1. When sending out your RFP, include a decision date and adhere to it. These days, when hotels respond with a proposal to your RFP, they may be banking on that decision date. In other words, they are technically not liable for their proposal offer after that date. Could they change their offer before the decision date you listed? Yes, but at the very least it would be considered unethical in which case you may not want to work with that property anyway. If they can't keep their word at the beginning of the negotiation process, they may not be able to keep their word throughout your meeting. This responsibility usually falls soley on the sales manager handling your RFP. Regardless, always include a decision date on your RFP and stick to it.
2. Follow all deadlines agreed to throughout the entire process. In other words, if you're late on any deadlines, you could lose your space and have to start from scratch with your search. If you're looking at a larger city with high demand the risk is even worse. Always cover yourself with a hold-space date from the hotel in writing. Of course, this could be as simple as an e-mail message (which is why we love e-mail!). This way, you know the hotel is holding space for you during the negotiation process. If they will not offer a hold-space date, ask if they will hold the space unless or until another group inquires; then give you 72 hours to sign a contract. That way, at least you will get first option on the space you have worked so hard to find and negotiate. Also pay close adherence to signature, deposit and reservation list deadlines. If a deadline is coming up too quickly, negotiate with the hotel on additional time. Don't assume they will hold the space and be certain to get it in writing.
3. Don't drag negotiations out. These days, the hotels will negotiate a bit but pretty quickly will be looking at another (and possible more profitable) group if you extend the process. Know exactly what is required to meet the needs of your group and work for that. Be direct with your hotel salesperson that you want to make the negotiation a win-win and that you don't want to lose the space. For example, in the past I requested a lot of concessions from a hotel because I knew what they could most likely offer. Today, I make sure my clients get exactly what they need and a little bit more to make sure another group doesn't book the space and the process is kept efficient. Hotel salespeople are extremely busy and being bombarded with RFP's to respond to on a daily basis in addition to taking care of their current groups. For example, where I always get a certain percentage of attrition for my clients, in larger European cities there isn't even talk of attrition. When I negotiated further, they finally agreed to 5% attrition when in the past it would have been 20-30% but not before they told me the space may be lost at anytime...and I believed them. Keep the process moving, stay on top of your deadlines and book the business.