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Stop Wasting Your Valuable Small-Meeting Spend Data

Why this $100 billion spend category still falls into the wasteland of general travel and entertainment, and how to fix it.

Marketing, sales, and team culture are still driven by human contact, perhaps now more than ever—the main difference is that meetings are getting smaller as the need to connect face-to-face to offset digital fatigue and isolated working conditions grows.

Companies across the world are trading in big glitzy conferences for the intimacy and engagement of smaller events, often using them as the best way to handle “mid-funnel” problems. In the marketing or sales department, a mid-funnel problem is when companies are able to attract interest from lots of customers at the top of the funnel, but face difficulties with conversion. Intimate smaller events have proven to be an impactful tactic for earning trust and sealing the deal. Similarly, small offsite events are used for recruiting top talent, training employees, shaping company culture, and achieving consensus among key stakeholders.

We now have the ability to measure the effectiveness and return on investment of our meetings and events by measuring and tracking “micro-reactions” and participant behavior before, during, and after events. This measurement can help us track conversion and impact, and also allows us to make real-time changes based on the feedback.

Despite all the benefits and opportunities around smaller meetings and events, there remain significant hurdles to gathering and putting our small-meeting data to work.

1. Fragmentation: Where Is the Spend Happening?
“Can we get this client out for dinner to get them more comfortable?”
“Let’s do an influencer event and test this out.”
“Need an urgent board meeting to resolve this.”
“Going to Chicago, need to camp out and have all my meetings somewhere.”
“Please organize eight small launch events in the Midwest for Q3.”

Sound familiar? Often, small events are not planned through a centralized department. People are grabbing their teams and going. Finding the right venue and booking these events is a fragmented process across the company, organized by different people, and across multiple departments and roles. Ultimately, these smaller meetings are typically paid for on the corporate card and misclassified as general travel and entertainment, and more than 80 percent aren’t routed through a centralized meeting department or travel management company. When asked why they failed to centralize the request, the typical responses include:

  • “My spend for these smaller events is under our required protocol.”
  • “It takes too long to explain what I need to the meeting department or TMC and then I have to wait for responses, and it’s often more money than I want to spend.”
  • “It’s better for me when it’s on my card. (It’s within my spend limit and I get points).”

One of the key reasons why fragmentation exists in small meetings and events is because of the lack of a consolidated booking channel. Often the events are sourced in one way and booked in another. 

2. Adoption Issues
Most company executives, particularly CFOs, are aware of the huge black hole that small group spend presents. Solutions include company-wide protocol mandates (i.e., “We will not reimburse you for the meeting if you don’t follow the procedure.”); more aggressive meeting and event departments (i.e., “Please run any group events by me so I can make sure we get the lowest rate.”); and existing expense or event software like Concur or Cvent.

There are a couple reasons why these strategies can have a tough time with adoption. It can be inefficient to work top-down protocols through the meeting department. Departments often use the same eRFP processes they use for large events, which sometimes yield long wait times and poor venue response. More importantly, many employees want to own venue selection—they want to pick a place that fits the occasion, and it is often not a hotel. Further, many employees who have booked events in the past have their own venue relationships and want to use them to get the booking accomplished faster. Also, many of today’s event-sourcing platforms are built for the corporate meetings department, but not for adoption across the company.

One of the biggest risks with a lack of adoption is compliance. All too often, venues are competing on similar prices and resort to giving extra incentives for employees booking on their own. Since the transactions are booked offline, through email and telephone, companies are missing the visibility they need to make sure that the company is accruing the true benefit.

3. Data Is Missing!
The third, and perhaps biggest, problem facing corporations in terms of their small-meeting spend is the lack of aggregated data. Large organizations rely on consolidated data to leverage their buying power to negotiate better pricing with suppliers. The more data a company has, the better it can negotiate. Today, companies may be able to use Concur or other tools to aggregate gross spend, but often miss out on the more granular data. When it comes to small events, differentiating line-item spend on guest rooms vs. food and beverage vs. event services across all departments, use cases, and regions can drive tens of millions of dollars of savings for large companies.

In addition to the cost savings, without aggregation, the ever-important ROI data is also missing. When the venue selection and booking processes are fragmented and offline, the baseline data for calculating ROI goes astray. The marketing, sales, HR, and corporate teams that most often organize small meetings and events must be held accountable to budget, conversion goals, and tracking to make sure that the events were effective, and make changes to the next round. The key to this rapid iterative approach is solving the bottleneck on venue sourcing and booking and consolidating this spend data with the proper ROI benchmarks and team collaboration. 

Can Technology Save the Day?
The answer is no—technology, in a vacuum, cannot save the day. Corporate meeting and event departments need to be deeply involved in establishing mandates and policies, and deciding on a technology platform. However, if the platform empowers employees to book meetings and events in a compliant format that provides the data and oversight that companies need to drive cost savings and ROI, then that is a win for all.

When evaluating a platform ask yourself: Does it provide access to all the venues your company uses for meetings and events, including non-hotel venues? Is it easy to use? Is it compliant with established company rules? Can it handle the complexity of workflows around booking, invoices, and any other requirements?

There are a number of new platforms addressing the small-meetings market. With some thoughtful focus around picking the right platform, new ROI is just a couple of taps away. 

Ron Shah is the founder of Bizly and former venture capitalist.

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