www.businesstravelnews.com March 13, 2017 | Business Travel News | 15
we know we’re going to realize right from
the start and we know the cost savings will
come. We just haven’t put a real number
against that yet.
Payne: Our first two to three years, we saw
an annual savings of between $50,000 to
$100,000 dollars off our program. That
was small meetings alone. We were able to
get over 90 percent of the contracts to go
through my team on the first two years. Now
we’re seeing 100 percent pickup on all meetings and events.
QIs pursing SMM harder or easier for an SME?
Wakida: From a resource perspective, it’s tougher for the smaller companies that want to do
this. However, with the cost-neutral mode [in
which commissions from meetings venues are
how Informatica pays American Express Meetings & Events for sourcing those venues], there’s
no out of pocket. It’s much easier to get senior
management buy-in and support going forward
with the program, rather than saying we need X
amount in the budget to launch an SMMP.
Benjamin: I agree. It’s the resources that have
been the biggest issue: finding the time to devote to this and doing the research internally.
Getting the buy-in is not an issue.
Payne: It’s always just the resources. Buy-in is
always easy. Of course, they want to streamline and see the efficiency and the consisten-cies with the contract. Launching the program
is the hardest. Once it gets up and running, it
goes a lot smoother than the launch.
Q What were your first steps in pursuing an SMMP?
Wakida: The initiative was to hire Marjan to
look into this and start collecting data, sourcing meetings, as well as review contracts and
approve POs. It was both [grass roots and
top-down support]. It started with procurement, then grassroots with the individual
stakeholders and then came up to get senior
Benjamin: I took a step back and looked at the
process of planning a meeting to identify the
time or cost savings of having a formal program, defining what we consider a meeting to
be, the number of attendees, a dollar threshold and is there a hotel contract. We’re leaning
towards [having] a list of [items] that if you
answer yes to any of them, then it’s considered
a meeting that will likely come through us. I
saw it as an opportunity because it wasn’t even
on anyone’s radar. As we started talking about
this, the support was automatically there and is
listed as one of our goals for the year.
Payne: The primary starting point was my goal:
What was I trying to accomplish with the SMM
program? Then I pulled together a task force
of different participants who usually book the
most meetings to help develop all of our meeting request forms. We really made sure what
we wanted was successful from the get-go. We
also developed our own intranet site as a one-stop shop for all meetings to pull the forms and
easily submit it to a group e-mail address where
we could all tackle the requests.
Q What is the service configuration for your program?
Wakida: It’s a hybrid model. We use a third-party [company] and their technology for
sourcing, negotiation services, registration, approval flow and reporting. For the noncommis-sionable venues, sponsorships and trade show
registrations, we work on those in-house. The
hybrid/cost-neutral model facilitates scalabil-ity. At some point, bandwidth becomes an issue. We needed a scalable solution, and that’s
provided by having a third-party involved.
Benjamin: Ours will likely be a hybrid. We have
one meeting a year that is larger and is managed
by the division that puts it on by working with a
third party. It works very well, and I would never consider disrupting that. A lot of [meetings]
we will manage in-house, but there will certainly
be others that will take on a third party.
Payne: My team [of four] manages 100 percent
in-house—all site selections, sourcing, contract
negotiations and the planning—because we
fight more than anybody else for our best in-
terests and for what we want in our contracts.
Q What kind of data are you looking to col- lect, and what do you want to do with it?
Wakida: We’re looking to collect [the cities where meetings are being held], venues,
types of meetings and events, sponsorships
and trade show registrations for sourcing and
negotiation to leverage our volumes and also
to get a good idea of [the cities] where we’re
going. We also want the [names of] senior executives attending any of these events for risk
Benjamin: We also want to track the venue that
was used, the size of the meeting and whether
it was a good fit for us, so we can put some
preferred [suppliers] out there so when someone starts to plan a meeting, there’s going to
be a resource of properties that we have used
and have had a successful event with a good
attendee experience and is within budget.
Payne: We’re currently analyzing the data as it
comes in every year and trying to decide what
really needs to be a meeting and what can just
be a Web conversation.
Q What’s your next SMM step?
Wakida: Rolling the program out on a global
basis, region by region, in the later part of
the year. We also will continue to integrate
it with the individual travel and corporate
card programs, as well as the dining and catering programs.
Benjamin: Developing and getting the guidelines approved that we would like to see
around the program—things like who has the
authority to initiate our contact, what would
our meeting services group provide versus
what we expect businesses to provide—and
defining what the meeting is. I need everything ready for executive approval by the end
Payne: We’re fine-tuning as we get feedback
from our field executives.
SME Travel Managers Talk Shop
“We asked the small group of our sales team if they’d be
interested in [a strategic meetings management] service,
and the floodgates opened.”
—DART’S CHERYL BENJAMIN
SETTING STRATEGIC MEETINGS MANAGEMENT
MEETINGS MANAGEMENT MATURITY
SERVICE CONFIGURATIONS THAT WORK