SMM expert Shimon Avish of Shimon Avish Consulting LLC is our Meetings Maven, part of MeetingsNet’s IdeaXchange panel of contributors. Send your queries and quandaries about designing and implementing strategic meetings management programs to shimon@smmconsulting.com, then check back here for answers!

Dear Meetings Maven,
I am developing a global SMM program in a non-mandated environment and finding it hard going due to the number of existing relationships with third-party planning companies, most of which are not readily visible. What strategies can you recommend to overcome this issue?

Thanks,

Anxious in Atlanta

Dear Anxious,
You have touched on a thorny issue, since existing relationships with third parties can derail the consolidation of a strategic meetings management program. I once saw an entire division opt out of a global SMMP because their third party wound them up by enumerating all the ways the meeting stakeholders might be impacted by consolidation. They led the stakeholders to believe they would no longer be able to have the kinds of meetings they wanted, or that they would be forced to use a mega-agency for planning (which, the third party said, couldn’t possibly provide the level of service they were used to).

Think about it from the perspective of a third-party planning company that has long-standing relationships with your meeting stakeholders. They are worried that consolidation means they might lose business, not realizing that the majority of companies only consolidate sourcing, and not meeting planning. It’s not surprising that they could, inadvertently or not, lead their clients toward resisting the potential change.

How do you overcome this dynamic? Implementing an SMMP is all about change management, and change management consists of three primary phases:

1. Identify the affected constituencies.

2. Understand their potential resistance to change.

3. Communicate with all stakeholders to guide them through the change.

To uncover the existing relationships you will need to do some data analysis. I have my clients ask their accounts payable departments to run a spend report using Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes for the most recent full year. The report should include the transaction date, the customer name, the supplier name, the transaction amount, and a description. Then someone (that would be me!) has to spend a few tedious hours going through the report to look for the names of likely meeting planning companies and their customers.

Once you have a list you can begin the discovery process to understand their concerns. I prefer to conduct interviews (with both meeting stakeholders and suppliers) to uncover their potential resistance points. Remember that your customers and suppliers have likely experienced disruptive change before, which might be coloring their points of view. So try to uncover past experiences, which can inform your approach to rolling out the new SMMP.

Using the information uncovered during the interviews, build targeted messages to address each of the concerns raised by the meeting stakeholders and suppliers. Then decide the best mechanisms to use to communicate with them. For some it is in-person meetings, for others it is formal presentations, and yet for others it’s FAQ documents. Then build the materials you need, and develop a calendar for when you will present to, or meet with, the affected constituency.

I have found these meetings go very well, and everyone seems to be relieved to have accurate information on the nature of the SMMP, and the predicted impact on the current state.

Have you wrestled with this issue? If so, please share what has worked for you in the comments area.

If you have questions of your own please, please send them to me at shimon@smmconsulting.com. My areas of expertise include SMM meetings policy, sourcing and planning processes, SMM data management, consolidation of SMM programs, implementing global SMM programs, change management for meetings, compliance management, risk management, and payment mechanisms.

Thanks, and see you next time!