of money. You should always ask for at least one suite upgrade, even if you have just 10 rooms per night, up to 25 rooms per night. Then add another suite for every 25 rooms per night.
Your request: “One [two/three /etc.] suite upgrade.”
What this does: Suites are expensive. Asking for this can save your company $1,000 or more with each meeting.
This helps avoid being charged for meeting rooms by adding value to your catered food and beverage.
Your request: “Complimentary room rental if food and beverage minimum is met.”
What this does: Hotels are asking you to guarantee your catering spend. You’re asking for something in return: that hotels waive the room rental fee if you meet their minimum spend on food and beverage.
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.
Recommended Resource: Looking for the right venue for your next meeting or event? Luckily, we curated
a list of The Top 100 Meeting and Event Venues in the United States to get you started.
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.
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:
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 manager 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In today’s market, booking company meetings demands a strategic approach. To ensure success, planners need to apply comprehensive strategies to overcome their planning challenges.
Event technology enables planners to handle more meetings without additional staffing and expense. It empowers planners to do more with the time they have, and allows them to focus their time and energy on planning and strategy.
A solution that meets these requirements is available today from Aventri, one of the world’s leading providers of end-to-end venue sourcing and event management software.
Using Aventri’s free Venue Connect, for example, you can easily research meeting hotels, create an RFP and get meeting bids fast! Our technology has these best practices built in, so you get competitive bids typically within 24 – 48 hours. What’s more, the technology compiles all bids into a side-by-side comparative summary, so you can spot the best offer at a glance. Send an RFP
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Schedule a demo today to see how Aventri can help you Connect Better and start creating unforgettable meetings and events.