Here are 15 steps toward identifying, leveraging, and managing your organization’s meeting spend through a strategic meetings management program.

1. Get in front of your C-level executives. When building a business case for SMM, compare meeting spend to business-travel spend. Senior executives understand and can identify with business-travel spend.

2. Start small, think big. Inform your C-level execs that there is a methodology that should be applied to meeting spend, even when that spend is spread throughout business units and divisions. Your goal is to identify that spend so that a centralized policy and process can evolve. Don’t try to take on all six steps at once. Start by working with Accounts Payable and pulling invoices related to meeting spend.

3. Treat procurement as your friend. You’re not alone in this critical data-gathering phase.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of risk mitigation. If you can avoid one meeting planner coming to you and saying, “I have a $3 million attrition bill” related to a meeting, you can make a powerful case. It is the No. 1 reason to sell SMM up the chain, but the hardest.

5. Estimate and give your best forecasts based on industry benchmarks. In order to make a business case, you don’t have to have actual numbers.

6. Register every event and meeting. To be clear, the critical registration step is not about registering individuals at your meetings but having a centralized inventory of every company meeting. It can be a simple spreadsheet in Excel or other technology tool.

7. Define a meeting. It’s fine to start with broad parameters (for example, “any meeting of ten or more people that takes place inside or outside of our offices”) and work your way toward a more detailed and specific definition (any meeting with spend of $25,000 or more).

8. Write an SMM policy, but don’t let it sit on a shelf. It needs to be a living and breathing document. The processes that go along with the policy are just as, if not more, important. Keep it simple. Use language that non–meeting professionals can understand.

9. Register and collect data for day or small meetings, even for in-house meetings that use office conference rooms. Using in-house conference rooms saves you money; you might not be aware that they are being underutilized. Small meetings account for 60 percent of a company’s total meeting spend. It may be more economical to outsource your small meetings to a third-party meeting management firm to free your in-house professional staff to focus on more complex meetings and processes.

10. Include virtual meeting spend in your SMM initiative.

11. Create compliance procedures. Make sure every meeting at your company is approved. That means every meeting needs an identifier number, which should be required for any part of that meeting to move through the procurement and accounting departments.

12. Cultivate your supplier relationships. By creating preferred vendor agreements and negotiating master contracts with hotels, destination management companies, and third parties, you will drive down costs and create efficiencies. When working with a preferred vendor, a meeting typically needs only a two-page contract addendum since the main contract is already negotiated.

13. Consider meeting or procurement credit cards instead of invoices. Industry benchmarks peg the cost to a company of processing an invoice for a transaction at $50 to $80 versus $10 to $12 for a credit-card transaction. Corporations are incentivized to use credit cards, so it’s a winning solution.

14. Use technology tools to help you through every phase of the SMM process, allowing you to automate mundane tasks. Among the functionalities to look for in a technology tool are systems for meeting request/registration, approval of meetings, and requests for proposal. Budgeting tools are not yet seamlessly integrated into these technologies. Ideally your tool will link to your meeting cards and travel management platform. Most tech tools are modular.

15. Write a meeting policy. You'll avoid headaches and even government probing by having a written strategic meetings management policy. Any company is open to public or government scrutiny.

A panel discussion during the 2009 Motivation Show with Barbara Scofidio, editor, Corporate Meetings & Incentives; Kate Demarest Lastinger, CMM, CMP, founding partner, Metaphrasis Group; Kari Kesler of KK Strategic Solutions; Kelly Everhart, managing partner, Strategic Management Solutions LLC; and Tamara Gordon, director-travel, meetings, fleet, Boston Scientific.