Des Mclaughlin offers a wake-up call for agents, as he describes the lack of innovation from them ‘worrying’
There was a period between 2005-2010 when the larger venue sourcing agents radically changed their offering to meet the demands of their new masters – procurement.
For all that’s been written about procurement, both good and bad, they really shook the meetings industry up. No longer was the strength of the relationship with a booker enough to guarantee business. Procurement demanded that the agent demonstrated real value and earned their commission.
Agents had to reinvent themselves and think how best they could service their clients in this new world.
Agents now had to be able to draw up and deliver on implementation plans, maximise compliance through strong account management, negotiate preferred meetings programmes, review contract terms, meet strict deadlines and provide online portals and management information.
Quarterly meetings needed to be structured, savings had to be meaningful and payment moved from commission to management fees in high spend accounts.
No longer was an agent’s selling point based around their services being free of charge and saving clients time and money. The industry had finally grown up and was at last showing its worth. There was even a recognised name for this new service – Strategic Meetings Management. And, while America takes most of the credit for this, it was in fact largely driven out of the UK by agencies such as my old one, HBI (currently Grass Roots).Eight years on, the SMM model and the agents’ offering remains largely the same.
New technology has come in to the market such as Cvent but, arguably, this has done little to improve the overall process, which seems to have stagnated. How does one agent really differentiate itself from another in today’s market? In my experience they find it hard.
This lack of invention from agents is particularly worrying because after many years of attempting and failing to be taken seriously in the meetings market, the TMCs (travel management companies) are finally getting their act together. It’s taken them a long time to realise they don’t have the internal knowhow to provide a proper meetings service and are now buying companies with the necessary skills instead.
If a client can’t differentiate between a TMC and a meetings agent’s services, why wouldn’t they use a TMC for all their travel and meetings needs? Worryingly for agents, the argument to use a TMC is becoming an increasingly compelling one for businesses.
Agents need to wake up and look at how they can once again offer services that will make them stand out from the crowd. What can they do that others and particularly TMCs can’t? These services could be in any number of areas, such as event support, app development, internal meetings space management or security – just a few examples.
While the market is becoming increasingly competitive, it’s not necessarily all gloom and doom. Agents that can articulate their USPs to clients and are constantly improving their offer stand every chance of survival. I do fear though for any who believe their current offering will satisfy tomorrow’s clients.