by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | March 5, 2012

Cvent summitt: From left, David Lutz, Eric Mannino, Doreen Burse and Michael DominguezOn Wednesday, Feb. 29, Mclean, Va.-based Cvent, a cloud-based provider of event management, venue selection and web surveys, kicked off its three-day Corporate Meetings Summitt at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The event drew more than 200 corporate planners and travel managers from many top Fortune 500 companies to take part in educational sessions on everything from technology implementation to strategic sourcing. But the session held on March 1, "Strategies to get your Meeting RFP Top Priority Attention," broadcast live in the early afternoon, was clearly the biggest draw, pulling in more than 1,000 virtual attendees eager to learn how to make their meeting specs stand out in the high-volume online RFP world.

Moderator David Lutz, an industry veteran who once served as president of Experient and is now managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, did not not mince his opening words in addressing the explosive growth of online RFPs (e-leads), and how it has hotels and planners locked in a furious, unrealistic race for immediate information. "Collectively, as an industry, we have a really big problem that is getting worse. If we don't stop the momentum, where we are going is not sustainable," said Lutz. "A single e-lead of one 15-room, two-night meeting, can have as much as 20 people working that lead. That's a lot of sales resources deployed against one lead that might go nowhere."

Fielding Q&As from the audience on how to make their e-lead RFPs pop from the pile were three top hotel executives: Eric Mannino, executive director, sales lead generation, for the Gaylord Entertainment Co.; Doreen Burse, senior global account director, Marriott International; and Michael Dominguez, vice president global sales, Loews Hotels and Resorts.

"If you are sourcing four to six hotels, it's OK to ask for details," said Dominguez, "but when you are sourcing 13 to 16 hotels, it's not practical to ask us for ceiling heights of every ballroom and location of breakout rooms. We are going to ask ourselves the question, 'How serious a contender are we in this RFP?' before we throw our sales resources against answering 65 detailed questions."

Mannino said that Gaylord had recently centralized its process to allow all RFPs to come through one single source. While nothing gets turned down, he noted, Gaylord's in-house sales team now has the ability to evaluate every piece of business simultaneously against each other. To stand out from the competition, "Give me something to sell you to my team, because what we are battling internally is 20 sales members selling the same space to multiple leads," he said. His advice? Put in the RFP if you are flexible with your dates and booking pattern, if your attendees are big spenders in the hotel's bars and restaurants, and always give your decision date. "If I am up against a sales manager whose group's booking decision date is three months down the road, but yours is in two weeks, your RFP will be that much more attractive, even if their business is worth more," said Mannino.

"The very first thing we look at in a RFP is the customer, and whether someone [on our team] has a relationship with them," says Marriott's Doreen Burse. "If we find that we do, then we can pull the customer's data and not have to start re-educating our hotels about the group all over again." But, she cautions, "If we get that RFP and we see you are asking 30 hotels to respond for a piece of business that's only a 20-person meeting, we are going to want to know why they are asking so many people. At the end of the day, we want to win, but we have to do triage first, and that means deciding how many resources get deployed against it, and how much can be defrered. It probably won't be seen as a priority."