“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”
I love that quote from Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO. In just a few words, he unapologetically sums up the influence hierarchy in the corporate sphere. If you want sway—and you’re not the boss—data is the key.
Take strategic meetings management programs for example. Over the years, meeting professionals who want to convince leadership to invest in an SMMP have found that building a basic meeting registry to get data on the number of meetings held throughout their organizations is typically the first step. Unearthing those numbers is almost always a mind blower—and from there, making the leap that the spend needs to be managed is pretty straightforward. Then, once an SMMP is established on home turf, the data gets more robust. Reporting on cost savings, risk mitigation, and process efficiencies becomes, for larger companies, the key to expanding a program globally.
The difference in today’s world, however, is that meeting data is coming in droves. It’s not just about how many events your company plans or how much is being spent. Meeting apps and tracking tools can report engagement metrics by event, by attendee type, by department, or even by individual; event marketing tools give you information on open rates, email forwarding, and response statistics that can be sliced and diced in almost unlimited ways. Meeting technology company Cvent has more than a 100 standard, “one-click” event reports, and “unlimited” custom reports. Even some ground transportation companies can put more data at your fingertips than you ever thought possible: Muv Inc.’s planner dashboard displays how many rides are scheduled (broken down by the number completed, active, no-show, and canceled), real-time spend totals, the status of all travelers (down to the flight number and arrival status), driver’s name and number, purchase order number, and more.
All of this is a positive—to a point. The problem isn’t the flood of meeting data—it’s sorting through it all. And those who are making the most of the deluge are starting with the basics and defining the questions they want answered. (See our cover story.) Without a plan of action, the data is just an encumbrance—overwhelming and ultimately useless. As another former technology executive, Carly Fiorina, once wisely commented, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”
Rather than taking on a sea of meeting data, smart planners need to consider what specific information they can act on to improve their marketing, their retention, their engagement—or whatever challenge they face, then stay focused by analyzing just the data that has the best chance of providing answers to their questions. The rest is just noise.