You may well be already sold on the concept of Strategic Meetings Management, and now you’re trying to figure out the best way to make it happen in your organization. Your approach will depend on your company’s culture — in some entrepreneurial settings, you may be able to dive in and show value as you go, while some cultures have a more formalized process for making a business case.
This post has some thoughts on getting started with launching an SMM program in your organization. If you’re asked to build a business case to get the powers-that-be to give you the green light, you can find suggestions here for how to do that. This post also discusses your strategic planning, spells out who the key stakeholders are likely to be, and talks about the funding.
Data collection is one of the keys to success when it comes to an SMM program. That data collection begins right at the very outset of the process, with the “Meeting Request Form.” If you’re moving toward a centralized approach to handling meetings, you may not have such a thing in place at this point. If not, just know that it’s exactly what its name implies, a form that outlines all of the details of a meeting. It’s collecting data from the meeting requester.
Remember - it's more than strategic sourcing
It’s worth mentioning just a little bit more about strategic sourcing — standardizing processes to steer spending toward a network of preferred suppliers. That’s one of the main drivers of the cost savings achieved through SMM. The technology component of your SMM program takes your initial data and allows your planning team to identify potential venues and hotels, then generate and distribute RFPs. Once an event’s needs have been sourced, the information becomes part of the store of helpful data in the system that will inform strategic sourcing efforts going forward.
To persuade your key decision-makers of the value of an SMM program, the best place to begin is with numbers. Numbers speak to senior executives, and if you’re asked to build a business case, it’ll be helpful to reference actual data and financial information related to your organization’s meetings program.
It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, though. One of the things your SMM program is going to accomplish is collecting great data about meetings. To help make the case for the SMM program, try to get your hands on as much of that data as you can. If collecting those numbers is a difficult chore, that tale in itself is part of your business case, because your program will maintain this data going forward.
Use examples when presenting your plan
Why is an SMM program so critical for the organization? Some specific examples will help close the deal. Those examples should make it clear what it is about the present state that isn’t working well, what symptoms are reflected in the system itself, and what concerns ought to be keeping executives up at night. What are the successes, how can learning more about those successes help spread best practices, and what barriers are standing in the way of further success?
Identify the benefits, not just the pitfalls
Here is where you might discuss the pitfalls of overlapping and duplicated efforts, rework, redundancies, and inconsistencies that come from the lack of automation. If you have homegrown systems, you may be burdening IT for support. You can point out how you’re missing cost-saving opportunities, the lack of a preferred supplier program, and the inability to leverage combined travel and meeting spend.
There’s also the inability to capture actual spend data with suppliers, and the lack of visibility into total meeting spend. You’re likely unaware of reusable space and available cancellation funds. If you’re making the case in a larger organization, you may find it persuasive to discuss the risk that comes from limited compliance with corporate sourcing and legal processes. Add to that the high risk related to duty of care, and insurance coverage that’s either inadequate or absent.
Remember - you need to spell it all out
Lots of problems to outline with the status quo, for sure. But then . . . ta-da! The solution. Strategic Meetings Management. Here’s where you explain how an SMM program can help mitigate the problems and boost organizational success. Be honest about the implementation risks, but also spell out the risks of the status quo. What are the costs, what are the benefits, and what can you expect the ROI to be?
Once you’ve spelled out generalities, you may benefit from some more specifics if you’re being asked to propose a formal business case. If so, check out procurement data, finance details, stats from PO systems, credit card spend, and information from vendors. You’ll find gaps in the data, which you can try to estimate — but again, those gaps are evidence of why you need an SMM program.
Be able to argue both sides
Regardless of how big or small your organization is, see if you can gather some endorsing opinions from people in finance and procurement. Don’t be afraid to argue both sides, because if you can be both an advocate and a devil’s advocate, you’ll make the strongest case possible.
Your proposal for an SMM program may spell out different scenarios, including handling most of the work in-house as one option, and creating a hybrid or outsourced model as an alternative. Reference who would be responsible for handling various tasks, and whether new roles would have to be created. As you work on your sales pitch, you should consult a technology provider to be sure your planned technology can accommodate what you’re proposing.
Technology isn't magic...
Remember that the technology is vital, but isn’t a magic bullet. It’ll empower you to make major improvements but won’t, in and of itself, solve all your problems. As you make your case, reiterate how SMM technology will help manage the workflow more efficiently, how it will help employees be more productive, and how it will boost compliance.
If you’re asked to present the concept to executives, they may also want to know more about costs related to change management. Will there be costs for either internal or external FTEs? Do you have a plan for rollout communication and training? Do you have a proposal for the funding model?
End your pitch on a high note
Wrap up your sales pitch with a full recounting of the financial justification. Spell out savings and cost avoidance opportunities. Break down the ROI over three years, making clear how you’ll reduce costs over the long-term, along with all of the other positive impacts. Be honest about the challenges that will come with SMM implementation, and realistic with the timeline and costs.
Creating a Strategy
What are the critical success factors that will define what your program hopes to achieve? Truth be told, you’ve outlined many of them in your discussion of the value of an SMM program. Be sure as you make the case that you reveal how the program aligns with your company’s goals.
You are, for example, aiming to make your meetings operation much more efficient, through automation, streamlined processes, and an optimization of your resources. You want to use technology to gain much better visibility into the meetings and events that your organization plans and participates in.
If your company is investing for growth, you should focus on how a consistent event process can help you drive growth. You also hope to drive cost savings, through strategic sourcing and development of a preferred supplier program. You want to get a better handle on any penalties that may be incurred through cancellations, because those may turn into savings on a future meeting.
Finally, increasing compliance and mitigating risk are keys for risk-averse companies. If that’s your situation, this is an ideal opportunity to focus on the risk-mitigation factors that an SMM program enables. Standardizing processes makes compliance easier, and increased visibility makes it possible to monitor compliance more effectively and head off risk, too.
Remember - short term and long term strategy matters
It’s important to define a strategy for both the short term and the long term because a phased approach is often the best way to go. Many successful programs start small and grow as visibility, cost savings, and adoption increase. Defining your strategy with this in mind eliminates the hassle of having to make significant changes along the way that impede your success. By the way, just as your value proposition may have focused on mitigating risks, your strategy should explain what the impact might be if you don’t implement an SMM program.
Part of creating a strategy is determining who’s in charge. A good first step is identifying key stakeholders (more on that in the next section). The system administrator is likely to be among that group because this person is responsible for configuring your technology solutions and making sure they automate processes in ways that work for your organization. Also part of that group are key players who will help with the planning for communications and training (more on those vital details can be found later in this book).
Identifying the Stakeholders
A typical starting point for SMM is a discovery meeting that brings together the primary stakeholders. The idea is to identify key objectives for the program, set priorities, get the team acquainted with one another, and perhaps most important, gain their support. Remember, you’re trying to persuade a group of decentralized planners to embrace a centralized process.
Representatives of your technology provider should be part of this initial work, as well as these potential internal stakeholders:
- Implementation project lead
- System administrator (in many cases, this is the same person as the project lead)
- Meeting department heads
- Meeting planners
- Procurement or sourcing agents
- IT project manager
- Travel manager
- Marketing/communications resource (to help communicate during project rollout)
- Learning and education resource (to be part of the project if internal training materials will be created)
Find advocates for the project
The key stakeholders you’ve identified can become a functional team that will guide the project from a high level. They can serve as an advisory council or a task force. Most important, they can serve as champions, using their influence to bring the rest of the organization onboard.
Determining the Funding Model
What funding model will your program follow? Here are some possibilities to consider:
- Shared services: The meetings management program is managed with allocations out of a shared-service budget.
- Program chargebacks: Divisions or events pay for the services that they use.
- Commission-based: Contracts call for suppliers to pay commissions, and those commissions help to fund the program. This model is becoming less practical as hotel chains lower or eliminate their commissions.
- Hybrid model: As the name implies, this is a combination of the other approaches.
Excerpted from Strategic Meetings Management for Dummies © 2019 a custom published product produced with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.