One challenge of defining strategic meetings management and devising an approach to fit a company's needs has been confusion between strategy and tactics. To those who view the laundry lists of SMM components and quickly abandon interest, consultant Odom advised, "You don't have to swallow the elephant all in one bite. Take it a little bit as you go." Nor does every company have to incorporate all the pieces into their strategic plan, Odom said.
The components can be so overwhelming that some don't even attempt to travel the path. But advocates recommended that company executives first carefully consider their business objectives and align those components of SMM that could best help them achieve those goals. To further simplify the journey, others suggested that buyers streamline as much as possible, distinguish tactics from strategy and translate SMM jargon into business objectives with terminology that company executives will immediately recognize.
Separate strategy and tactics
Cisco's Pund noted that "the words 'strategy' and 'strategic' seem to be overused in every discipline of business" as many preface their initiatives with the words to add more importance to them. "While what we do is strategic meetings management, internally we've gotten away from referring to it as that and instead call it the 'business of managing meetings.' That seems to resonate better without going into big explanations of what strategic meetings management is involves." Other organizations, including McDonald's Corporation, have taken to branding their initiatives rather than explaining the SMM moniker to all stakeholders, according to Erin Stahowiak, Project Manager.
Even in the strategy, SMM coach Debi Scholar noted that "we still have to include operational management. We have to plan for operations of the strategy that we are developing. Implementation and ongoing operations may be through resources that are insourced, outsourced, or a combination of both. Without the operation, the strategy means nothing," she added.
Policies and mandates
Compliance continues to be one of the biggest challenges to SMM success, according to the majority of those surveyed. Do you mandate that all employees must follow meeting policies, or is it better to build support from the ground up?
Policy is not a blanket statement, and what works for one company can be very different than that of another company.
Rather than a prescribed policy for the success or failure of SMM initiatives, Johnson& Johnson Global Manager, Meeting Services Chris Wall said, "The policy needs to fit the needs of the business. It's the decision of those running their companies to figure out what works."
While viewpoints differ on the need to mandate, one thing is clear – policies can become over-complicated, often as a result of the fact that they are driven based on exceptions. New policies and existing ones should be designed or reviewed with an eye to simplification where possible.
Duty of care
SMM professionals agreed that duty of care to attendees is core to a successful program. The ability to track and assist travelers in the case of an emergency is crucial. Companies that travel to areas with significant geopolitical risk need to be especially concerned about their travelers.
SMM BEST PRACTICES IN SAFETY AND SECURITY
Expanding beyond the traditional safety and security tracking of corporate air travelers, CWT Meetings & Events recognize the importance of a consolidated view beyond travel, and expanding this to incorporate a company’s meetings and events attendees as well. These attendees could be employees, guests, or clients; and they may or may not have air travel associated to their booking. They may have driven to the meeting or event and/or may be staying in pre-arranged block space accommodation or simply attending a dinner event at a unique venue.
CWT Meetings & Events will soon have the unique ability to provide International SOS, the world’s leading medical and travel security risk services company, manifests of meeting attendees so that clients can quickly and efficiently locate their attendees should an incident or emergency situation occur. This innovative solution is currently in pilot with plans to launch in the fall.
Hotel partner insights
The success of an SMM program also is highly dependent on its strategic partnerships with suppliers. According to a study conducted by Meeting Professionals International entitled "Strategic Meetings Management: Taxonomy, Growth and Future," programs with strong relationships with partners acknowledge the following three factors5:
Organizations achieve savings by negotiating favorable rates with suppliers, and long-term relationships can provide leverage for these negotiations
Good business relationships help reduce risk because supplier quality is known
Service quality can be enhanced in the relationship process
In interviews, suppliers, particularly hoteliers, indicated that there are a number of ways SMM owners can work smarter with their partners. "Suppliers are there to help along the journey," said a vice president of global sales for a large hotel chain. Often some of the most successful programs not only have ongoing communications, such as quarterly business reviews, but also work with their hotel suppliers to vet policies before they are put into place in order to identify any potential issues. Large suppliers have worked with a host of companies on SMM programs and often are willing to share their experiences with organizations working to set up a program to avoid potential pitfalls.
Another global hotel representative indicated that clients learn more about their programs by asking "what is not working" in addition to "what is working. Providing the hotel partner with a proactive way to identify stakeholders and/or process issues without feeling uncomfortable can yield some very interesting insights for a company".
Not surprisingly, there was a broad consensus that SMM partnerships work best when there is a two-way channel that provides transparency and mutual benefits.
ADVICE FROM PARTNERS
"Quarterly reviews with top suppliers – make it a two-way exchange to share intelligence, more than just a production review. If a customer gives strategic insight it is very valuable especially if they provide tips and action points on how to get more business in the organization."
Julie Hills, Managing Director of Corporate Group Sales, Hilton Worldwide
"Very helpful if the company has a global agency or at the very least a designated/identified list of agencies who are aware of the program and are supportive of it."
Kaaren Hamilton, Vice President, Global Group Sales, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group
"Work on developing sourcing tools to get the data, trends, patterns that fit in with your program, sourcing tools are key."
Carey Duckworth, Director of Global Corporate & MICE Sales, Corinthia Hotels
"Try to open doors vs building fences – where [SMM] works best is where people build programs and can trust their partners to reinforce the messages."
Julie Hills, Managing Director of Corporate Group Sales, Hilton Worldwide
Small meetings management
Small meetings actually constitute a large amount of spend – 70 percent to 80 percent6 of all meeting expenditures, which makes them an important element of any program. One key question when setting up an SMM program is determining the meeting sizes that should be included.
While it varies, a small meeting generally is defined in terms of number of attendees or meeting spend. Company definitions often range from less than 10 or 25 attendees or $25,000 in spend. The size of the meeting to be included in the SMM program will depend on the goals of a company's program, organizational structure and the resources available to manage it.
Vertical industry implications
The industry in which a company operates arguably is one of the most important drivers of a company's SMM program. The obvious example is the life sciences and pharmaceutical category, where the regulatory environment and oversight makes compliance a crucial driver behind and focus of the SMM program. Due to the complexity of global regulations, pharmaceutical companies often outsource many components of their programs. Arguably, this industry has the most mature global programs in the market. Increased public scrutiny also has been cited as a driver of the need for SMM programs in the financial services and insurance vertical, resulting in a more mature market than some other industries. In addition to the external regulatory environment, industry performance and demographics also may play a role in a company's SMM program. Some technology companies observe quicker adoption of their programs, perhaps due to the nature of newer, leaner, more efficient cultures that more quickly adopt both standardization and tools.
Other technology companies in highgrowth mode haven't even considered an SMM program, as they don't see the need. The chart below illustrates some of the unique industry behaviors vis-à-vis SMM programs.
Role of technology and integrations with other tools
One emerging trend in business, travel and meetings management has been the integration of systems. Companies long have integrated travel booking systems with expense and meeting registration systems to streamline the processes for travelers and attendees. But efforts have just begun to integrate more complex meeting technology into expense, general ledger or enterprise resource planning systems to provide a more complete, real-time view of budgets or highlight opportunities to better leverage supplier negotiations.
Survey respondents said they most often integrated meeting technology with payment systems, followed by accounting/financial and procurement solutions. Fewer than onequarter of respondents indicated integration with customer relationship management/ sales, human resources/enterprise resource planning or regulatory compliance systems.
5 Davis, Chris, Business Travel News, “GBTA, StarCite Launch Meetings Maturity Models,” Aug. 23, 2011
6 Cvent Whitepaper, “Small Meetings Management: 5 Essential Tools of the Trade”