Navigating the Business Travel Management RFP Process
Your journey to find a business travel management company (TMC) doesn’t have to be a turbulent one. Whether you’re developing a travel policy to better manage your duty of care in a pandemic world, consolidating travel services to streamline your program, leading a periodic rebid requirement, or wanting a clearer picture of your travel data to inform your decision making, we’ve broken down the Request for Proposal (RFP) process to help you reach your final destination unscathed.
The RFP process is like hiring a new employee. Before you jump to requesting resumes, you need to develop a job description to advertise for the most qualified candidate, one who is interested in a long-term relationship with your organization, meshes with your institution’s culture, and performs at a consistently high level.
Similar to collaborating on a job description for an employee who will work with multiple departments in your organization, you need to assemble a team to conduct an internal evaluation of your company’s needs and expectations for the TMC position, both current and long term. Include all of your travel stakeholders—or a representative from your stakeholder groups—as well as upper and middle management who have a vested interest in developing your travel policy and fulfilling your travel program.
Your evaluation team should look something like this, depending on your organization’s structure and travel needs:
- Travel manager
- Travel arrangers/schedulers
- Frequent travelers
Conducting an internal evaluation of your company’s needs and expectations will prepare you to engage with TMCs. The process will help you determine whether a Request for Information (RFI) provides the insight and direction you need to “hire” a best-fit TMC for your company or whether your needs require a formal RFP.
Once you’ve agreed on position requirements, give them a hierarchy based on a percentage or points system. You’ll use these criteria to rank the RFPs during Step 6. Include the criteria and ranking in your RFP so TMCs better understand your program needs and can respond accordingly. An example ranking table is given below.
Step 2: Research TMCs and Develop a Prospect List
Now that you’ve developed your job description, you need to find likely candidates. As with Step 1, doing your homework here will produce the best outcome.
A Google search for “TMC” may overwhelm you with choices, so consider asking other businesses who their travel partners are and reach out to travel industry leaders, such as SAP Concur or the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), to ask for recommendations from their TMC networks. Develop a reasonable list of prospects to continue to vet. It’s easier to begin with more prospects during this step than it is to fall short at Step 5 or 7 and have to repeat the process.
Now you can Google those candidates and assess whether they might be a good fit for your organization. Start with the candidates’ websites and review their corporate backgrounds. Are they an award-winning firm? Do they maintain their accreditations and memberships in significant travel industry groups? Is their client list impressive? Have they been in the business long enough to weather changes in technology and the travel industry? Use this background information to trim your list as needed.
Because representing your firm in the best possible light is easy on your own website, also consider what others say about the TMC. Look for mentions in travel industry/business media and on their client’s websites, check their LinkedIn profile, and review their company ratings on Glassdoor or a similar site – because how the TMC’s employees rank the working relationship is significant to your potential partnership. If the TMC is difficult to work for, they are likely difficult to work with.
Start conversing with the TMCs on your list. Ask each one some standard questions formulated during your research and request a standard proposal from likely candidates. The TMC’s standard proposal, like a resume, presents all the benefits of working with them—services, technology solutions, experience, work history, etc. This provides more information to help you weed out TMC candidates so you don’t end up with a mountain of RFIs and/or RFPs to review. Why waste your time if you can determine early on that it’s not a good fit?
Step 3: Refine Prospect List
Now that you’ve found some solid candidates, narrow your list to a manageable amount. A good rule of thumb here is to peek at the back of the book (which we would never do with a novel) and work backwards. Take a look at Steps 4, 5, and 7, and estimate how many prospective TMCs you want to include at each stage of the process, ideally ending up with two or three candidates to “interview,” that is, to demonstrate their capabilities and answer your final questions.
If you’ve already ended up with a short list and your preferred candidates are sure to meet your criteria, skip Step 4 and move on to Step 5, the RFP.
Step 4: Send an RFI
Step 4 is like getting a massage: You want to make sure those knots receive the most attention. Structure the request around your organization’s most important issues and hot buttons, such as data collection and visibility, online adoption, duty-of-care, and unused ticket tracking.
From these responses, you can quickly evaluate the TMC’s value propositions and create a shortlist of companies with which to continue. Some companies can make a final decision from these RFI responses, but if that’s not you, move on to Step 5 – the RFP.
Step 5: Write/Revise and Distribute the RFP
The RFP process is not a one-size-fits-all document: If you’re 6’6″, you’re probably not buying a suit off the rack unless you have some tailoring done. Your RFP needs a custom fit, too, because your organization has its own culture, travel policy, and technical requirements.
There are dozens of RFP templates online (we provide one, below), and you may even have a serviceable RFP that just needs dusting off and some pandemic-related adjustments. However, it’s important to compare your template, if you decide to use one, with the weighted criteria you developed during Step 1 to ensure those criteria are covered .
Ask TMCs for additional information on these criteria. For example, if data-driven reporting is critical to keeping your program on track, in addition to asking about available reporting tools, ask for examples of the reports you need most frequently and the time frames for data population and report turn-around. If your travel bookings haven’t conformed to policy, ask what specific measures the TMC recommends implementing to improve policy compliance and how those measures function with an online booking tool and a full-service travel advisor. And if you’re having a hard time retaining your most frequent travelers, ask how you can increase traveler well-being to save rehiring and retraining costs.
Getting in-depth answers to your most vital concerns is essential in the RFP process, so request additional information to inform your decision, such as:
- Technology overview
- Example reporting
- Service level agreement
- Client success stories
- Implementation plan
- Account review example
- Organizational chart
Make sure your published RFP timeline is reasonable and allows for a question and answer period. Your firm needs time for internal communications, executive approvals, and input from other departments, as appropriate, as well as their ongoing projects. Establish a realistic schedule, then pad it with a week or two to give your team some leeway. It’s easier to add time upfront than to communicate schedule changes to multiple TMCs, issue RFP addendums, communicate new deadlines to your team, and reschedule meetings.
Example RFP Schedule
Step 6: Rank RFP Respondents
Using the criteria established during Step 1, rank your proposals by percentages or points. You may have a clear winner at this point and can proceed to contract negotiations and award.
However, if a few firms are closely ranked, gather your evaluation team and develop a final set of questions for the presentation/demonstration phase. Again, weight your questions so you can tally scores during Step 7.
Step 7: Request Demonstrations and Rank Presenters
If you followed Step 3, you should have a two- or three-firm shortlist from which to select your TMC. Unless you’ve been given carte blanche, utilize the main decision makers from your evaluation team as your presentation panel. Use your weighted criteria from Step 6 and the total proposal score, as well as any internal conversations around the potential working relationship, to guide your award decision.
Step 8: Select TMC
Congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated the RFP process and are ready to implement your new travel program.
We suggest you debrief the TMCs who presented to your team. Explaining why you didn’t select their services helps them strengthen their programs, which may benefit you in the future.
Need Additional Assistance?
If you have questions about the RFP process or Christopherson’s consultative approach and solution to travel management, please contact our business development team and download our sample RFP to help you get started.