Figures from a number of sources in recent years — including the annual Business Travel Show buyer survey — reveal that more and more travel buyers and managers are taking on the additional responsibility for meetings management. This transition, however, is not without its challenges and, personally, I have been faced with two such challenges:
- Developing the meetings and events process in a way that reduces risk and saves the company a lot of money, but without planners losing ownership
- Selling the concept of SMMP technology to the rest of the company
Within the international organisation that I work for, the problems included:
- Diverse and unidentified meetings and events spend within the organisation (a complex international "non-mandatory" environment)
- Many different localised practices — planners, suppliers, process/methodology
There was very little visibility of the tens of millions of dollars spent in the past, and certainly no centralised visibility whereby procurement could analyse data in an effort to drive efficiencies through leverage, and to better support duty of care.
Originally, each country, business unit, department and even planner had the ability to source, plan and manage any sort of meeting in any way they saw fit. Of course, there were many very professional results but also some with less polished outcomes! Importantly, there were no centralised resources, identified preferred suppliers, methodology, links to travel and the duty of care that it provides or standardised contract content.
These were the objectives I identified associated with moving to a category-management based approach:
- Centralise meeting requests and sourcing
- Increase visibility of standardised terms and preferred suppliers/agencies
- Leverage spend for increased savings
- Reduce corporate risk — contractual, financial, duty of care
- Implement policy or best practice booklet
The move to a category-management based approach provided a named procurement contact responsible for identifying stakeholders and bringing together as much detail as was available — this is ongoing and additional data is uncovered frequently. This gives planners the opportunity to engage with a specific procurement category manager which, in turn, allows for category knowledge to be gradually increased.
From a practical perspective, the incentive for planners to engage was offering to take responsibility for reviewing, negotiating contract terms (and costs if required) and arranging sign off of contracts. In addition, this approach also brings procurement into direct contact with many of the agencies, which in turn, potentially provides introductions to other planners and events. A lot of work but a great way of getting to know your stakeholders!
Although ongoing, a knowledge database can be built, filling in some of the previously hidden data. This allows an initial strategy to be identified, as a basis for discussion and further joint development with key stakeholders. This leads on to a more collaborative approach, and greater support at senior and functional levels, with procurement leading the effort to identify the most suitable solution, building a business case for senior stakeholder support, tendering the chosen service in conjunction with the stakeholder group and defining implementation.
One of the main challenges is overcoming the resistance of planners often not wishing to work with procurement. There are a number of reasons for this, which can include the belief that it would make the planning and contracting process more complex — this is untrue as procurement can take a lot of the pain points away. Planners may think that procurement would reduce the decision-making ability. Again, this is not true, as procurement doesn't want to manage meetings but make the decision-making process easier and reduce risks along the way.
Decisions concerning venue sourcing, menu selection and the quality of meeting space, for example, would always remain with planners. Helping them to achieve this in the most cost effective way is part of the goal of course. Convincing planners of this and selling the benefits of working with procurement/the category manager are best done over time whilst building relationships and adding value.
- Jef Robinson, global category manager (meetings and travel), Citrix Systems, is an advisory board member of the Business Travel Show