Strategic Meetings Management (SMM): Tech Talk

The Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) initiative is our industry's hottest topic, with corporate and association planning teams collaborating on ways to get their arms (and minds) wrapped around this meeting "value and accountability" business model. The aftermath of the great recession and introduction of SMM has clearly increased senior management's expectations for improved planner productivity, added meeting value, cost savings, contract risk reduction and enhancing the attendee experience.

In the SMM landscape, there is a big focus on metrics to define, measure and report success, thus robust technology is thrust into the spotlight. Today, planners must validate their success to management and key stakeholders and fast access to reliable meeting data is a must.

To help add clarity to this conversation, I am thrilled to interview my good friend, Betsy Bondurant, CMM, CTE, president of Bondurant Consulting. Betsy's consulting services focus on SMM evaluation and implementation and she has played in this space for a long time. This includes her former role as Director of Meeting Services at Amgen and the primary driver of their Strategic Meetings Management program. Amgen is the world's largest Biotech company and their SMM program is still considered the gold standard for measurable meeting value and ROI performance.

Q. Tim Brown Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) remains our industry's hottest topic, yet corporate and association planning teams are having a hard time getting SMM implemented, how do you see it?

A. Betsy Bondurant I see it as frustrating! The category of meetings and events are one of the last areas of unmanaged spend in an organization. Typically the spend is very decentralized, which means there is lack of understanding as to just how large a category of spend it is. This lack of understanding can make it challenging to get senior leadership buy-in. But once the opportunity of the size of spend is presented the large number gets the attention of the CFO or CPO. (Usually the amount is in the multiple millions into tens of millions of dollars for medium to large companies.)

Q. TB A big focus of SMM is on metrics to define and measure success and reporting results to senior management. What kind of meeting data is a must, when communicating with management and key stakeholders?

A. BB Well, there are two different aspects to measuring success: the success of the SMM program itself and the success of the individual meetings. For the success of the SMM some of the “must have” metrics that need to be communicated to stakeholders include: savings and cost avoidance, overall volume of meetings from various business units throughout the organization, adoption of the program by staff, utilization of preferred suppliers, reuse of cancelled rooms & space, and productivity data. In order to measure success or Return On Investment (ROI) for individual meetings, the first step is to define specific objectives for the meeting, apply a weight to those objectives, then develop questions that will determine how well the specific objectives were achieved by the meeting attendees.

Q. TB We hear a lot about robust technology driving SMM, so how does quick access to meeting data drive overall meeting value?

A. BB Being able to pull detailed reports from the data collected by an online technology tool in a matter of minutes versus spending days developing reports from excel spread sheets is a huge value add for Meeting Managers. Let’s consider that in many cases, there is little or no collection of meetings data such as described in the question above. In fact, many meeting planning departments are still focused on delivering the transactional meeting at hand, rather than looking at the enterprise wide meeting spend. Being able to provide robust reporting is expected by senior leadership in organizations. They are used to requesting information and having it turned around very quickly by other department such as travel, Human Resources and Information Technology. One of the best practices I see are SMM leaders who consistently push out information on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis to their key stakeholders.

Q. TB A cornerstone of SMM is leveraging meeting spend to maximize results. For planners who don't know this amount, what are the industry formulas to estimate organizational spend?

A. BB Indeed, there are a few industry formulas that planners can use as a starting point to benchmark their organizations meeting and event spend: Average company meeting spend can be:

 25 - 30% of Total T&E Spend or…
 60% of Corporate Air Volume or…
 2 - 3% of Revenue

Not all companies will have exactly this amount of meeting and event spend, but it is at least a place to start in order to compare what the spend is that you are currently aware of, and what the spend could be if you were to include all of the meetings outside the control of the centralized meetings department. The really good news is that in the first year of SMM implementation, savings are conservatively estimated to be 10% to 20% of the meeting expenditures!

Q. TB For planning teams who have implemented SMM standards, is there an audit process to help them assess results and make mid-course corrections?

A. BB I am not so sure that it is an audit process as much as a continuous improvement process. If we refer back to the GBTA SMM “wheel”, we see that “Strategy” is the very first activity in developing an SMM program. Through the strategy exercise, specific objectives and outcomes would have been identified for the SMM program. Some of these objectives tie back to the metrics we discussed earlier in this version of tech talk: specific cost savings and cost avoidance targets, rate of adoption to the SMM by staff, and use of preferred versus non-preferred suppliers for example. These objectives should be evaluated on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. If they are not being met, a candid examination of the root cause must be conducted. Once this has been determined, process changes can be made in order to achieve the desired outcomes of the program.

Q. TB With SMM, there is a big focus on cost savings, but what are the big picture benefits of SMM and what is the role of technology to assure success?

A. BB Increased productivity as a result of increased efficiencies is huge! The need for double and triple entry of the same data in various spread sheets is eliminated. Additionally, the data output from SMM technology is more robust and accurate than it would be if the information were input manually. The ability to have visibility and control of certain types of meetings via an online approval process especially for those in highly regulated industries such as Pharmaceuticals, Financial and Insurance is critical.

Q. TB I think we all agree that Strategic Meetings Management is here to stay. With the SMM initiative and technology, what trends to you envision over the next three - five years?

A. BB I am in violent agreement with the statement that Strategic Meetings Management is here to stay! Some of the trends I expect to see over the next few years are better management of Request for Proposals (RFPs) that are sent out to hotels. Ideally, we will see more targeted RFPs that will begin to reduce what we now refer to as RFP spam. No doubt there will be an increased use of mobile applications in the SMM realm, as mobile apps are being increasingly used in the meetings industry. Finally, I believe that we will see technology tools with a friendlier user interface (UI). Meaning they will reflect the experience we have in dealing with technology on a personal basis. There will be more of a business to consumer (B2C) feel versus a business to business (B2B) interface. Technology tools are maturing and transforming in order to better support the needs of global SMM programs. Therefore, we will see more tools that have robust language and currency capabilities.

TB - Thank you Betsy and great job connecting the dots and validating the need for planners rethink their technology resources and use meeting data to validate and report success and drive strategic decisions.

Strategic Meetings Management is not just a knee jerk reaction to the recession, but is here to stay. So now is the time to step back and carefully evaluate your big picture goals and prioritize SMM components that will enhance and impact your meeting management environment. Analyze your current technology resources and then implement technology that will deliver quick access to current and past meeting data and management reporting.

For additional information on Bondurant Consulting, contact:

Betsy Bondurant, CMM, CTE
Bondurant Consulting
Phone: 619.701.7709
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Look for my future SMM: Tech Talk features and please let me know if you have any questions on the Strategic Meetings Management initiative or if you have an interest in a specific meeting, negotiations or technology topic.

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