As the economic downturn reaches worldwide proportions, multinational companies increasingly are exploring opportunities to cross borders with their strategic meetings management programs in search of process improvements that drive value, mitigate risk and increase savings. While SMMP strategists can capitalize on lessons learned from travel management and procurement globalization, they also need to recall the oft-used phrase "think globally, act locally." The nuances of meetings make this localized approach especially important as companies consider how best to source, deploy technology, consolidate data and manage resources to support SMMP initiatives.
"We are implementing across 16 countries in Europe in 2009, and look toward 2010 for Asia and possibly Latin America in the future," said Heide Rowan, DuPont global brand director. "One of our lessons learned, and cannot be underestimated, is the need to create broad, multifunctional local market teams, which include business unit representation."
Cvent consultant Lisa Palmeri agreed: "Close collaboration with key national or regional stakeholders is not only vital to success, but can be viewed as a market champion of the global deployment as a whole."
Drivers Of Global Expansion
Travel and entertainment expenses are often identified as the second- or third-largest controllable expenses within organizations. Meetings spend, in contrast, is often the least visible spend category. Expenses can be found essentially in any general ledger line item and can be bundled within various suppliers with estimates on spend ranging from 35 percent of T&E or up to 3 percent of a company's revenue.
It is here that SMMP managers can look to their travel and procurement partners to identify areas of global opportunities and adopt best practices. The lessons learned from corporate travel globalization include implementing the process components that created the most efficiency and yielded savings and service enhancements, similar to the evolution of global corporate card data capture, TMC consolidated reporting and online booking strategies. In addition, knowing attendee whereabouts in times of crises is critical for safety and security, and can be leveraged by combining group and transient air travel reservations and fulfillment.
"Prior to our requiring registration of meetings, there were cases where different business units would be staying at the same hotel unknown to one another. We lost the opportunity to negotiate collectively," said Rowan.
The continued improvement of sophisticated meeting technology solutions provides the platform to deliver on these familiar strategies and follow the corporate travel trends developed a decade ago. For example, a single tool can be used to capture spend and attendee data from multiple logistical suppliers for internal and external meetings. This can support the ability to reclaim often overlooked international VAT (value-added taxes) paid on meetings and services. In addition, attendee management processes can be streamlined through the creation of automated templates created by meeting type, and can be used across multiple operating units and geographic areas to support a consistent look and brand feel.
Tools can meet diverse hierarchy structures from a division/operating unit, region or country geographical basis with defined approval level flows. Tools also address language and currency differences, market by market. In addition, global SMMP interest and technology advancements have allowed international hotels to become more familiar and accepting of electronic RFPs.
"Procurement is realizing the risk that can be mitigated by using online RFP tools, along with request and approval tools that handle standardized contracts, terms and conditions," noted Kevin Iwamoto, StarCite Inc. vice president of enterprise strategy.
The following tips will help you create a successful strategy: Gain senior leadership support and local agreement/buy-in; gather data; engage stakeholders through cross-functional, cross-cultural teams; identify processes; understand local market and business owner needs; understand supplier bases and drivers, geographic regulatory requirements, industry compliance factors and local market technology adoption levels; consider a phased approach to implementation; and communicate, communicate, communicate!
The components of the NBTA SMMP best-in-class model apply and can be adapted to fit global or regional differences. With a thoughtful and balanced approach to service and savings where market nuances are respected, local stakeholders are engaged early and often. Along with executive buy-in, this can deliver optimal value in the face of the complexities of operating in a worldwide economy.
Connie Bocchieri is an SMM strategist and alumni member of the NBTA Groups and Meetings Committee.