How to implement strategic meetings management
19 DECEMBER 2013 7:20 AM
Implementing a strategic meetings management plan can pose some challenges. Here’s how to overcome them.
Editor’s note: This is the second column of a three-part series addressing strategic meetings management. The first part examined the overall idea of SMM. The second part explores the challenges of SMM programs, and the third part will discuss the global view.
There are four stages to finding strategic meetings management: research, buy-in, resources and implementation.
However, who actually does this work depends on the corporation’s strategy and preferences. The transition to SMM and its appropriate programs can be driven and controlled internally or by contracting an outside consultant for development, advisement and guidance, or by engaging a third-party vendor to manage the process for you, according to your corporation’s best interests.
It can also be done by using one, two or all of the above.
The role of SMM handled internally
Darell Stokes, strategic sourcing specialist for global meeting and events, was asked to research and implement a SMM program for a top 100 technology company in Silicon Valley, California. It was a daunting task, as most any corporation finds it to be in the beginning.
“The challenge is in creating a standardized practice in a non-standardized industry,” Stokes said. “Executive support for this process is mandatory for the success of the program. Suppliers must be consolidated, thus splitting up some very powerful relationships. This is a big challenge for most and having the direction come from the top is what makes the process manageable. Otherwise, it becomes a bit like herding cats.”
Stokes started by going back through all the meetings that had been produced in the last few years, looking for patterns and consistency. It meant reviewing every planner’s paperwork, budgets and payment methods. She had to pull out the best pricing, determine which suppliers were the best performers and why.
For Stokes, it was about “being able to get a global view of what these meetings are” and not setting a pre-conceived notion of what they should be—yet.
For a company as large as this one, this research took about a year to complete.
Stokes’ biggest challenge was coming to terms with the diversity of departments and the large number of stakeholders who touch a meeting. Domestically, she was dealing with 23 meeting professionals (staff and third party), plus various untrained administrators. There also were the meeting requests that came in from marketing, sales, and human resources, which often involved other suppliers.
Meeting planners tend to take great pride and ownership of their meetings and develop their own working style with their client, brand manager, stakeholder or VIP that ensures trust and confidence. Sometimes that is difficult to penetrate when attempting to gain SMM information.
“Meeting events is a very touchy-feely experience,” Stokes said. She found that it isn’t always about getting the best overall cost, but where to get the best service, value, cost and expertise.
Shimon Avish of Shimon Avish Consulting agrees with Stokes’ point. “It takes a lot of change management to develop a constituency willing to overcome their own interests, as opposed for the betterment of the company.”
The outside consultant role in SMM
Avish, whose SMM consultancy specializes in helping companies design and implement customized meetings solutions, said, “Corporations have no idea how much money they leave on the table.”
He recently consulted with a company about how it handled a relatively small meeting, and within minutes he was able to target $100,000 lost savings due to lack of knowledge. “It takes power, control and solidarity to put yourself in a better negotiating position.”
Avish took me through his SMM programs.
“SMM has to start from the top down. Executive leadership must send a clear message, complete with meeting policy and guidelines, issued by the CEO so that everyone knows this is the way it is going to be. This is very tough. When SMM first began, there was resistance from planners who felt they were being told how to do their jobs and did not appreciate having to take on the extra responsibility of data management,” he said.
It is getting better now due to actually implementing these programs and measuring their proof of success.
Avish said there are three core components needed to start a sound SMM program:
- have a comprehensive meeting policy;
- develop and implement sourcing and meeting-planning processes; and
- design and implement a data management program.
Avish brings to light for the client the main areas of risk associated with meetings that people don’t even think about. If an administrator who has no signing rights signs a contract, there is legal risk. If the attrition clause is not thoroughly understood, then you are vulnerable to losing money unnecessarily. If the meeting planner is not told an elephant was hired to come into the ballroom during the general session, there is an insurance risk. If attendee registration records are not complete and an emergency occurs, there is potentially a traveler’s risk.
With nothing mandated as yet, “rarely are companies willing to undertake the design and implementation of a comprehensive program. More often than not, they are only interested in developing a meetings policy or developing a sourcing program,” Avish said, adding he estimates there is 50% SMM program participation at this point.
For all that work and uphill battle, where’s the fun in it?
“To see it work! To see a consistent quality of service, knowing what it took to get there, and meeting planners operating at the same high level of standards is a blast,” Avish said.
The third-party role in SMM
When I worked for a company that had just started a new internal meeting department, we followed a natural progression of discovery. Questions came up all the time on the “how to” and a decision was determined and written down. Payment policies were decided; budget templates were designed; suppliers and preferred vendors were identified; and StarCite reports were generated. The meeting-planning process was defined by the needs as they appeared and according to the expectations of the purchasing department. This was communicated to our internal business partners as standard-operating-procedure policy. We had never heard of SMM programs.
The guarantee with SMM is that it will always continue to grow into what is next best for your company as it reflects internal changes and the latest movements in the meeting industry.
Case in point: When a young pharmaceutical meeting department finally established credibility and trust with its internal business partners, its workload grew quickly and the need for accurate and quick reporting became mandatory.
Philip Eidsvold, account director at Aimia (Formerly Carlson Marketing) explained: “As more responsibility was taken on, the meeting managers began to identify areas of need. Their SMM programs were developing nicely, and they turned to Aimia for our SMM meeting solutions and expertise in pharma meetings and congresses.”
As the third-party provider, Eidsvold said, “We dug into it internally and sat side by side with the meeting staff and did an audit. There was dialogue around the meeting model currently in place and the roles people played. We recommended combining meetings and congresses and installing a seasonality flex up/flex down planner program which resulted in eliminating unnecessary positions and improving efficiency. This program has evolved very well.”
Eidsvold also agreed with Avish and Stokes when he said the “only way to get buy-in is by having the propensity and support from the top. Some companies have just stopped adopting their SMM program because there was too much push back internally.”
He also cautions that process reporting and management systems must be set up by the right systems people.
The final part of this series will focus on globalization for SMM.
Andria Goldin specializes in meeting marketing and hotel relationships. She provides collaborative, trusting partnerships with the corporate client in full meeting services and shared meeting knowledge training modules. Her specialty niche is marketing and managing a hotel renovation. Her Hotel Renovision™ programs are custom designed for the particular brand or boutique hotel. You can reach her at www.meetingknowledge.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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