Think of this scenario: You’ve done the hard work of selling and implementing your strategic meetings management program, you’re gathering and reporting data. Then you walk into a meeting and the CFO calls out a major discrepancy in one of your reports. “All you need is one person to find a problem with your data and your whole program gets called into question,” says Kimberly Meyer, founder, Meetings Analytics. “It hurts your credibility.”

Meyer is in the business of helping companies manage data, so maybe she’s overemphasizing the clean data challenge. But Lisa Meehan doesn’t think so. “It’s painful. We were given a D in our first report,” says Meehan, director of meetings at Merck & Co. “Now we are up to a B.” Meehan worked with Meyer to configure the technology for her SMMP, and during that process she came to understand the importance of data quality—something she hadn’t appreciated previously.

Merck works with third parties to do its meeting logistics and sourcing, so Meehan and Meyer exhaustively reviewed with them what data had to be input into the Merck system, and the importance of accuracy and completeness. But the agencies’ first report card, in January, was still a surprise. “It doesn’t resonate until you get that first report,” Meehan says. “But you need to look at it in a systematic fashion or you could overlook savings.”

It’s not a simple task. “Most companies have no idea,” Meyer says. “Even if they have a good SMMP, they likely don’t have clean data. But the industry would prefer not to deal with that. It’s hard and it’s messy to go through 400,000 lines of information.”

Meetings Analytics uses software to do the heavy lifting. “We have built software, based on our work with a lot of clients and a lot of agencies, that processes data and looks for discrepancies—numbers that are too high, too low, or missing,” Meyer explains. “When we send a weekly or biweekly report, it will show those numbers that are missing or are outside the expected range. You need to review your data constantly, because when someone asks for numbers, they want them immediately.”

At a minimum, Meyer suggests reviewing the connection between quality data and keeping an SMMP going. “Remind your team, whether internal or external, how important it is to their own success to be able to show senior management quality data,” she says.

Another type of reporting that Meyer believes deserves a second look is the savings reported by third parties. “Traditionally in corporations, finance and audit teams don’t let vendors report on themselves. So it’s important that meeting professionals not just rely on a vendor saying, ‘Hey, I saved you 30 percent.’” The meeting professional must have visibility into that spend. “The CFO will say you can’t take the vendor’s word that it’s a good deal. You must have the data so you are able to say, ‘I know, myself, that we are on the right track.’”

She frames the issue in a broader context as well: “The meetings industry has taken enough hits,” she says. “As an industry, we won’t prosper with fuzzy reporting. We need data we can stand behind that shows we are doing a good job and adding real value.”