It doesn’t matter if a corporation is a Fortune 500 company or a 500-person shop; eventually all will hold a meeting, which can be aimed at attendee numbers in the dozens, hundreds or even thousands.

Naturally, the larger, higher profile meetings get a great deal of the focus, but small- and medium-size meetings are often just as important – especially when their costs are aggregated – so they shouldn’t be regarded as just an afterthought.

According to McLean, VA-based meetings technology provider Cvent, small meetings constitute roughly 70 to 80 percent of the overall meetings business. Frost & Sullivan reports that technology can save 15 percent on bookings, reduce venue research time by 22 percent and help increase overall event planning productivity by 22 percent.

Meetings and SMM
Cindy Fisher, senior vice president and global head of CWT Meetings & Events, notes that smaller meetings are the most likely to be planned by part-time or non-professional planners within an organization, which makes it challenging to gain alignment on a centralized policy or process.“

Larger scale events are typically linked to customer revenues or corporate objectives – they are part of the toolset used by corporations to achieve their marketing and business goals,” she says. “The scale of opportunity for savings and other efficiencies is simply bigger for a larger meeting, and they have more visibility across the organization.”

However within many companies, those small- or medium-sized meetings fall in between the transient travel policy and a meetings policy, according to Benjamin Park, director procurement and travel, global for Parexel International. Parexel International is one of a number of companies that have appeared on the scene with a technology solution for small meetings. The Parexel tool incorporates virtual payment and touchless bookings for meetings of 50 people or less.

“Often, larger meetings are managed by marketing and they use proper procurement channels, whereas all these decentralized smaller meetings are initiated by administrative staff who are not familiar with the process as much as marketing,” Park says. “The dollar amounts look small – if you’re just looking at 20 rooms for two days at a hotel – but the total commitment and liabilities from signing a contract are often underestimated.”

The big challenges for smaller meetings include the perception that it takes too long to book a venue, the hotels don’t have the same response rates to eRFPs as they do for larger, more profitable events, and the underlying impression is that small meetings do not have as big an ROI opportunity due to lower price points.

Other challenges, Park says, are that smaller meetings are less valuable to the hotel suppliers; have a disproportionate need for space versus sleeping rooms; plus the “owners” of the meetings are highly varied and not likely to have a job description or title that reflects meeting management/planning.

The good news is technology is helping to change all that. Park says that technology and digitalization are clearly the enablers to manage this better.

“Meeting space RFP’s can be done online, payment can be done digitally, contracting can be done digitally, approvals can be done digitally, therefore paper work and inefficient processes and hand-offs go away with new technology,” he says. “If you look at companies like Groupize or Meetago or Bizly, they have all seen the gap and invested in new tools. In addition instant bookings are coming for meetings, where hotels provide live inventory for meeting space. This will change the meetings business a lot.”

Small meetings are certainly an important segment for both corporations and hoteliers, says Daniel Russo, vice president of product marketing at Cvent. But due to their size and frequency, it can be difficult for both sides to manage effectively.

“When you consider the higher price tag and increased visibility of larger events, it’s easy to see why larger events get so much focus,” Russo says. “However, that does not necessarily mean that small meetings are not important and without value. Based on their higher frequency and the substantial labor required to manage them, even a small amount of savings or efficiency gains in this segment can represent a huge ROI.”

Awareness Growing 
As strategic meetings management programs mature, and the larger meetings and events are wrapped into the strategy, the attention has turned to the smaller events that comprise that remaining 80 percent of the opportunity, Fisher says. There is also a surge in a myriad of technology solutions to support efficiencies and data capture for these meetings.“

The attention is starting to build because companies are now aware that small meetings is a significant and fast-growing segment of their spend,” says Ron Shah, CEO of Bizly. “The awareness is evolving in the sense that large companies are seeing that the meetings are getting smaller, and the spend is shifting to smaller meetings, because that’s what their employees want. Marketing, which drives a lot of this, is saying, ‘Look, we’re getting a lot more ROI out of doing smaller events, like smaller product demos,’ and teams are saying the same thing for culture-building events.”

Thanks to a stronger economy and growing demand, the overarching trend for the meetings and events industry is substantial growth, and business operators are looking to increase the frequency of events to capitalize.

“Everyone now wants to know what they spend on small meetings,” Russo says. “Strategic meetings management is maturing and most large enterprises have data now on their large meetings spend, so they are logically turning their attention to the rest of the segment. They also need the data at an aggregate level to negotiate better rates at the chain level.”

Park says an example of a way in which these meetings are being managed better is in contracting, where both sides – hotels and travel managers – spend hours negotiating each contract and find themselves covering the same items over and over.

“With a standardized approach on contracting and electronic signatures, the process is more efficient for both sides, risks are managed better and contracting goes faster,” he says. “Look at all the labor from both sides. Even legal people involved in the past for each contract and the amounts are not gigantic, but internal cost was large to agree on a contract.”

The Role of TMCs 
Fisher says the evolution of travel managers being asked to get involved in meetings has been increasing since the early 2000’s. There may be a spike in this activity as companies try to leverage small meetings with the typical business travel hotel programs and strategies.

“Professional planners need to remain interested and looped into the quickly evolving technology options in this space,” she says. “Time is becoming more valuable, and this is a growing industry. Those who do not pay attention will get left behind very easily.”

With more travel managers getting involved, the need for technology to helpmanage these smaller meetings increases exponentially.

“As meetings management gets dispersed among a variety of departments and stakeholders, all with varying levels of event experience, the full benefit of implementing a strategic meetings management technology platform gets even larger,” Russo says. “When procedures are standardized and even automated across the entire enterprise, procurement becomes easier, reporting is streamlined, and labor savings start to hit the all important bottom line – everyone wins.”

There are technologies to auto book small room blocks with meeting spaces that provide very simple attendee registration opportunities. There are also tools that can “package” an experience for a small meeting/group of attendees.

Fisher notes some examples of technology and tools that CWT M&E has been utilizing include CWT easy2meet in Germany, CWT Easy Meetings-Nordics in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, and CWT Small Meetings in the UK and Ireland.

“We’re the first M&E agency in the UK and Ireland to launch an end-to-end digital tool for booking meeting facilities,” Fisher says. “Our innovative technology tools help planners in select markets book small meetings and events faster and easier. These automated, digital tools enable meeting planners to skip the time-consuming request process and accomplish in minutes what used to take days.”

Tools Are Out There  
While there are a few new entrants in the market that are trying to solve this problem, Russo maintains that many don’t satisfy some of the pain points that corporations have. For example, he explains, the tool may not have a way to automatically book meeting space, food and beverage or A/V, so it can only be used for a small percentage of meetings and thus most will have to fall back to an eRFP. He says Cvent has access to streamlined sourcing tools that are built specifically for small meetings.

Charles de Gaspe Beaubien, CEO of Groupize, says the company’s Strategic Sourcing Platform is a savvy solution for enterprises to source, book, track and manage small group bookings and all requirements for simple meetings in one easy application. The intuitive user experience is ideal for the occasional travel arrangers as well as professional planners and procurement staff.

“We went through the phase of self-booking tools with Concur,” he says. “We went through a phase of SMMP and the RFP. And now, we’re going through a new discipline in the industry, which is simple meetings.”

Travel Leaders Corporate now offers its Simple Meetings Optimizer tool, which provides a sophisticated virtual meeting planner to quickly and easily assist anyone planning a business meeting independently.“

Our goal is to provide the tools to support businesses that need to plan smaller meetings with the same impact as larger ones, based on our expertise in strategic meetings management,” says Gabe Rizzi, president of Travel Leaders Corporate. “The Simple Meetings Optimizer tool will provide new, easy and seamlessly integrated options for companies to ensure that they can turn any size meeting, conference or event into the professional, smooth experience they need it to be.”

Bizly introduced a concierge service that offers a real person to personally make sure employees feel supported and actually can connect some dots when there are challenges or issues, to iron out problems within a meeting.

“When we introduced Concierge, we saw success rates go sky-high, due to people feeling the support they need to get the meeting done,” he says. “And that was a critical element in our offering, and so I would be mindful to meeting managers to think about that. Because either they take a tool and they have to staff it with a PMC managing it, which can get expensive, or they look for a provider that can provide not just a tool but also service on top to make it successful.”

Cvent’s DocuSign integration feature automatically generates the contract between the hotel and the corporation. The system then sends out a signature electronically. These features are in the process of being integrated into the Cvent Customer Supplier Network.

Among the key features to help manage these activities more effectively:
• The tool shows only preferred/in-policy venues in the sourcing results.
• The RFP form has been streamlined with fewer questions that focus solely on the needs of a small meeting.­­
• And the contracting process has been streamlined.

“Each of these features saves a lot of manual work and that is what our customers are asking for,” Russo says. “You don’t want to spend a disproportionate amount of time planning a small meeting, and there are tools out there that can help. In addition, we are in active discussions with key strategic partners to build new automation and direct booking capabilities built specifically for sourcing small meetings.”