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Top Tips for a Top-Notch Strategic Meetings Management program



July, 2022

One of the biggest lessons learned from the pandemic, for many, came at a cost. If you had a Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) program in place pre-pandemic, you benefitted immensely from the strategies and plans that protected you from costly penalties from cancelled meetings and the ability to quickly pivot to virtual strategies with your existing dedicated staff. If you did not have a SMM program in place, you may have quickly learned the cost of not having a strategy and protections to mitigate the short- and long-term risk. If you are in the latter group, you may be ready to implement a centralized and strategic program for future protection and overall maximum value. But do you know what the important steps are to not only start your SMM program but get internal buy in to launch?

Let’s start with the basic understanding of what SMM is, apart from an acronym that many misinterpret. SMM is a management model that began in the mid-90s combining strategy, operations, and business intelligence to enable clients to centralize their meetings and events program, resulting in a consistent attendee experience, value creation, the achievement of measurable business objectives and delivery of consistent savings.  In fact, quantitative savings can range between 10 and 25% of your overall spend.

Savings are not the only reward. A well planned SMM program increases spend transparency, boosts negotiating power, helps you to mitigate risks and improve regulatory compliance. There are a number of factors that influence the development of an SMM program. Internal factors, such as company goals and culture, play a crucial role in the structure of any SMM program, as do external factors, such as industry trends and geography of the company’s stakeholders and meetings.

What has resulted is a continuum of programs that range from fully mature global models to hybrid programs that encompass a few key components. Many companies perceive the lack of a unique model or standard as making the SMM model complex. In fact, the opposite is true. There are many potential configurations that can yield successful results, underscoring the flexibility of SMM methodology overall. It's not an all or nothing strategy. Many of today’s most effective programs started small and grew, building on their successes.

If you have not started your SMM journey, here are some tips that will allow you to create a top-notch program and benefit from its many rewards:

  1. Focus on the strategy first and tactics second. A sound and customized strategy is critical to achieving sustained success with SMM.  The tactics of how to source, what services to outsource versus insource, who to partner with, how to process payments, technology choices, and policy issuance all need to stem from the central strategy.
  2. Don't wait to have perfect data or complete alignment. Start small, show value and grow from there. Many companies choose to start with big impact areas such as centralized venue sourcing.
  3. Stakeholders, stakeholders, stakeholders. Identify them early, get their buy-in and consider creating an internal committee with representatives from all impacted areas and regional road shows.
  4. Communicate your plan early to internal parties such as business owners and meeting planners, as well as external parties like hotel partners and technology providers. These are the people who will support your program. They must fully understand your roadmap and goals.
  5. Consider outsourcing some or all of the components of your program to accelerate development and leverage external expertise. Professional meeting management companies can be a great consulting resource to get your program started.
  6. Don’t forget the small and simple meetings. They represent 70 to 80% of all meeting expenditure, making them an important element of any program. Have a plan for meetings that fall below your approval thresholds.
    And if you have already started a program and are looking to expand it regionally or globally:
    - Customize goals by region.  The impact of local cultural nuances can be profound on staffing, commercial models, and stakeholder expectations.
    - Don't be intimidated by the concept of going global; programs don’t have to be fully mature in all regions to deliver value.
    - Consider pilot programs versus a full rollout to gain "mini-successes" and manage stakeholder expectations.  

Get in touch with us if you want to learn more about SMM and to see how CWT M&E has answered the question “What’s next in SMM” contact us.  

Blog author: Kari Wendel, VP Global Customer Management and Operations, CWT Meetings and Events



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