Experts agree that a key thing to keep in mind when first devising a SMM program is that it will evolve over time. Changing marketplaces, technology and business objectives will force companies to continually alter their SMM priorities. Companies each year need to identify what to focus on, measure those factors and set internal expectations based on the redefined goals.
Determine what you want to achieve before you start, have a roadmap to get there and communicate to those supporting the program along the way, experts advise.
The starting point for many organizations has been centralized sourcing – whether it is handled by a dedicated internal team or outsourcing partner.
More than a quarter of survey respondents said they had ventured down the SMM path with either comprehensive internal or outsourced programs or with a more targeted approach for certain components, such as sourcing. While about 14 percent of survey respondents said they planned to implement an SMM program this year, 54 percent of survey respondents said they had never tried to implement one.
Other recent studies have pointed to higher adoption levels of SMM initiatives. For example, a 2013 GBTA Foundation survey of 355 travel and meeting managers reported that 52 percent of respondents said they worked for companies with an SMM program in place and 31 percent who indicated a program was in development.3
It's important to note the roles and global respondent demographics when considering results presented here. Of the 246 completed respondents, 45 percent identified their role as travel manager, 21 percent as vice president or director, 20 percent as executive or administrative assistant, 18 percent as meeting manager or planner and 8 percent as senior-level executive, CEO or COO. Some selected more than one role.
For a number of companies, SMM initiatives began with a centralized review of contracts."Simply add a line to your travel policy" that all hotel contracts for meetings must be sent for review before signing to travel, procurement or another centralized department, said Cindy Heston, Director of Travel and Events, Anthem Inc. When Heston added that line to her company's policy more than five years ago, she didn't know how many meetings or contracts her company had, she said. That directive allowed Heston and her team to gradually build the data to develop a game plan for SMM.
Dart Container Travel Services Manager Cheryl Benjamin said her team began working on a meetings management plan about eight years ago, with Dart's ARCaccredited
Corporate Travel Department offering its expertise in sourcing, contracts, logistics and even onsite management to various business units. "Over time, we really built this out and have shown the value," she added. Now, business units register most meetings and the corporate travel department reviews and signs contracts. Integrating its travel booking and meetings technology, Dart also can recommend options that provide enhanced service to meeting attendees and bottom-line savings. For example, after reviewing flight manifests for a recent meeting, Dart scheduled car service pickups for attendees scheduled to arrive on flights within minutes of one another, rather than have each take a taxi from the airport.
Other ways to build a business case
To gather initial data to build a business case, value proposition and plan for SMM, others have deployed meetings cards, asked suppliers for reports on all meetings at chain hotels, used interns to review expense reports and employed third-party firms to compile and extrapolate data from multiple sources.
The potential for savings long has been a driving force for many SMM programs, especially those developed in economic downturns. More than half of survey respondents with SMM programs reported savings of greater than 11 percent, while 17 percent reported savings that exceeded 15 percent. Savings are relatively easy to quantify in the early years of an SMM program. But as the program matures, savings from leveraging supplier partnerships and negotiating rates often are more difficult to substantiate, especially to procurement definitions. In fact, more survey respondents indicated that "increased transparency and visibility of meetings spend" is a larger driver than cost savings in establishing an SMM program, and several experts interviewed agreed.
"The value proposition is really around visibility, (policy) compliance, risk, scheduling and all other benefits in addition to cost savings," according to Cisco Systems' Carolyn Pund, CMP, CMM, Senior Manager of Global SMM and Event Business Operations. As cost savings are expected, takeholders need to "understand the other values" to be convinced of the need for an SMM program.
Increasingly, duty of care and the ability to identify where employees and other meeting attendees are at all times is a driving force, according to Kevin Iwamoto, a veteran SMM advocate formerly with Lanyon and Hewlett- Packard and now Senior Consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. "It can't just be about cost savings or you're going to kibosh your whole initiative. The success of the SMMP relies on it achieving multiple stakeholder objectives; not just cost savings," he added.
Keep focus in scope
Values likely will vary, depending on corporate cultures and current business objectives, experts reported. "The whole secret is really knowing your audience: who the company is and where they are as a whole," said George Odom, President, Strategic Travel and Meetings Group. A pioneer of SMM, Odom began the practice for Eli Lilly and Co. in the 1990s and later led initiatives for Hewlett- Packard. For companies trying to "strangle the dollar," savings will remain paramount, while for others, data integrity, risk mitigation, customer experience or other factors will be driving factors.
Experts warned that one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is "biting off more than they can handle." Trying to set up a program too aggressively can backfire, undermining its credibility and potentially leading to its demise.
Instead, companies report greater success gradually expanding the scope and frequently touting the benefits delivered.
Well-established maturity model
There are tools to help measure a company's progress in the journey. In 2011, The GBTA Foundation and StarCite (since acquired by Lanyon) unveiled the strategic meetings management Maturity Index, a model that measures and analyzes meetings program development and implementation. Users of the index complete an online questionnaire about their SMM programs. Taking into account parameters like company size and using preloaded benchmarks, the model then gauges the user's progress in 13 SMM categories, including strategy, sourcing and procurement, data analysis and reporting, policy and technology.4
Sustaining SMM success
After implementation, what are the top obstacles to SMM success? Compliance, according to one-fifth of respondents, followed by a combination of challenges securing key stakeholder support, a seniorlevel champion and the necessary budgets. Some also struggled with their corporate structures, data and reporting to prove return on investment, technology and the overall resources to advance their programs.
Nevertheless, 70 percent of respondents with SMM programs in place said they planned to expand into new geographic regions. More than 40 percent said they planned to expand globally, while 30 percent plan to expand specifically to Europe and 24 percent to North America.
Should a company house their program internally or outsource it? Or a combination of both? What elements are most important to put in place first? Not surprisingly, the answer is: It depends. More than 60 percent of respondents said they outsourced some aspect of their SMM programs. Most often (47 percent), they outsourced attendee registration and management, followed by off-site venue selection and contracting, site selection or other sourcing. Only 20 percent of those who outsourced said they did so for speaker sourcing or management and contracts and far fewer did so for supplier strategy. Meeting management (50 percent) and travel management (42 percent) firms were most often tapped to provide the services.
Service configurations vary widely within the industry and are highly customized based on a client's goals, structure, industry, technology and a host of other considerations. The chart below notes some sample configurations along with their benefits and considerations. Many TMCs provide consulting services to assist companies in developing their programs.
3 Global Business Travel Association Foundation (GBTA Foundation), “How Are Strategic Meetings Management Programs (SMMPs) Performing? Results from the GBTA SMM Maturity Index: 2011-2014,” November 2014
4 Hixson, Dr. Eliza, and Lamond, Dr. Ian, International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University, for MPI Foundation, “Strategic Meetings Management (SMM): Taxonomy, Growth and Future,” 2013