Do your meetings and events really make good business sense?

With the right strategy and technology in place, bringing customers and staff together can drive savings and efficiencies across a business

With increasing pressure on corporate spending, it has never been more important to exceed expectations when you hold a business event. And that’s not just in terms of delivering a fantastic programme and great delegate experience, but also from a cost and business-results perspective.

Beyond wowing delegates, to justify its very existence, the annual Adobe Summit, where more than 5,000 marketing and technology leaders explore the latest tools and trends in digital marketing, also needs to prove its value to the business in driving a tangible return on investment. By introducing a technology-led strategic meetings management programme, Adobe has been able to customise content, break down logistical barriers, and use detailed reporting metrics to link back to revenue goals and sales opportunities.

“By tracking attendee participation, we can learn what products they’re interested in and provide that information directly to the sales team,” says Mike Stiles, Adobe’s senior corporate events manager.

So it’s no wonder that strategic meetings management has become an increasingly hot topic among corporate event organisers, and not just for external meetings and conferences, but for internal gatherings too.

“It’s the consolidation and automation of the myriad of systems and processes that are required to execute corporate meetings and events, and the associated travel requirements successfully,” says Anthony Miller, chief marketing officer at Lanyon, Adobe’s strategic meetings management provider.

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“The current approach tends to be manual, inefficient and extraordinarily expensive. The right strategy partnered with the latest technology can automate those processes, improve the value of in-person meetings and provide great outcomes. The companies we have worked with have saved up to 25 per cent on their meetings spend and cut time spent on manual tasks by up to 90 per cent.”

Meanwhile, recent independent research into Lanyon’s customers by Hobson & Company puts the average return on a three-year investment into a strategic meetings management programme to be 251 per cent. And that’s got to be enough to get even the most sceptical businesses interested.

Buy-in by senior management and stakeholders is the single most important factor for a strategic meetings management programme to succeed

From a cost-saving and efficiency perspective, strategic meetings management is very much about examining and analysing historical data, according to Des McLaughlin, divisional director at Grass Roots Meetings and Events.

“It’s about examining how much you spend, where and why,” he says. “Can you leverage some of those costs more effectively, such as by moving certain events? In fact, you might discover an event needs moving not because of cost, but due to delegate travel time and so on. Once the information starts to flow, the possibilities are endless, and the relationship between client and strategic meetings management partner can grow exponentially.”

This process directly affects the delegate experience by streamlining event organisation. Meanwhile, introducing state-of-the-art software to improve the event itself, from registration solutions to attendee engagement software, such as interaction tools and mobile apps, adds further value beyond cost savings.

Although strategic meetings management can, in theory, be applied to any organisation and any size of conference programme, Mr McLaughlin says it’s most effective with businesses spending on events in excess of £2 million a year. However, there are two major barriers to adoption – awareness of spending and corporate culture.

“Most companies do not fully realise the level of investment they are making in meetings, events and travel,” says Lanyon’s Mr Miller, while Mr McLaughlin insists: “Buy-in is the single most important factor for a strategic meetings management programme to succeed. If you don’t have the right level of buy-in from the top, coupled with the right stakeholder support, your programme will struggle to get off the ground.”

Global organisations tend to have disparate teams organising various meetings. Strategic meetings management brings all this under one roof and people can find it hard to let go unless a mandate is issued demanding compliance. Consequently, when considering implementing a programme, Amanda Hanlin, director of global sales for HRG Meetings, Groups and Events, recommends spending a large percentage of time and thought on messaging regarding change – what is going to happen, how is it benefiting the organisation and what part employees need to play.

“Be mindful of culture and market sensitivities – some countries will need a slightly different approach,” she says. “Appointing the right supplier, aligned with the right technology, will ensure the programme receives momentum and development. Being clear on services, in and out of scope, is also important.

“Adding consistency across areas such as payment, process, service levels and risk management will make the programme and return on investment easier to measure. Keep it simple in order to encourage use and adoption.”

Another fear factor is the level of investment required to launch a strategic meetings management programme. This can vary depending on number, size, location and complexity of events held, but as Lanyon’s research shows, return on investment should more than compensate for ongoing cost.

Better, more efficient meetings increase engagement with customers and employees, driving sales and boosting performance

“The level of investment can be marginal by starting off with a small meetings technology solution that can be scaled into a larger more comprehensive strategic meetings management programme,” Mr Miller advises. “The key here is scalability. Your technology partner should be ready to scale up when you are, which includes the option and ability to globalise.”

Of course, crucial to justifying investment is measuring its return, which historically has proved a challenge for event organisers. However, strategic meetings management technology is good at justifying its existence.

“It’s all about setting clear objectives at the outset,” says Mr Miller. “Return on investment can be measured by using key data elements extrapolated from the business intelligence gathered by the technologies used to operate the strategic meetings management programme. The key is to use the right data elements which map to the strategic milestones and key performance indicators that are identified in advance of the programme launch.

Better, more efficient meetings increase engagement with customers and employees, driving sales and boosting performance. Meanwhile, the cost savings through smarter event organisation and travel planning can grow revenues and profitability. What’s more, increased efficiencies improve employee time management, driving up productivity. This means getting a firm, strategic grip on meetings and events management makes good business sense.

Or as Mr Miller puts it: “What was once a nice-to-have, has now become a must-have for every organisation.”