Driving success in Strategic Meetings Management


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Executive Summary


This global research explores the drivers of success in strategic meetings management. 


Early adopters of SMM programs describe a range of benefits including transparency of spend, cost savings and risk mitigation.  However, despite these benefits, the SMM industry has not reached a high level of market maturity. 


Experts agree that implementing an SMM program is a constantly evolving journey.  Each program is and must be unique, designed to align with corporate goals, objectives and culture.   


It does not have to be difficult, particularly in the early stages: many of today's most effective programs started small and grew. 


Key advice and findings from the experts include:

Focus on the strategy, not the tactics

Determine what you want to achieve first and build a roadmap to get there

Stakeholders, stakeholders, stakeholders:  identify and engage them



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SMM Basics

Concepts for strategic meetings management have been around for decades.  SMM is defined as   “strategic management of enterprise-wide meeting-related processes, spend, volumes, standards and suppliers to achieve cost savings, risk management and superior service.” (GBTA)


SMM Program Flexibility

There are many types of SMM programs. That is because there are so many factors that can have an impact.


Many companies think the lack of standard makes the SMM model complex.  In fact, the opposite is true: SMM programs are ultimately flexible.                                                                    

Multitude of Benefits

There are lots of benefits of SMM, which is what’s driving all the interest in this.


Cost savings can range from 5 to 25 percent, or even more. Additional benefits, such as transparency, risk mitigation and improved regulatory compliance, are just as important for many companies.

The Journey to SMM Success

Experts agree that it’s vital to remember that SMM programs are constantly evolving. Changing marketplaces, technology and business objectives mean SMM priorities are always shifting.


Centralized Sourcing

The starting point for many organizations has been centralized sourcing – whether it is handled by a dedicated internal team or outsourcing partner. 

Contract Review

For a number of companies, SMM initiatives began with a centralized review of contracts.


Outsourcing Options

More than 60 percent of respondents said they outsourced some aspect of their SMM program.  Exactly how that outsourcing is configured varies widely, depending on each client’s specific requirements. As well as tactical support, many travel management companies also provide consulting services.



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What Defines Success in SMM? 


Measurements of Success


Survey respondents clearly indicated that cost saving is the overwhelming success metric. In a two-way tie for 2nd were savings from sourcing initiatives only, satisfaction of attendees or meeting sponsors. 

Success of programs


Companies which have SMM programs in place rate them as highly successful.
On a scale of 1-5 where 5 was ‘very successful’ - 65% rated their program as either 4 or 5.

Drivers of success


A large number of factors contribute to the success of a program. The survey results highlighted the top 3:


  1. Senior management support
  2. Data and reporting capabilities
  3. Having an outsourced partner/ stakeholder engagement (tied)

Key Success Factors and Best Practices

Experts speculated that some of the reason for a lack of industry maturity has been the overuse of the term ‘strategy’ to include all of the tactical elements of a program.  The strategy is the guiding principle of the program and its objectives.  The tactics are simply those actions and tools that support these objectives.


Policies and Mandates

Policy is not a blanket statement, and what works for one company might not for another.  While viewpoints differ on the need to mandate the SMM policies, one thing is clear – these can become over-complicated.

Duty of Care

SMM professionals agreed that duty of care to attendees is at the core of any successful program.  Companies that travel to areas with significant geopolitical risk need to be particularly careful about their travelers’ welfare.

Hotel Partner Insights

The success of an SMM program also is highly dependent on strategic partnerships with suppliers. 

 “Suppliers are there to help along the journey”, said a vice president of global sales for a large hotel chain. 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.


Integration of technology

People are used to integrating 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 and enterprise resource planning systems. 



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Even the most passionate meetings management strategist knows that implementing or advancing a program relies on a number of factors, from gaining or maintaining stakeholder engagement to expanding the initiative around the globe. 



Stakeholder Engagement

SMM programs typically involve almost every discipline within a company, although 60 percent of respondents with SMM programs identified senior leadership as the key stakeholder group. But some stakeholder groups can be difficult.  Working with challenging stakeholders to identify potential pain points and engaging them to be part of the solution is often the best way to get buy in. 

Not Enough Volume, Resources, Time, Data

Many survey respondents who did not have SMM programs indicated they did not have enough volume to justify a program.  However, it is clear that there are benefits for any company that spends as little as $1 million on meetings each year. And what typically becomes clear is that overall spend is actually many times the volume projected at the start of the program.

Global Challenges

Over 70 percent of respondents with an SMM program were looking to expand it – many globally.  Equally, flexible regional goals remain important. In spite of the perceived complexity, expert agreed "Don't be intimidated by the concept of going global".  Programs do not have to be fully mature in all regions to show value.  One way to start the global journey is to consider pilot programs in the first instance.  And remember to celebrate successes along the way.


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What is Next?

As the SMM journey continues to evolve, many companies are asking themselves ‘what’s next?’ 


Integration of Marketing and SMM

Early SMM programs did not tend to include marketing events and exhibitions.  However, as the programs started to show results, program and marketing managers started to see the synergies that arise from including events in the SMM program.

When meeting and event professionals are freed up from the more logistical parts of the process, they are able to spend more time and energy on business objectives and the content of the meetings.


Impact of Industry Consolidation

The industry has experienced - and is likely to continue experiencing- consolidation.

This is expected to make it even harder for those companies without a strategic approach. Increasingly, they won’t be able to secure space, or negotiate good rates.

Conversely, a smaller number of suppliers could lead to an increased level of innovation and program reach.


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About this research

The CWT travel management institute (TMI,) in partnership with The BTN Group have conducted this global study about the drivers of success in strategic meetings management (SMM).



Offer an overview of SMM and benefits to corporations

Define key factors to achieve sustained success in SMM programs

Provide best practice examples of companies that have successfully implemented an SMM strategy

Identify obstacles faced by companies and provide ways to overcome them


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CWT and the BTN Group utilized a number  of research methodologies in writing this report, including:


Interviews and focus groups with dozens of strategic meetings management experts

An online survey of 246  meeting planning professionals

Case studies with successful SMM program owners

We would like to extend a very special thank you to the contributors below for their valuable insights and participation in our study:


  • Carolyn Pund, CMP, CMM, Senior Manager Global SMM and Event Technologies, Cisco Systems
  • George Odom, President, Strategic Travel and Meetings Group
  • Kevin Iwamoto, Senior Consultant at GoldSpring Consulting
  • Erin Stahowiak, Global Meetings Manager, McDonald’s Corporation
  • Danny Meier, Director, Global Travel, Honeywell