Finding ways to trim corporate travel and entertainment costs — including meeting expenses — has become a top priority for companies of all sizes. Ditto with the types of meetings you hold: Whether large or small, the data you can collect on those meetings can translate into bottom-line savings, sometimes as high as 20 to 30 percent off total annual meeting costs.
One of the key success factors in any meeting consolidation strategy is to leverage technology. If your corporation is moving toward a meeting consolidation plan, today's technology solutions can help by providing tools and processes that improve efficiency and accelerate the pace of adoption. Use the following five steps to leverage technology and champion a major cost-savings initiative — and in the process enhance the strategic value of your position.
- Consolidate all meeting data
Every meeting consolidation program starts with obtaining a detailed view of your company's current meetings-related expenses.
Collect key metrics such as meeting location, services purchased and costs by category and by supplier, attendance numbers, attendees' origination and destination cities, travel and housing costs of attendees. Be sure to gather this information consistently throughout the company.
The most efficient way to capture this information is in one centralized database. Select a meeting management service that allows access by multiple users but limits data sharing with secure data-partitioning mechanisms. Multiple planners — whether they are internal or external — can now set up and manage their own meetings while the data for each event is captured by such features as budget tracking, registration, and online travel and housing management. Now each meeting's key information is separated, but flows into one database. You will gain two benefits: You can maintain your independence as a meeting planner and have a consolidated view of all meetings expenses.
- Create, implement, and monitor policies
Next, work with your executive team to create corporate meeting policies if they don't already exist.
By employing a technology service to automate data collection, you can easily view total expenditures by vendor and use this information to negotiate preferred supplier relationships with airlines, hotels, and car rental companies. Confer with your travel department to include monies spent on transient travel to increase clout with service providers.
As you establish and update preferred suppliers, you can again leverage technology to help enforce policies, monitor compliance, and optimize your policies over time. First, work with your online air-booking service to enable automatic enforcement of meeting-specific travel policies, such as selecting a preferred air carrier for certain city pairs and creating the maximum allowed shoulder dates before and after meetings.
Secondly, use meeting management technology to report on compliance with these policies. For example, reports should show which meeting attendees did not fly on the company's designated air carriers or how many used the company's preferred hotels.
- Analyze data
As your meeting consolidation program is getting off the ground, use the reporting features of your program to find more ways to reduce meeting costs.
First, identify opportunities to consolidate suppliers for greater leverage. For example, if your company is using air transport to ship materials to customer training seminars, your procurement department may mandate using one preferred ground transport company for significant savings.
You can also use your meetings expertise to set budgetary goals or benchmarks. For example, based on the event history data you have gathered, set budget expectations for business units for typical meetings.
Lastly, review the global view of when and where your company is holding meetings, and suggest ways to get the most out of what you spend on meetings. For example, you can reduce costs by selecting the same venue for a regional sales meeting and a road show event.
- Identify performance measurements
By leveraging technology, you have been able to decentralize meeting planning and maintain a centralized repository of corporate meeting data. Now, track the savings that your group has been able to achieve.
Be sure to track the cost savings you have accomplished throughand analysis of corporate-wide data. For example, compare the original RFPs you've received with the final negotiated rates.
Next, require each business unit to submit a meeting budget. Consult historical data to determine if expense amounts are in line with the best negotiated rates you've secured for similar meetings. If not, work with your colleagues to negotiate more favorable rates.
Consider tracking attendee satisfaction as a performance goal. Use the surveying tools from your meeting management solution to elicit feedback from meeting organizers and attendees. One idea is to send out a survey to learn if attendees enjoyed a particular venue.
- Evangelize success and increase adoption
By leveraging the data in your centralized database, you have the performance reports you need to keep your management team informed of your progress. Also, establish regular communication with business units, and don't be afraid to raise any issues that might impede your progress. Securing management support is crucial to the long-term success of the program.
Increase adoption by maintaining communication with employees. Be sure to explain the consolidation concept to employees who may be tempted to book travel through non-company — approved online services because they believe that the low rates they have found will benefit the company.
Another way to increase adoption is to educate those who plan meetings about the benefits of technology. End-to-end meeting management solutions provide tools that automate and streamline event processes, eliminating manual tasks and improving efficiency.
Today's meeting professionals understand that their role reaches beyond managing meeting logistics. By taking the lead in creating a meeting consolidation program, you will be able to capitalize on your experience to implement a program that makes the most of your meeting dollars.
John Chang is the CEO of seeUthere Technologies (www.seeUthere.com), which helps companies automate and consolidate meeting management enterprise-wide for cost savings and more effective meetings. Features include managing meeting budgets and expenditures, marketing events, registering attendees, and automating housing and travel management.