|It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”|
Today I had the great pleasure of speaking at the PCMA Education Conference on the topic of Strategic Meetings Management with Kevin Iwamoto, VP of Enterprise Strategy for Active Networks. Kevin is a person I would call "the father of strategic meetings management," and it was an honor to share the stage with him.
Myself? Well I have about a solid month of strategic meetings management experience (plus 5 years of on-again, off-again research on the subject!)
My company began exploring an SMMP about 5 years ago, in partnership with our Travel Procurement team. That first attempt at an RFP resulted in so many requirements and wishlist items that the final printed file comparing responses was a 6 foot by 7 foot Excel spreadsheet! Completely incomprehensible, overwhelming, and was actually laughed at and put in the storage closet.
So I made a friend in the procurement department and we began to exchange war stories. Together, we had informational sessions with a number of SMMP providers, and we explored from more of an RFI point of view, rather than an RFP. We even lightly and non-contractually partnered with a company that could act as an SMMP resource for teams to leverage if they needed event venue sourcing support.
A few procurement directors and event marketing directors later, we tried it again, but couldn't get any traction with leadership at all.
Finally, last year our company launched a savings initiative, seeking ideas from leaders within the company on how we can save money by doing simple things. My procurement team and I submitted the idea that we can save over $2M annually by implementing an SMMP (knowing full well that other companies our size have saved upwards of $10M by implementing programs like this!).
We dusted off our RFI and RFP responses and began to evaluate what we really wanted out of this program. By bringing us back to the objectives for the program (tracking meetings spend, mitigating contract risk, etc.), we were able to identify the true benefits of the program and what was really important to the company. While the first 4 RFPs were led and directed by procurement, this last one was supported by procurement with the event team writing the RFP document and evaluating the responses. Procurement managed the RFP process, scheduling, and support of the respondents.
We determined that we did not have the funding to implement a fully-scoped SMMP at first, but allowed competitors with technology solutions to bid anyway to get a full understanding of the possibilities and what a full program could look like for us in the future. We knew that we needed to land on a solution that would be covered with commission-able rates.
As we rolled out the program, we got three consistent responses from team members:
1) They were concerned that we were forcing them to select the cheapest property – which is by no means the case. This process is simply to get competitive bids. Full control lies with the event manager to determine which property they wish to use.
2) Event managers claimed that it’s faster to just call their national rep or local hotel contact, rather than fill out a form and wait on our SMMP to get back to them. As they’ve starting using the SMMP, though, they find that a 5-minute form and 10 minute conversation with their SMMP rep is much better than leaving 3 voicemails with their hotel contact and negotiating concessions on their own!
3) Our APJ team has some team members who firmly believe they will get better pricing going direct. We have not fully rolled this out yet in the region, so we will continue to operate in pilot mode this year as we determine what the realities are in the region.
The event team had concerns about moving to an SMMP for fear that they could no longer use some of the event management agencies they are comfortable with on large-scale programs. We agreed that any large program where the event management agency would use commission-able rates to lower their fees could continue to be used. If, however, the team was going to hire an agency specifically for a venue search, they should use the SMMP.
Knowing that this would be a giant change for our teams, we agreed with our SMMP provider that we would take year one and operate as a pilot program. We have monthly check-ins with team members to discuss bumps and bruises and get our program working smoothly. Once the 1-year pilot ends, we will evaluate together the results of the program and determine if it is beneficial to continue with an official 2-year agreement.
We agreed to roll out the program in the US and EMEA, and roll out to APJ and LatAm later in the year. However, the APJ and LatAm teams were excited to try out the program and have begun leveraging the SMMP already as well.
We have worked hand-in-hand with procurement to draft policies, review addendums, write blog posts, send corporate-wide emails, and craft a newsletter to keep everyone informed of the program, the available venues where cancellations have happened, and hot dates and rates from our SMMP. The Event marketing team has taken the lead on rolling out training to the corporate admins, and the procurement team continues to be involved as the program involves.
We’ve had the program rolled out for about a month now (48 programs are in process with a handful having been contracted) and are already seeing an average 10% savings off of the catering-only events, and 20% off the events with room blocks that have been contracted through the program.
With the savings, event owners are able to show higher ROI from revenue generated from their customer-facing events, or are able to use the money saved for more strategic investments like speaker fees or marcom collateral.
Event managers are thrilled to not have to worry about contract clauses and concession negotiations. And even more thrilled to not have to wait on legal and procurement to review contracts!
From a procurement standpoint, by tracking our meeting and event venue usage, we are able to drive more business to our preferred hotel brands and thus negotiate even better corporate rates for the future based on volume. We are also able to have great conversations with A/V companies in these properties to drive those costs lower on volume, as well.
By reducing the logistical costs of the events for customer-facing activities, we will increase the total income earned from the converted revenue, while not reducing the attendee experience in any way.
If your company is exploring a strategic meetings management program, I highly recommend picking up Kevin's book from Amazon as step number 1!
Step number 2 is to develop perseverance. You will try to launch a program. It will fail. You may try again unsuccessfully. You might even give up for a while. But keep at it! Eventually, the stars will align and you will have the right leadership in place to support your goals.
Step 3 is to develop the right partnerships between marketing and procurement. Get the right people on board to help each other, develop relationships that are open enough to allow honest conversations about problems and outcomes.
Step 4: go forth and conquer. It won't be easy. But it will be worth it.