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Strategic Meetings Management: where's the ROI?

The Grass Roots Meetings Industry Report shines light on the value of Strategic Meetings Management (SMM)

Since the mid 2000’s Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) and Delegate Management have both grown in popularity throughout the meetings and events sector. Many SMM programmes have now reached maturity, while technological innovation continues to drive Delegate Management adoption.

SMM is largely being used to measure costs, while Delegate Management technology provides the means through which to measure the delegate experience. But how can success in either discipline be quantified? 

Delegate Management helps to increase registrations, minimise non-attendance and enhance the delegate experience by monitoring delegates’ movements, sessions attended, exhibitor and sponsor interaction and capturing delegates’ reactions at every stage. While SMM drives ROI through cost savings, risk mitigation and policy compliance; Delegate Management provides organisers with insightful data that enables them to evaluate the event and the delegate experience, translating the outcome into Return on Investment. 

Growing pains 

A 2016 survey found that 96% of meetings professionals deemed their SMM implementations a success, with over half reporting savings of 10% from their SMM programmes and 17% estimating savings at more than 15%. Over 70% of survey respondents already in an SMM programme said they planned to expand it. 

As the infographic shows (Fig 1, page 60), 63% of Grass Roots’ clients have either deployed an SMM programme or plan to do so by the end of 2018. A further 15% would like to do so but cannot, mainly because the amount of meetings spend is insufficient for SMM to be a priority, or because the organisation does not see any need to do so. 

The Grass Roots survey also shows that 67% of US corporates have deployed SMM, compared to 42% of their European counterparts, with 17% of the former and 13% of the latter planning to deploy in 2017. 19% of European and 17% of US corporates want to deploy, but cannot, due in part to procurement lacking the necessary tools. 

According to the Procurecon Travel Benchmarking Report 2017, just 17% of procurement teams can fully track ROI for travel and meetings, thereby limiting the scope to either an SMM or consolidated meetings and travel programme. Without visibility of ROI, the strategic benefits of SMM are lost and cost remains the sole metric for success. 

The US and Canada are the top regions for SMM programme deployments so far, followed by the UK and EMEA.

While 68.2% of corporations now use SMM technology, in Asia and Latin America the use
of technology platforms for sourcing, registration, rooming lists and other manual tasks for meetings and events is seen as detrimental to the client relationships. 

Many SMM programmes focus on how to maximise cost savings while retaining or improving efficiency, compliance and quality. Provided the correct strategies and technologies are in place, bringing customers and staff together can drive savings and efficiencies across an entire business, no matter what size. But how is this manifested in real world terms, and are the effects apparent immediately? 

Implementation of SMM can take as little as 12 months in a small or medium-sized enterprise but will take much longer for a global programme due to legal and cultural differences. 

Defining success 

David Chalmers, senior director of marketing for Europe at Cvent, believes that success starts with spend visibility. He says: “Regulated industries need transparency to drive compliance. Our research suggests savings of 25–30% can be achieved by SMM, whilst productivity improves by

Chalmers nominates process definition and analysis as the critical success factors. “That means spending the time to work out how everyone does it and coming up with the rules that strike the right balance between standardisation and localisation. Some things have to be different, hence the need for that balance to achieve compliance,” he adds. 

Grass Roots’ Andy Cartwright concurs that high levels of compliance are the ultimate proof of SMM success. “It’s a philosophical approach,” he says. “Having the best rate, or a preferred network of suppliers, are just hygiene factors. Compliance can rise from 20–80% over the course of a programme, although achieving 100% is virtually impossible. It’s all about looking at who is booking (and who isn’t) via the mandated channel and analysing the booking community and seeing where we can achieve greater compliance by tailoring engagement programmes to non-engaged communities.” 

Delegate management 

Tracking event ROI is a perennial challenge for organisers. The problem is that event value is often confused with event revenue. While registrations-generated revenues can add value, so too can sales leads, delegate engagement and satisfaction. Which is where delegate management tools come in. 

Delegate management covers a range of tasks from managing invitations, processing online registrations and payments to providing event and delegate support. So what does ‘good’ delegate management look like? 

Cartwright says: “At event level the objective is to give delegates a good experience and to ensure that the technology represents the client’s brand positively. At the macro level, where a client has multiple events, success is about giving clients insights into their audience; who turns up, who reacts to various aspects of the digital or physical experience and how.” 

“Grass Roots is now using technology and software to understand delegate sentiment and behaviour so that we can go back to the client and tell them what worked well, what didn’t, and to make future recommendations. They can then tailor on-going programmes to meet delegates’ needs and deliver greater ROI in terms of more sales or better brand perception.” 

Big data 

With the topic of ‘Big Data’ high on the agenda for travel managers, what challenges does this create for delegate management or SMM? Chalmers believes that these are early days. He says: “The starting point in the process is to have a system that captures all meetings-related data. Extracting and analysing the complexities thereof are becoming easier because the data revolution is driving solutions. New systems integrations are happening all the time.” 

Cartwright goes even further, saying: “Big data doesn’t really exist in our world, although we do have a lot of it. Clients now want to aggregate travel and SMM data to get visibility of spend and extra spend leverage. 

“The challenge lies in the fact that SMM doesn’t really deal with the people attending the meetings; it’s more about the contracting and process elements. However clients need to tie M&E data together with TMC data so they know where their people are.” 

It is often said that the problem of implementing SMM or Delegate Management is one of cost. The result is that, with average savings of 10-15% typically realised in the first two years, it is too expensive not to implement SMM, and the improvements in delegate satisfaction are a critical contributor to event success. 

The savings generated by effective SMM are tangible; the benefits derived from Delegate Management less so and more akin to those from more mature SMM programmes. The insights are no less essential drivers of value. 


There needs to be a clear path on how to achieve the desired end goal for effective SMM. There is a cost involved in the beginning but this will be outweighed by the return. 

“The companies we have worked with have saved up to 25% on their meetings spend and cut time spent on manual tasks by up to 90%,” says Anthony Miller, chief marketing officer at Lanyon. 

SMM challenges are not insurmountable. 

Global economics are dictating that corporate expenses be cut back, and SMM exponents “should leverage that opportunity to gain leadership support to circumvent the decentralisation and aversion to change management.” 

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