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SalesTrip's Manoj Ganapathy discusses:
An industrywide re-evaluation of corporate travel and expense management service models could well be among the most transformative long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The sudden outbreak of the virus a year ago laid bare weak spots and inefficiencies in traditional structures, while the subsequent shutdown of travel gave corporate buyers the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate foundational aspects of their T&E programs.
That openness to change could be a ripe opportunity for providers operating outside of the traditional travel management company-centric paradigm. One such model, which had been gaining ground even before the onset of Covid, situates some corporate travel operations within the framework of customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
That's the foundational principle of SalesTrip, a booking and expense management tool that operates within CRM behemoth Salesforce. Launched in 2019, the London-based company has scored clients on both sides of the Atlantic and in January closed a seed investment funding round. SalesTrip founder and CEO Manoj Ganapathy spoke with BTN payments and tech editor Adam Perrotta about the advantages of uniting T&E with CRM, and his vision for how that model will thrive in the post-pandemic landscape.
BTN: Despite the fact that corporate travel activity largely has been at a standstill for most of the past year, SalesTrip has added new customers over that time. From your perspective, to what extent was that driven by companies taking the opportunity to re‐evaluate their approach to travel and expense during that downtime, when there wasn't any actual travel to support?
Manoj Ganapathy: For the most part, we have seen demand from companies looking for ways to better understand their employees' discretionary spend. The significant downturn in travel has allowed them the time to do this, [and] accelerate the consolidation of the data silos still prevalent in corporate travel. And, as part of companywide cost-cutting initiatives, they're no longer willing to accept [paying for] travel as the cost of doing business, and instead are shifting to understanding what the tangible outcome of travel spend is. They want to know the real impact a trip will have … and exactly what future revenue can be expected as a result of the travel.
BTN: Building travel and expense capabilities within Salesforce offers a value proposition when it comes to tying expenditures to sales and calculating ROI for business travel. Are there any other advantages to that model?
Ganapathy: There are many, including the ability for companies to create a branded user experience [to drive] employee engagement, and the use of dynamic or situational workflows, such as releasing a travel budget when a sales deal reaches a certain stage. But the most important is the ability to predict future travel volumes and spend. As SalesTrip [measures] travel booking and expense management against specific business activities … customers are able to analyze how much travel was required at different stages of the sales lifecycle. It's then possible to predict the probability of success for future trips. Lastly, given Salesforce is a [software-as-a-service] platform, customers benefit from the predictability of a subscription pricing model. We don't charge transactional booking fees, so customers aren't faced with fluctuating costs depending on the volumes of travel. Right now, with business travel grounded, that isn't such a concern. But when it resumes, the last thing a finance leader needs are high and unpredictable costs.
BTN: What effect has the Covid‐19 pandemic had on the needs and wants of your customers when it comes to travel and expense? How are you positioning yourself to meet those new demands?
Ganapathy: The needs of our customers have simplified in that we're not seeing requests for high-touch travel services. As such, the demand is from very practical buyers who wish to know the why behind spend. … This is really the foundation of SalesTrip, and so we're well-positioned to meet these demands.
The laser focus on costs forced by the pandemic will shift the future of travel away from that costly [transactional] model and towards the more flexible subscription model.”
BTN: How central of a role can a CRM‐based service model play for a company's travel operations? Can this model replace a traditional TMC—even for larger companies—by providing the full array of necessary "TMC‐like" services?
Ganapathy: We're a licensed travel agency in several countries so [we can] serve as a TMC, meaning there is no need for customers to commission a separate service. We are not, by design, a high-touch TMC, however, so we understand that some customers might want to retain existing relationships with the more traditional TMCs. We're flexible to these needs, and a small percentage of our larger customers use another agency for their ticketing and offline service. But it's no secret that the fees these traditional TMCs charge are, for the most part, unjustifiable. Charging online booking fees for something which is by definition self‐service can rub buyers the wrong way. As a result, the laser focus on costs forced by the pandemic will shift the future of travel away from that costly [transactional] model and towards the more flexible subscription model.
BTN: On the other side of that, it seems like the CRM ecosystem/channel also could be an attractive avenue for traditional TMCs to reach clients, including smaller companies that don't yet have managed travel programs. Have you seen interest from traditional TMCs in this space, and if so, what competitive advantage do you have over those providers in this context?
Ganapathy: Our previous research revealed that 80 percent of travel spend is incurred by [companies'] commercial teams. That same 80 percent live in CRM systems, using them on a daily basis. The potential reach is clear to see, and combined with the scalability of a cloud platform, represents a significant channel. We knew this when founding the company, and the more progressive TMCs see the exact value we provide that can augment their own offerings. Combining the services of a TMC with direct travel booking and expense management via the CRM platform offers clear advantages to the customer, not only for ease of use but also in cost savings. It's not easy to connect the transaction-built world of the travel industry to a … highly customized modern CRM system, but there was a clear need for it, and is exactly why SalesTrip was founded.
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