Simple meetings of 10 to 50 people tend to fly under the radar, yet the cost ends up being a significant part of a company’s unmanaged spend. Today new approaches to managing simple meetings are available, both to help rein in costs for the company and to make the experience more effective for the attendees.

“According to our data, simple meetings makes up 50 to 60 percent of spend and comprises 70 to 80 percent of all meetings,” says Charles De Gaspe Beaubien, president and CEO of Groupize. “For one of our clients, out of the 396 meetings they held in a year, only 6 were complex. So why are they using complex processes and professional planners for their simpler meetings?” he asks.

Meetings and SMM

“Essentially, we have been using the wrong tool and wrong processes. Applying simple technology is a better approach in this space, making it more self-service, saving time and money,” De Gaspe Beaubien adds.

What Doesn’t Work 
“Travel buyers need to know that every execution process is different for meetings; to lump them all in one category under Strategic Meetings Management wasn’t effective,” adds Kevin Iwamoto, CSO at Bizly Inc. “The complex meetings strategy didn’t work in the ‘SSS’ meeting space” – a term coined by Bizly to represent small, simple, self-service meetings – “especially since the end user (who books small meetings) doesn’t have the same experience as the meeting professional,” explains Iwamoto.

Enter modern day event planning technology, a game changer for the industry. It is more intuitive to use, adopting simple technology solutions for simpler needs. “The workflow and process for a professional meeting planner is guided by the technology they use, whereas the end user of simple meetings, such as an admin, doesn’t require the fancy technology needed for a complex meeting,” Iwamoto says. “He or she may just be booking an internal meeting for 20 people, with no meal and just snacks, or with no AV but just one monitor. Or he or she may need to create a meeting within a week or two as opposed to 6 to 12 months in advance for a complex one,” he continues.  

“Globally, there are so many different tools that have been adopted over time within local markets,” advises Shauna Whitehead, VP, global account management of BCD Meetings & Events. “One tool is never going to solve everything, and as such a third party can help to design a technology strategy to identify the right mix of tools for the travel manager to either maintain or purchase, and then work with these tools to configure in a way that works across your organization,” she says.

“It’s important to understand who your target audience might be across the organization, and what are their pain points or opportunity to enhance their current process before looking to roll out a simple meetings technology,” Whitehead says. “There are more and more competitive players now and a variety of tools in the marketplace for simple meetings – the question is, what’s the right tool for you? Everybody has different needs. Some require a pure sourcing tool; others are looking for attendee registration or an end-to-end process – the reality is that customers will purchase multiple tools.”

She also suggests asking a series of questions to help identify the right tools and processes, which can also help curb spend in the long run:  
• Does an SMMP exist in the organization today? What policy and guidelines already exist? What is the current adoption level?
• Who is the known user group(s) that you are targeting for this solution? What would they find valuable; and/or what is valuable enough to automate, based on current state?
• Is there a defined technology and data management strategy as it relates to meetings? What tool(s) do you have to consolidate data and how will this additional tool deployment fit into this overall strategy?
• How is change management handled across your organization today? What has been successful in other tool or process implementations in other business areas, and how can you create a change management plan to ensure optimal adoption of this new technology?

Tracking Unmanaged Spend 
While technology has helped ease some of the travel manager’s woes, it’s only one part of a major overhaul when it comes to the way we look at simple meetings. In fact, where the real problem lies is the large, unmanaged, unnoticed spend. The challenge is to get visibility into how much spend is actually happening, because only then does one have an opportunity for savings.

“How are you servicing events today?” Bizly’s Iwamoto asks. “Are you using a third party agency for simple meetings? Or a small army of internal coordinators? There is a science to unlock the savings. Using negotiated preferred contracts, there is a reduction of overhead and time, and a savings in terms of risk management (contracts) and duty of care,” he advises.

“The savings element can be captured when spend is consolidated – small, simple, self-service meetings don’t roll up under one person; there may be 200 people planning small meetings under one department or across departments who only see their spend on their one meeting. But throughout the enterprise, every department has multiple meetings. There’s no centralized ‘owner’ responsible for tracking meeting spend throughout the enterprise, that’s why this area is so challenging, especially if there are numerous cancellations and significant attrition,” he continues.

Today, for some travel buyers, simple meetings act as a gateway to gain control over the meetings spend and move in to manage larger meetings. Nonetheless, buyers can’t reign in spend if they don’t even know how much spend is occurring. That said, the historical tug of war between admins and travel managers over exactly who actually controls meeting planning – and thus meeting spend – remains a prickly issue.  

A Tug of War 
Veteran travel buyer Jennifer Steinke knows all about this; on average her team handles some 400 small meetings a year, including sourcing, contracting and booking, so she is familiar with the interpersonal dynamics of managing meetings: “If we can put easy-to-use tools in the hands of our admins, and still allow the travel manager to get visibility and oversee the process, then the admin doesn’t feel their power or prestige being threatened. Travel buyers should be the allies of our admins, and not the enemy; in this way we build trust – and then work together to tackle the bigger meetings.”

One of the areas that has posed difficulty for admins within sourcing is contracts and the requirement to send eRFPs. “Admins are not trained in legal matters and these ‘SSS’ agreements are not a priority for corporate legal review," explains Bizly’s Iwamoto. “In addition, sending eRFPs to source and select a venue like a procurement or sourcing professional would do, is unrealistic. Asking the admin to go through and fill out a long profile and budget form, source the best venue from multiple options and choose the best deal within a budget – it's asking them to change their normal work process and takes more time which they usually don't have. The reality is, they can just pick up a phone and book a venue. The expectation is not realistic, that’s why adoption and compliance around ‘SSS’ meetings is so abysmal,” he continues.

“The travel manager can simplify contracts for admins by putting together a standard contract that doesn’t have to go through legal every time, with a way for them to request meetings with an established form of payment, and set up a system for budget approval in the beginning when the meeting is requested, not later. The idea is to corral activities that used to be in silos,” adds Steinke.

“However, even if you create your own contract, the chain still has to approve it and go through lawyers,” warns Groupize’s De Gaspe Beaubien. “The best path is to pre-negotiate a contract at the beginning of the year so every time the admin has a meeting to handle, they can use the template.”

The world of contracts too is evolving. Locally, most meetings have been at hotels (91 percent). But now, small, non-hotel venues such as restaurants, bowling alleys, etc. are increasingly popular alternatives, and easier to plan and create contracts for.  

Going Back to the Travel Manager 
The era of ignoring simple meetings is over – it’s morphed into its own discipline now. “Travel and meetings have been siloed departments with different areas of ownership and goals,” says Groupize’s De Gaspe Beaubien. “The meetings manager would not take it on because it was too small, whereas travel managers didn’t want it because they were too busy. Now, it’s back in the travel managers’ hands, largely because of duty of care.”

Moreover, Iwamoto suggests that travel managers are naturally inclined to handle the small, simple, self-service meetings space, since they’re already good at program/spend consolidation and reporting/negotiation strategies with preferred suppliers. “Meeting planners are focused on big complex meetings. They possess a different skill set, and work with a different set of suppliers.”

In addition to duty of care concerns, another reason for the return of the meetings space to travel is because they are often also responsible for the quality of the attendee experience. “Even a 20-person meeting at a property where the experience is less than stellar will affect the whole travel program, so how do we best leverage spend and make it a better experience?” Steinke asks.

“The enterprise is changing dynamics,” agrees Ron Shah, founder and CEO of Bizly. “While travel managers need to harvest data to improve success for the company, a boring meeting is not acceptable anymore. The experience is important; it’s not just about event management now, but productivity too.”

Granted, the meetings space isn’t a new thing for travel buyers, but better technology and tools mean they may have an easier time managing it. “The meetings space adds a whole new level of complexity to the travel space that travel managers are used to working in, not only with an added mix of supply base, but also with a new level of business stakeholders, with a heightened element of emotion and ownership,” BCD’s Whitehead notes.

“That said, there are also many areas of crossover that make this an area of opportunity for alignment for a travel manager,” she continues, “including data privacy, security and screening, legal and risk mitigation, to name a few.”

Common sense dictates that we need simple functionality for simple meetings and complex functionality for complex ones - the flexibility is what is important. “Many companies who conduct a smaller number of simple meetings aren’t well suited for bigger technology platforms. We need to educate and reach out to meetings planners and let them know that other simple solutions exist,” says Steinke.

And while automation may eventually solve the problem, it’s certain that the area of simple meetings can no longer be neglected.