Meeting agenda 


Strategic meetings management (SMM) is a hot topic for many event and meeting planners at the moment. Despite being something of an industry buzzword, many people don’t know where to start when creating their own meetings programmes.


So what are the key factors to achieve a successful SMM programme? Carlson Wagonlit Travel and The BTN Group, with the support of CWT Meetings & Events, decided to come together to find out.


What is SMM?


The first concepts have been around since the mid 1990’s, and in 2004 a framework was outlined by The Global Business Travel Association’s groups and meetings committee which defines SMM as:


“A disciplined approach to managing enterprise-wide meeting and event activities, processes, suppliers and data in order to achieve measurable business objectives aligned with the organisations’ strategic goals/vision, and deliver value in the form of quantitative savings, risk mitigation and service quality.”


Between January and May 2016, CWT and the BTN Group conducted interviews with over 20 travel and events management experts, surveyed over 240 professionals globally and organised a focus group with 12 SMM professionals in order to define best practices and pinpoint the success factors in SMM.


Why should you implement an SMM programme?


Of those asked, 54 per cent have never tried to implement an SMM programme. So what are the benefits of having one? Early adopters describe transparency, spend and cost savings, risk mitigation, duty of care and compliance to regulations and corporate policies. They claim a strategic approach can provide critical brand and customer service consistency.


Out of 53 respondents, 22 stated their main reason for setting up an SMM programme was to increase transparency and visibility of meeting spend. Only nine said their main reason was cost savings. However, 36 per cent said their SMM programme delivered savings of between 11 per cent and 15 per cent last year, and a further 24 per cent experienced savings of between 6 per cent and 10 per cent.


As programmes mature, experts emphasise that savings simply become expected and no longer serve as effective parts of metrics reports to senior management. Instead – duty of care, risk management, customer satisfaction and brand management are the most valuable long-term benefits of SMM.


What challenges might you encounter?


Implementing or advancing a programme relies on many factors – from gaining stakeholder engagement and support to expanding the initiative globally. Survey respondents said the most difficult task when setting up a programme was getting data to estimate spend. However, one of the least difficult was finding a senior level champion to help drive the initiative forward. Good news, considering this was also the highest ranking reason given by respondents when quizzed on key success factors of implementing an SMM programme.


Gaining and maintaining support from internal stakeholders is a challenge in itself, and experts emphasise the need to engage with them from the offset to get their buy-in. Erin Stahowaik, project manager, McDonald’s Corporation, said she learned best practice approaches to stakeholder management from industry colleagues. As the company began its programme four years ago, Stahowaik said the team “developed a list of key stakeholders or planners outside the meetings department.”


The team identified their pain points, asked how the meetings department could better support planners and asked them to be part of an advisory council. As the strategy developed, they identified other company stakeholders from different departments and shared their plans. Stahowaik explains, “As the programme was announced, we essentially had planted knowledgeable people throughout the organisation to be able to explain the programme. The key takeaway would be to keep them involved and engaged, have more roles for them – train the trainer.”


How will you know if it’s successful?


What does SMM success look like? For many it’s the gradual advancement to new business, acquisitions, geographies or types of meetings. However, the survey results clearly indicate that total savings is the overwhelming success metric. Secondly, 57 per cent of respondents said savings from sourcing initiatives only, and an equal percentage said attendee satisfaction.


Eli Lilly’s Vera Schuster stated she wanted optimisation from SMM. Once she had expanded her programme to key countries in Europe and Asia and implemented contracts, reporting, standardised processes, key customer service metrics and other values, she said: “I want to see results from adherence to the preferred hotel programme, results from sourcing a venue. It’s a journey in continuous improvement.” Your programme doesn’t necessarily have to hit all the metrics of a mature SMM model to show value.


So, where do you begin?


The experts say that implementing SMM is a journey, not a destination, as it is constantly evolving. A programme doesn’t need to be fully mature to generate benefits, and the most basic components can yield significant results. So now you are probably wondering how to go about implementing an SMM programme, and how do you make sure it’s successful?


Firstly, each programme should be unique. It should align with the goals and culture of a company – there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The idea may be daunting, but the aim is to start off small and grow. Global successful programmes are based on solid strategies, but are flexible enough to embrace local culture, practices and regulations.


Want to know more?


The CWT Travel Management Institute publishes research on travel trends and best practices to help companies get the most from managed travel programmes. Driving Success in Strategic Meetings Management is the latest in depth report in the series. To view the full report and download your copy, please visit

In a nutshell, expert advice on best practices to design a strategy, deploy or expand a programme is as follows:

Focus on strategy, not tactics


Start small and grow



Determine what you want to achieve and make a plan



Communicate with all stakeholders so that they understand the plan and end goals



Outsource some of the components of the programme to speed up development and make use of external expertise: use Travel Management Companies



If you have already started an SMM programme, but want to expand regionally or globally:


Customise goals by region



Don’t be intimidated by the task at hand



Use pilots rather than a full rollout to gain mini successes and manage expectations of stakeholders