Managing small meetings—with as few as 10
people or even as many as 50—has proven
a tough nut to crack for a lot of companies.
It feels like they should be simple, but small
meetings still require negotiations, site selection, terms and conditions, contract signings,
food and beverage and travel. Tying those
pieces into an intuitive process that also gives
corporations visibility into volume is, actually, anything but simple. In the past year, however, small meetings technologies like Bizly,
Breather, Groupize and Meetago have been
breakout players, each with a little different
value proposition. But managing small meetings isn’t just about launching a tool. Estee
Lauder Companies director of global travel
and meetings Jami Stapelmann and Parexel
International director of procurement and
travel Benjamin Park spoke with BTN managing editor Amanda Metcalf about their
small meetings management strategies.
Q Why do small meetings matter, and what makes them so hard to manage?
Jami Stapelmann: Companies view small meet-
ings as low risk, low value, so they don’t re-
ally look at them. … Because small meetings
[aren’t organized] through a formal process,
they are also hard to find. [They are] expensed
in different ways. The form of payment could
be corporate card, meeting card, purchase or-
der, purchasing card. But we collected data on
our small meetings and found that, collectively,
it was millions of dollars. Consequently, we are
launching a small meetings portal to streamline
this process, improve the experience and opti-
mize our business travel program.
Benjamin Park: We started a couple of years
ago just trying to get the meetings spend
data: how many meetings, how much spend,
how many contracts, which hotels. It’s really
the unknown black box in many companies.
We almost gave up, but then a year ago, we
just decided to implement the registration
portal. We said, “Don’t change anything the
admins are doing. Just tell us where you sign
the contract, give us some basic rough data
and send us a copy of the contract. We’re not
touching anything in your process, just give
us information.” That was just getting the
data. For me, the reason it’s so hard to tackle
small meetings is that it’s decentralized, but
also the admins mostly know where they
want to go, and from the travel management
or procurement perspective, we cannot add
a lot of sourcing value because [individually]
these are not big-dollar amounts. In their
eyes, all we can do is throw process at them,
like contract reviews and payment. In that
world, we’re just putting additional work to
them without adding value.
Q But you actually did launch a small meetings management pilot that is
doing more than implementing a process.
How is that going?
Park: Yes, about three months ago we launched
a small meetings online booking, contracting,
approval and payment tool in Germany, and
we’re about to launch in the U.K. and, hope-
fully, later this year in the U.S. [Meeting orga-
nizers] can see the hotel options online, hotels
respond within a day or half a day [and the]
terms and conditions are set up in the tool. The
meeting booker is guided by a system through
the whole process from selection, approval,
contracting to payment. It’s all transparent on-
line to them. If the approved amount and the
line items on the invoice match the contract
items and the total amount of the invoice is in
range... the payment is automatically released.
Q How did the meeting organizers react? You had told them they weren’t going
to have to change anything.
Park: Our goal was to add value to the process
and not put a lot of labor on it. It’s not perfect,
but it’s a lot better. The admins [kept] control
of what they want, and we can still see it in the
background. They don’t need to worry about
getting legal, insurance reviews, getting signatures, sending it back and forth with legal. The
payment is done for them, so they don’t need
to chase finance [to ask], “Is the hotel paid,
and is there a difference?” Honestly, nobody
has complained. We just got thank you notes.
Q Jami, you now have a certain amount of technology behind small meetings,
as well, but how are you driving policy and
getting meeting organizers to comply?
Stapelmann: We require registration of all
meetings and events per our policy, but in the
Small Meetings, Big Opportunities