“Small” meeting or “simple” meetings? This is not just a semantics question, but an important determiner of how a meeting should be managed.
When most people think of small meetings, I believe they should really be thinking about simple meetings. Small meetings should often be managed using the usual tools of a meetings management program, but simple meetings lend themselves to more automated processes.
So, what is the difference between small and simple meetings? The categories are not mutually exclusive, since small meetings can be both simple and complex (think team meeting versus executive board meeting). Whether your meeting has 20 or 1,000 participants, it’s simple if
• Attendees are internal, and don’t involve senior executives or customers.
• Meals are served as buffets, not plated.
• There are no (or just a few) breakouts.
• The event is held at a non-luxury venue with no risky event activities, meaning that your brand exposure is minimal.
• Regulatory compliance is not an issue, including for the General Data Protection Regulation and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
• The company’s financial risk is low, with a low potential for cancellation and attrition penalties
Reasons to Manage Simple Meetings
We used to say that meetings management is the final frontier of travel management. Now we say simple meetings are the final frontier—they’re not always visible, but often impactful. Depending on the organization, simple meetings can represent 50 percent to 80 percent of a company’s meeting volume, and 30 percent to 50 percent of its meeting spend. However, most organizations have very little visibility into this spend because it is not typically budgeted for, and is booked through ad-hoc channels and directly with venues. Without visibility into who is spending how much and with whom, organizations leave themselves exposed to duty-of-care concerns, regulatory compliance violations, contracting and financial risk, missed supplier-consolidation opportunities, missed savings opportunities, and overly expensive and inefficient operational processes.
This last point—inefficiencies—is one of the main reasons simple meeting technology solutions have emerged over the past several years. Technology developers identified an inefficient venue-sourcing process, requiring human intervention at several points in the process, and designed systems to automate much of the workflow. (See related article.) Once the tools removed sourcing specialists, costs go down and processes speed up. This is very appealing for many meetings management programs, which had historically used the same labor-intensive, RFP-based process to source and then contract for an event, regardless of its complexity.
What’s Available Now
Simple meeting solutions vary in their primary purpose, the audience they’re aimed at, and the methods they use to deliver results. After interviews with six of the top simple-meeting solutions and a Request for Information (RFI) conducted by Acquis Consulting Group that was answered by seven top suppliers, I identified four primary types of simple-meeting products for the corporate market:
Purpose: Integration of travel and meetings management
Geared towards: Corporations
Overview: Automates the inefficient end-to-end booking workflow for simple meetings, and integrates with travel- and expense-management systems
Purpose: Global or multi-regional simple meetings sourcing solutions integrated into an end-to-end meetings management technology platform
Geared towards: Global organizations
Overview: Integrates best-in-breed simple meeting solutions to provide a single interface for sourcing simple meetings globally
Rental Space Models
Purpose: Short- to medium-term workspace rental
Geared towards: Organizations seeking temporary workspace for teams to meet
Overview: Emerging market provides short- to medium-term rental space, fully equipped with the tools needed for productive meetings
Curated and Unique Venue Models
Purpose: Booking unique and experiential venues
Geared towards: Organizations with younger and team-based workforces
Overview: Curates experiential and non-traditional venues
These solutions have different purposes now, but they are evolving quickly. I expect their functionality and business models to homogenize over time as suppliers expand their feature sets to attract a larger client base.
Our RFI asked suppliers in the simple meetings space questions about their solutions, including a product overview, a description of modules, company funding, and more. That information is available in our RFI matrix, available for download.
The Viability Question
As with any emerging technology, the long-term viability of suppliers should be given serious consideration when choosing a new system. This is especially important for business models that depend on hotel commissions as their primary funding mechanism, given that commissions are now on a downward trajectory.
Company funding is another issue. Young suppliers that are dependent on backers requiring a quick and consistent return on their investments face a higher risk of failure than companies that have self-financed their startup. And finally, any solution that encounters slow adoption is a red flag. It may mean the tool requires considerable client effort or resources during implementation, or that the solution doesn’t integrate well with existing meeting technologies, or simply that it’s not resonating with the marketplace.
Simple meeting solutions are one of many disruptive meetings technologies emerging in the past few years. The superpower of these solutions is their ability to free up professional sourcing staff, thereby removing some costs from a simple transaction. The question in my mind is how these systems will integrate with existing meetings management ecosystems, a topic I will address in my next article.