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Defining Next-Gen SMM: The Evolution of Strategic Meetings Management

Experts envision a new approach to strategic meetings management focused on aligning events with corporate objectives and with customer and employee engagement.

Dan Berger of Social Tables put forth this this version of next-generation
SMM at his roundtable.

For many meeting managers, the suggestion of a next generation of strategic meetings management is met with: “But we’re still busy trying to get our arms around our total event portfolio.” For companies with more mature SMMPs, however, it’s something they are more than ready to explore.
The evolution of SMM was the focus of a brainstorming session at PCMA’s Convening Leaders event, held earlier this year in Boston, where three panelists—Rick Binford, vice president of strategic marketplace development at Lanyon; Carolyn Pund, CMP, CMM, senior manager, global strategic meetings management, at Cisco Systems; and Debi Scholar, GLP, GTP, CMM, CMP, SSGB, CTE, who was a consultant at the time and recently started a new position as global cross-divisional category leader/director of virtual meetings at Novartis—shared their visions.
Audience members also tried their hands at re-creating the SMM “wheel,” the standard graphic used to illustrate the concept, developed almost 10 years ago by the Global Business Travel Association.

The challenge with first-gen SMM, all agree, is that the practice evolved from meeting and travel organizations focused on procurement, and it is rooted in spend management. “People are calling it SMM but what they are really doing is consolidated meeting sourcing,” says Pund.
But meetings data can be used for overall experience design, for companies to better understand how to create a best-in-class event that impacts their bottom lines. “Next-generation SMM isn’t as much about event ROI as it is about capturing ROI as it relates to the total business impact of your event strategy,” says Binford. “For example, how are your events paying off in terms of your business objectives, such as influencing customer behavior, or educating employees, or changing their behavior?”


Data Is the New Oil

The most important first step, he says, is to ask why you’re doing the event. Is it to engage a certain stakeholder, drive sales, or stimulate learning? “Then you can begin to understand how events deliver against those goals; what kind of location, length of time, use of technology, teaching methods, and other factors are most effective, and to accumulate those results for many meetings over time. So the next time you do an event, you can evaluate whether it is the right strategy for that goal.”
Right now, says Binford, most companies make their meeting decisions based on instinct and past experience. “Think how powerful it would be for a vice president of marketing launching a new product, let’s say, to have validation that a certain kind of launch event would produce the best results, down to how much he or she would need to spend to reach a defined sales threshold.”
A logical first place to tie in meeting data is with customer relationship management data. “For so many organizations,” Binford says, “events are an important tool for engaging special customers or changing the way employees interact with or deepen their relationship with those customers. So is CRM a logical place to look? I think so. Sales is an important voice in most companies, and sales and marketing decisions are driven by what they learn and glean from the CRM system.”

A Holistic View

At Cisco Systems, integration of the data that Binford speaks about has enabled the global events team to take a holistic view of the customer journey. When Pund was hired at Cisco, the meeting department was part of travel and procurement, and she was charged with identifying meeting spend across the company. What she found was that a high percentage of event spend was from marketing and external  events.
As she and the travel manager, who was also new to the company, collaborated with the event marketing team, it was clear there were overlaps of two groups providing similar services. After careful analysis of where the SMM team would be most effective, it made sense to move the entire organization under marketing. Not only does marketing have event volume, they have the credibility of major customer events and visibility with senior management.
“We are now able to track the entire customer journey from their initial contact with the company all the way to a qualified sales lead. If you have multiple organizations doing your events, you don’t have that data in a consolidated view.”
The next generation of SMM, says Pund, is much like the drawing her roundtable came up with during the PCMA session. “It goes beyond cost savings and strategic sourcing to include the purpose and effectiveness of your events, and to show what the customer touch is as a result of those events, event over event, year over year, so you have ROI from a holistic view.”

Meeting Planner as Content Consultant

Another element of next-generation SMM is aligning meeting content with business goals. Debi Scholar, now with Novartis, says that planners need to become part of content discussions. “They can play a valuable role as consultants to the meeting owners. For example, certain session formats are ideal for certain meeting goals. Should the content be delivered via a presentation, case study, expert panel, roundtable discussion, role play, or demonstration? Would the use of gamification enhance the experience?”
Even the meeting room shape affects learning. “If the content requires a great deal of collaboration among the attendees, then a long, rectangular room may not be the ideal location.”
Next-gen strategic meeting managers will also be familiar with adult learning principles. “They will guide meeting requesters by setting up formal and informal collaboration opportunities that include activities for different learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. They will help the meeting requester choose the right delivery medium, such as face-to-face, virtual, or hybrid.” They could also advise meeting owners on the value of extending the learning beyond the actual event by providing content both before and after.
The key, Scholar says, “is to ask the right questions to learn the business, understand the requester’s requirements, and help them forecast their meetings well in advance.  Once planners demonstrate experience and credibility in their consulting skills, they will become trusted advisers.”

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