The CFO’s Guide to Small MeetingsAugust 30, 2018

How to Wrestle This Large and Growing Spend Category By
August 30, 2018

The CFO’s Guide to Small Meetings

How to Wrestle This Large and Growing Spend Category

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Ron Shah is the founder and CEO of Bizly, a next generation platform for booking and managing small meetings and events that allows users to easily and efficiently select venues and book events while abiding by their corporate policies. Bizly provides access to curated, detailed content for hotel, restaurant and hospitality event space, with a seamless booking process and incredible in-meeting experience. Prior to launching Bizly, Shah was a venture capital professional for 15 years.

Employee mobility is exploding. According to the U.S. Labor Bureau, more than 60 percent of the workforce will be working remotely by 2020. Regardless of which side you fall on in the debate between the merits of working remotely vs. working in the office, the modern employee is untethered from their desk like never before.

Technology allows employees to be productive from anywhere and perhaps more productive when outside of the office. Skillful managers recognize this, encourage it and harness this mobility to the advantage of the company. With proper forecasting, companies are able to leverage this mobility to their advantage — reducing real estate costs, optimizing workspace and exploring remote employee talent pools to push new boundaries for the company.

But there are also specific business costs that come along with employee mobility, such as increased transportation, lodging and productivity expenses. But the more difficult
to manage costs are related to the impact that employee mobility has on team culture building, client engagement and strategic planning. It’s difficult to recruit and reinforce team culture when you’re managing a sharp divide between office employees and remote employees.

The solution that most companies have embraced is increasing the number of small meetings and events taking place outside of the office. Team managers, vice presidents and HR professionals organize small gatherings for culture building, recruiting and training events.

Sales and marketing employees organize small events to engage customers, launch new products, gather influencers and provide a forum for discussion on the road. Executives have embraced small offsite locations for strategic planning, board discussions, recruiting and key relationship-building activities. Suffice it to say, small meetings are now the fastest-growing category in corporate travel.

The key issues facing CFOs around all this activity is that this spend is usually invisible and unmanaged. This group spend all too often doesn’t go through the meetings or travel
department, but rather is booked directly by employees. Thus, there’s limited ability to contain and optimize costs, measure ROI and create programmatic improvements. As this trend continues, here are a couple of key considerations for CFOs as they develop a better handle on managing and accounting for these expenses.

Optimize Visibility

Meetings and events are important to organizations of all kinds, but they are quite complex. It’s nearly impossible to create broad arching policies around this spend. For small meetings, it’s even more difficult since there are very few tools to help companies manage this spend.

Since it is typically high-powered executives (and their administrators) that are planning, booking and utilizing these events, subjecting them to the friction of a mandate-base policy has proven to be ineffective at most companies. These sales and marketing “star employees” are successful because they know when to bend the rules. They want to pick their own venues, decide the style of the event and not be forced to fulfill someone else’s vision.

The simple way to ensure strong visibility of this spend is to encourage self-service tools that provide all the optionality that employees are looking for (e.g., a marketplace-based approach), while also layering some service and supervision on top of this tool. The challenge is that your traditional TMC or MMC has no business model to generate fees on an event of less than 10 guest rooms, often causing the traditional service provider model to fall apart. For CFOs, getting visibility into the spend is about the company owning the sourcing channel. Software providers may suggest you can solve the problem with great registration tools, but this has not proven to work with small meetings. If the registration tool is not linked to a sourcing experience that actually adds value to the employee, it will not be adopted.

But, there is hope. There are emerging tools that help enterprise employees source meetings their way, while still enforcing the oversight and compliance that CFOs and spend managers require.

The Truth About Existing Tools

CFOs may ask their travel or meeting managers about using existing tools, such as Cvent, to manage the small meeting category. The reality is that these platforms aren’t tailored to small events. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Existing event platforms have been built around the needs of the meetings department. They haven’t been built for widespread adoption by all the employees across the company. There are distinctly different use cases, product orientations and features.

In addition to the logistical challenges around the distribution of these tools, the approach is a mismatch. Existing platforms use RFPs as their model for obtaining and exchanging detailed information, contracting and paying for events. Small events are just not as complex, often last minute and require unique inventory types. Employees don’t want to fill out long forms to get basic information.

Agency Shortcomings

When considering existing TMC or MMC agents for small meetings, there are also some fundamental challenges. Agents are often using the same RFP-based platform and therefore facing the same limited inventory, poor response and lack of content described above.

Another key challenge is the lack of an appropriate business model to motivate the agency to take on more of this growing spend category. Of course, the agency will help with some small meetings in the interest of client service, but as this continues to grow, the agency will not able to sustain itself in this category since agencies often rely on commissions and typically lack a commission structure for events of less than 10 guests. This leads to service fees on top of the event, which are often in excess of $1,000 per small event.

This is not only extremely cost prohibitive, it’s also not aligned with value given the lack of tools available to support small meetings efficiently.

What’s the Future?

The primary goal of small meeting programs should be adoption. The only way to solve for adoption in today’s environment is to minimize employee pain around sourcing and booking the right spaces for their needs. The registration needs for small events are fairly limited and easily solved through standard lightweight existing tools.

When it comes to sourcing and booking, you need a platform that will empower your employees with rich content and venue options, but that will also help manage, oversee and automate the rules. Meetings and events are complex and your employees will need support, care and guard rails to guide them toward success. Doing this on a cost-effective and scaling basis is key.

The bottom line? The future of small meetings for the enterprise involves a hybrid model between full-service and self-service. I&FMM

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