The National Business Travel Association has a new certification under development that will offer training to meetings, travel, and procurement professionals who want to learn the business behind a successful strategic meetings management program.

Kari Kesler, NBTA board member, co-founder of NBTA’s Groups and Meetings Committee, and former global manager, Honeywell Meeting Solutions, is at the helm of the new certification, which is expected to roll out later this year. Corporate Meetings & Incentives editor, Barbara Scofidio, spoke with her about this latest step in the evolution of SMM.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: How did the decision to start a strategic meetings management certification come about?
Kari Kesler: When NBTA first took on the task of developing tools and resources in this area, the committee decided that “meetings consolidation” was not the right name, and we changed it to “strategic meetings management.” Then last spring, I began to notice that many other associations in this space were adopting the phrase “SMMP” and teaching courses that were not true to the original definition. I was worried that the confusion would undermine the work of NBTA as well as other associations. So I had a discussion with Bill Connors [NBTA’s executive director], and we agreed it was time to take back ownership of SMMP in a gracious way and formalize the definition for the benefit of the industry. He was the one who brought up the possibility of a certification, and I said I could run with it

CMI: Who can earn the certification?
Kesler: It’s really for anyone who sees this as a potential career or step in his or her career: professionals in travel, procurement, meetings, and possibly associations. I’ve long said that the paradigm on how suppliers sell has to shift with the maturation of SMMP, so I see it as being very valuable to suppliers as well.

CMI: Will the SMMC be different from Meeting Professionals International’s CMM certification?
Kesler: Vastly different. The CMM is targeted toward meeting professionals who want to be more strategic about delivering events. The SMMC has little to do with planning and execution of events. It’s about the opportunity to maximize value and minimize risk by developing standardized meeting programs and deploying them across an entire company.

CMI: Are you collaborating with MPI on this?
Kesler: While NBTA is the pioneer of this discipline, I did meet with Bruce MacMillan [President and CEO of MPI] in January. We had a very positive discussion, which is ongoing, and I respect his community. There’s great work to be done right now, but we need to be sure we’re reading from the same hymn book when it comes to SMMP.

CMI: What course work will the SMMC require?
Kesler: Participants must complete Core Week 1 and Core Week 2, as well as five electives. Core Week 1 is about the “business of SMMP”—the many basic business principles that you need to know, such as stakeholder management, policy, sourcing, and data analysis. Core Week 2 is very specific SMMP knowledge, things like technology, risk management, and trending.
Our hope is to affiliate with regional colleges around the country, offering, let’s say, spring in Boston, and fall in San Diego. You could take the electives any time, and we’re hoping to partner with other associations, such as MPI and the Professional Convention Management Association, to qualify some of the content offered at their conventions as electives. You would have 24 months to complete the SMMC.

CMI: Do you have a final list of colleges yet?
Kesler: There are a couple we know we want to partner with that already have strong meeting planning programs: San Diego State, Indiana University, Madison Area Tech College, and Rochester Institute of Technology. We’re looking for colleges that have professors in key areas, such as leadership and finance, for Core Week 2. We have a couple of people interested in teaching Core Week 1 who are former corporate SMMP experts. There are very few people out there who are qualified to teach Core Week 1 at all.

CMI: Will there be an evaluation at the end?
Kesler: We’re not sure how each area will be tested, but there will be some written tests. I’m very excited about the potential SMMP mentor component. Students will have an ongoing dialog and meetings with mentors, who will need to provide their approval before the student is certified. Many mentors will likely come from the current and former ranks of NBTA’s Groups and Meetings Committee. The current thought is that the certification would be good forever, but graduates will need to complete continuing education requirements annually.

CMI: When will the certification roll out?
Kesler: Before this year’s NBTA convention in San Diego [August 23–26], we will hold a pilot program for Core Week 1 for task force members. This fall we hope to hold the first revenue-producing classes.

CMI: Who are some of the consultants you have brought in?
Kesler: The main consultants are Amanda Cecil, PhD, CMP, from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, curriculum developer; and Janet Sperstad, program director from Madison Area Technical College, educational lead of the facilitation team.

CMI: This certification couldn’t be more timely as companies begin to recognize the benefits of strategic meetings management.
Kesler: Because of the economic state we’re in, it’s the perfect time to have an SMMP in place. All the questions senior execs are now asking about meeting spend and tracking spend cannot be answered without an SMMP. It’s very energizing to be at the forefront of this!