8 Steps to Designing a Strategic Meetings Management Program

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Lalit Sharma, consultant at GEP.

With the advent of modern communications technologies, the world has indeed become a smaller place. This has not only helped individuals connect with those who matter in their lives, but has also empowered organizations by providing virtual platforms that allow employees and experts engage in discussions without having to physically be in the same room.

So why should organizations have a strategic meetings management program in the first place?

Studies show that about 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings. It’s not just time, either. Approximately 3% of an organization’s revenue also goes into meetings and events. Think about it: If your organization spends about one-sixth of its time and millions in annual expenses on meetings and events, is it doing anything to ensure that both the time and money are well spent?

Challenges of an inefficient Meetings Management Program

  • Most large-scale organizations have a meetings management program in place; but in many cases, it means selecting a global vendor across regions and using its services. While this does help achieve economies of scale, it does not always deliver the desired result from both user experience and ease of implementation perspective.
  • Most global arrangements use a one-size-fits-all approach where processes, standards and service-level agreements (SLAs) are fixed by the headquarters, and the various regions are expected to run their programs based on them.
  • Most meetings management programs ignore the people/cultural side due to the global nature of agreements. Many times, the requirements aren’t understood clearly and the effectiveness of the meeting isn’t up to the mark.

It is important to look at the meetings management program from a strategic perspective. A strategic meetings management program (SMMP) leverages the economies of global arrangements, along with ensuring that local elements are given due importance. It can help an organization deliver customized solutions and help increase transparency by better capturing spend and leveraging technology for up-to-date reporting, managing suppliers, standardizing procedures and conforming to company and industry compliance.

So how can you design a strategic meetings management program for your organization?

  1. Identify and benchmark the performance of your current program: If we don’t know where we come from, we would certainly be unable to appreciate where we are going. It is important to understand how the current program is doing in terms of consolidating air travel, group hotel spend, meeting SLA requirements and attendee satisfaction.
  2. Establish stakeholder buy-in: It is important to engage stakeholders from various regions or countries and collect feedback. Asking some of the questions below will help build a business case to get buy-in from stakeholders:
    • What is going well and what can be improved?
    • Is attendee satisfaction good or bad compared to industry peers?
    • Is the overall process flexible enough to accommodate customization based on a particular country?
    • Is the agency able to understand the cultural aspects that can make or break an event?

Including stakeholders from leadership, travel and compliance departments, as well as the internal meeting planners and other teams, helps ensure there is a holistic approach to the entire process.

  1. Plan the SMMP structure: Before going to market, it is important to plan the SMMP structure. A detailed plan with predefined steps will go a long way in helping this process along. The following aspects must be examined before going further:
    • Detailed implementation plan along with key milestones and timelines
    • Leadership team for the initiative (can consist of sponsor and key global decision-makers)
    • Key stakeholders in various markets that would help drive the process
    • Resources required internally in the pre-and-post implementation phase
  1. Create a supplier base: The supplier base can be created using a bi-directional approach of screening both global and local agencies. While global agencies may have presence in most markets, their expertise and customer satisfaction in venue sourcing, logistics and full meeting services may differ across regions, making a single agency selection unfit for the program. That makes it all the more important to include local agencies. Their knowledge, along with the involvement in the culture of that region, can be of great importance to the program.
  2. Evaluate and shortlist suppliers: Once the potential supplier base is created, invite them to an RFP. Use the RFP response as the first basis of shortlisting, followed by supplier presentations which allow respective country teams to get into in-depth discussions with the shortlisted agencies. Base the evaluations on a combination of pricing and service factors and ensure innovation is given importance, as attendees are constantly on the lookout for a seamless experience regarding registration and post-event feedback. Empowering local/regional teams to drive the selection process is of great importance to truly achieve the objectives of SMMP.
  3. Identify consolidation opportunities: If an organization works across a number of countries, there are chances that a particular supplier, if global, may be selected for a number of countries or regions. This will provide the organization leverage for cost-based negotiations, enabling it to further streamline and bring down costs.
  4. Implement: Once the suppliers are selected for all the countries/regions, implement the program by creating a structured communication plan and set up timely SLA review meetings. While the agency and the general implementation may be local/regional, it is important to have a global oversight to ensure overall objectives are achieved from the organisation’s perspective.
  5. Manage and control: Analyze the program on a timely basis with the help of reports/technology, discuss with the meetings agency and country-specific teams and adjust the program based on the feedback.

Once you are done designing and implementing the SMMP, how do you measure its effectiveness?

Here are some common KPIs you can use to track your strategic meetings management program:

  • Total number of meetings conducted or cancelled, segregated by type (internal vs. external, training/conferences vs. sales, etc.)
  • Average spend per meeting (to obtain insights at BU, region and global level)
  • Average spend per supplier
  • Savings and/or cost avoidance achieved by the SMMP
  • Satisfaction of attendees, meeting owner/sponsor & other stakeholders

Now, meeting planning is no longer tactical, and a strategic meetings management program brings much value to an organization — both from financial and effectiveness standpoints.

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