The 2020 Guide to Strategic Meetings Management

Patty Meister |

A team of business professionals sitting around a conference table reviewing SMM metrics  You have major events to plan and need to satisfy rising attendee and meeting owner expectations. They want more engagement, more immersive experiences, more return on investment, and much more.

The problem is your team is stretched thin. Like most meeting and travel leaders, you’re feeling the crunch of a lack of resources – time, money, staffing or all of these.

How can you get more for your meeting and event spend?

With costs rising faster than budgets, many organizations are turning to Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) as a framework for improving savings, efficiency and service to attendees.

While you’re all for the SMM objectives, you still have some questions. For example:

  • Is this the right approach for your organization?
  • How much can you expect to save?
  • How long does it take to start seeing results?
  • Is the technology complicated?
  • How would you get senior leadership’s buy-in?

This guide answers these questions and explains how a modern approach to SMM overcomes traditional planner challenges. It also provides practical meetings management tips and best practices to help you deliver significantly better results all around, for your organization, team, stakeholders and attendees.

Why SMM?

D.E.P.I.C.T. — A Basic Framework for SMMP AdoptionWithout careful event management, planning teams work in silos, with no visibility into meeting activity enterprise-wide. This makes the procurement process inefficient. Event profs spend hours, even days, redoing the work their coworkers have already done. For example: Sourcing hotels and suppliers, not knowing a coworker has just planned a successful event in the same market and has lists of all the top venues and service providers.

Lacking data on brand spend, they miss savings opportunities, too. In fact, for many companies, M&E comprises one of the biggest categories of unmanaged spend.

Meetings done wrong also exposes organizations to serious risks, from security breaches to lawsuits to hefty attrition and cancellation fees.

How does SMM fix this?

SMM is an industry framework for standardizing meeting policies and suppliers. It’s designed to maximize cost savings, reduce risk and improve meeting quality (1).

Modern SMM platforms capture the thousands of details that go into planning a meeting and funnel them throughout the planning process. As a result, you centralize meetings data and gain full visibility into M&E activities throughout your organization, at every step of procurement.

For meeting and travel leaders, full transparency means better budget management, more efficient planning cycles, greater policy compliance and an enhanced attendee experience.

What’s more, SMM technology eliminates repetitive manual work. It provides an audit trail as well to quantify effort and return on investment (ROI) across your entire events program.

What types of organizations use SMM?

Originally, these programs were designed for large corporations holding hundreds of meetings and spending millions annually.

But with recent tech advances, SMM has become relevant for associations, non-profits as well as small and medium-size businesses with more modest budgets.

New SMM platforms are easy to configure – meaning, you can set them up to support your organization’s procurement procedures as well as meeting, travel and regulatory policies. Flexible solutions handle meetings of all types and sizes, from small or simple gatherings to large-scale events for enterprise companies.

What kind of results can you expect from SMM?

Organizations with a robust SMM program supported by state-of-the-art technology typically see results like these:

  • 10–25% estimated savings, while also improving productivity and meetings quality. SMM drives savings mainly through use of preferred vendors and standardized procurement procedures.
  • 48% higher compliance to internal policies and procedures on average. Organizations with more mature programs enjoy up to 78% compliance, according to research from the Aberdeen Group (2).
  • 63% better ROI measurement. That same Aberdeen report found organizations with an SMM program in place can measure 63% of the quantitative success metrics better than those without one. Key performance indicators include:
    • Number of new deals closed after a meeting or event
    • Increase in employee productivity after training events
    • Number of repeat sponsorships
    • Profit made on meetings and events

Another big SMM benefit: Insights from event data enable organizations to understand their buyers better, so planners can enhance future events and marketing efforts year-round.

So why isn’t everyone using SMM?

SMM has been around for awhile. The Groups and Meetings Committee of the Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA) coined the term back in 2004. Initially, programs were complicated. And for all the hard work, it took years to see results. So as you can imagine, adoption was low.

Fortunately, recent advances in SMM technology have streamlined the process; no need to call in IT or hire specialists to manage the program.

New platforms help you achieve the same SMM outcomes – but with plug-and-play-like simplicity. Occasional planners and pros can master the technology quickly with minimal training required.

How do you recommend getting buy-in from senior leadership?

business people group on meeting at modern bright office indoors. Senior  businessman as leader in discussion.Companies spend more than 3% of total revenues or upwards of 25% of the entire marketing budget on events and conferences (3). For instance, a company with $2 billion in revenue spends $20 million annually on meetings and events. Numbers like these generally get attention in the C-Suite.

But the value goes well beyond M&E spend. SMM brings consistency to the process of getting meetings booked. Among the many benefits, this framework:

  • Drives savings by enabling companies to better leverage brand spend
  • Increases regulatory and policy compliance
  • Provides duty of care visibility
  • Boosts planning efficiency through automation
  • Enhances the customer experience to improve brand reputation and repeat business

What are best practices for getting planning teams on board?

Start by explaining SMM enables planners to spend less time on tedious, manual tasks like chasing after approvals from stakeholders, aggregating bid values and updating spreadsheets.

Instead, SMM can elevate their role as a strategic advisor. Planners gain valuable tools to: reduce the planning cycle time, negotiate better value, control the event budget and bring the meeting owner’s vision to life.

Modern SMM platforms require minimal training for veteran and occasional planners.

What’s more, these systems automate savings reports. This makes it easy to show all the value they add to each meeting.

Finally, SMM can help planners future-proof their careers. New research by Event MB and Evenium reveals performance analysis is a Top 2 in-demand skill for event profs. More than three-quarters (76%) of jobs on the market today require an ability to analyze the business value of events (4). Companies want professionals who can dig into the data to enhance return on events. This is exactly the type of visibility and insight SMM provides.

Bottom line: SMM saves planners time and gives them tools to elevate their role as Meetings Strategists.

Click here to download the Effective Meeting Management Strategies eBook

How SMM Improves Planning

You can’t control what you can’t even see, right?

That’s why transparency is key for effective meetings management. The good news is SMM technology provides instant visibility into meeting activity enterprise-wide, at every stage of the procurement process.

The latest SMM platforms enable planning teams to manage costs and suppliers easily from a single platform. Here’s a closer look at how these solutions drive savings, compliance and ROI:

Gain Full Visibility

A simple online Meeting Request form gets the process started. 


It centralizes meeting requests across the organization. Flexible Approval Workflows add to the efficiency. Tailor the process to support travel and meetings policies and get everything automatically in sync.

With full transparency and customizable workflows…

Planners Can:

  • Manage the workload better
  • Automate stakeholder approvals to keep planning on track
  • Manage more strategically. For example, combine meetings with similar content and audience into one event. Or use the same venue for multiple meetings and control costs through bulk buying.

Organizations Can:

  • Standardize planning to enhance brand image and the attendee experience
  • Improve compliance with internal and regulatory policies
  • Mitigate risk by identifying problems early and making corrections

Drive Savings

Most (80%) of the potential savings on meetings and events is tied directly to the sourcing process (5). And so automating venue sourcing is vital to delivering a solid return on investment.

The trouble is, traditional RFP tools fall short. They help you source venues and send requests. Then they quit. These solutions leave planners buried under a pile of spreadsheets – going back and forth with hotels, compiling bids, getting meeting owner changes – and starting the process over again.

Fortunately, modern Strategic Sourcing Technology does the heavy lifting. You get powerful tools not only for sourcing, but for negotiating, communicating and reporting, too. So toss the spreadsheet work and back-and-forth emails with hotels.

Strategic Sourcing captures all negotiation details in real time and stores them in one place. You optimize buying power with visibility into M&E spend across the company.

With automation and visibility…

Planners Can:

  • Cut sourcing time in half
  • Increase negotiated savings by leveraging brand spend
  • Drive sound decision-making with all the vital details ready to pull up at a moment’s notice

Organizations Can:

  • Gain control of spend
  • Lock company concessions and contract clauses into every RFP to increase value and avoid staggering attrition and cancellation fees
  • Manage more meetings without added staffing

Control Budgets

Meeting costs are expected to rise faster than budgets in 2020 (6), so it’s no surprise budget management ranks among the top three most in-demand skills for event professionals (7).

Manager presenting budget to marketing peopleYou’re a huge asset to your organization if you can contain or reduce costs, while delivering high value. Attendees enjoy the benefits of inspiring meetings and events. And management provides rich content for less than they expected, thanks to your budgeting acumen.

As part of a robust SMM program, modern Budgeting solutions consolidate financial information across the M&E portfolio. You gain real-time insights into categories of spend, cost allocation and ownership throughout the planning cycle. Planner-friendly tools enable you to proactively compare budgets to actuals and forecasts, and see how performance stacks up against goals.

With flexible, intuitive budgeting solutions…

Planners Can:

  • Make smart decisions to keep meetings on course
  • Quickly predict future budgets from past events
  • Elevate their role as an Event Strategist

Organizations Can:

  • Manage budgets for events of all types and sizes
  • Improve adoption with tools that are easy to master regardless of budgeting skill level
  • Deliver solid returns on meetings and events

Create Reports in Minutes

Your budgeting success will go unnoticed without an efficient way to report savings.

This is why performance analysis is required for more than three-quarters (76%) of new positions for planners today (8). Companies want meeting profs who can analyze data and make strategic decisions to improve event value in real time and in the future.

If data analytics is not in your wheelhouse, take heart. Using new-generation SMM technology, you can create comprehensive Reports in a couple of keystrokes.

Dig deep to get granular details on spend and savings – by meeting, vendor, brand and department. Then customize information to stakeholders and share reports onscreen or exported in the format of your choice. You’ll have answers to all the vital questions before the CFO even asks.

With easy reporting…

Planners Can:

  • Showcase the value they bring to the table
  • Keep stakeholders in the loop
  • Better justify the M&E investment

Organizations Can:

  • Improve compliance
  • Reduce risk
  • Make strategic decisions that move the business forward

Optimizing the Attendee Journey_Aventri_CTA1

5 Strategies to Boost Savings and Compliance

So far, we’ve covered the business case for SMM and how the latest solutions streamline planning. This section highlights the biggest challenge to managing meetings more strategically. Then it explains how to use SMM technology to bypass the obstacles and improve savings and compliance on every meeting.

The Challenge: Where’s the Data?

In many organizations, meeting planning is decentralized. Major events go through the Meetings Department. The countless smaller, low-profile events are planned by executive assistants, sales managers and pretty much anyone in the company who needs to call a meeting.

Closeup portrait happy, smiling business woman, bank employee holding piggy bank, isolated outdoors indian autumn background. Financial savings, banking concept. Positive emotions, face expressionsThe result? A lot of meetings data flies under the radar, scattered across different departments and profit & loss statements. Gathering the details manually is a monumental task. And so the data goes missing.

The trouble is, 43% of a company’s travel budget is devoted to meetings and conventions (9). And roughly half of these meetings are simple ones.

Given the volume, it’s easy to see why this missing data leaves organizations with an incomplete picture of M&E activity. Is an event over budget – or even necessary? Are all meeting arrangers booking competitive rates and in compliance? Is an ad hoc planner omitting contract clauses and unknowingly putting the company at risk?

Lacking the data, it’s tough to tell.

Adding to the problem, many organizations fail to combine their meetings and business travel data. So they show up at the bargaining table with one hand tied behind their back. They might negotiate based on $6 million in brand spend, for example, instead of the company’s actual spend of $11 million. In short, that lost data creates a big problem of underleveraged spend.

Fortunately, there’s no longer a reason for failing to capture critical business intelligence. State-of-the-art SMM platforms compile M&E data automatically throughout the planning process. What’s more, they make it easy to integrate travel and meeting data to provide a comprehensive picture.

Now let’s see how you can put these solutions to work and improve savings along with meeting and travel policy compliance throughout your program. Here are 5 strategies.

1. Standardize meeting requests. Use an online Meeting Request form to centralizes data. You’ll gain full transparency into meeting activity, from request through negotiations to booking. The platform handles communications as well, updating stakeholders at every stage of procurement.

2. Leverage hotel brands. With better spend visibility, see which brands are working hard for your business. Create policies to maximize buying power with preferred vendors. Using Strategic Sourcing Technology, you can track preferred brand compliance by user, department, division and company-wide. These solutions present preferred brand visibility directly on the venue search screen to drive compliance seamlessly into planner workflows.

3. Add procurement rules. Many meetings programs lose tens of thousands yearly in cancellation and attrition fees alone. To avoid harsh penalties, establish reasonable fees and include them in a core set of company contract clauses. Standardize concessions, too. Then, set these clauses and concessions to auto-populate on every eRFP your system creates. Also require at least three hotels per RFP to ensure competitive bidding. You’ll ratchet up savings and compliance – effortlessly.

4. Optimize collaboration. The latest SMM solutions provide a single portal for storing team intelligence about venues. Use Collaboration Tools to foster sound decision-making. For example, have planners flag hotels that provided poor service and put the company at risk. Also alert the team about unannounced renovations or cancellation credits soon to expire.

5. Satisfy duty of care. Concerns about natural disasters, pandemics and political unrest put duty of care and risk management top of mind. Global Calendars answer the call with powerful tracking tools. They give you a complete picture of M&E activity by planning status. Drill down by meeting owner, attendees, dates, venue, location and more. If an emergency arises, you’ll have what you need to locate employees and attendees fast.

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SMM Best Practices

Finally, let’s look at best practices and see how forward-thinking industry leaders use modern meetings management software to improve savings, efficiency, visibility and financial performance.

Optimize Negotiated Savings

Commission cuts from major hotel chains have transformed the procurement landscape. Travel and meeting profs today must be able to prove their impact on cost savings. Justifying technology spend often comes down as a mandate from Finance.

An international meetings solutions company sought to maintain its book of business following commission reductions. So they scheduled quarterly reviews with their top 100 accounts to analyze their impact on negotiated savings. They scrutinized savings by room rate, meeting space costs, food and beverage expenses, and concessions.

Outcome: The company validated that a client saved 12x the cost of their services on average. Their venue sourcing solution enabled the team to negotiate more effectively and easily report out results.

Achieve Planning Efficiencies

Automation relieves planners of low-value, tactical tasks and frees them up to focus on strategy.

A major provider of insurance and employee benefits programs hosts thousands of workshops for employees worldwide. The company automated website and email templates to ensure each workshop and employee communication is customized, clean and consistent. While they used to spend large chunks of time pulling reports from different places, they now aggregate reports into one dashboard. This enables them to monitor attendance and no-show rates, attendee-to-appointment conversion and waitlists.

Outcome: Automation saved their resource coordinator approximately 1,500 hours in the past year.

Improve Visibility and Collaboration

integrations-background-handshakeMany organizations struggle to gain visibility into the data required to manage meetings and events effectively. Often, data is stored in multiple locations, across systems and workflows. Departments use different systems to solve the same problems. This limits collaboration because employees in separate systems don’t know what others are doing. Bringing platforms together to centralize meeting data leads to efficiencies and sharing of best practices across the enterprise.

A top-ranked American university has more than 400+ planners across campus. The university saw an opportunity to centralize their meetings and events within one system. So they built an events platform in which all 400+ planners could formalize their processes and collaborate on best practices. Stakeholders gained visibility into the events supporting their department.

Outcome: Planners can view key metrics to better understand their performance and find new ways to drive metrics forward.

Bolster Financial Returns

Meetings should lead to positive financial performance for the organization. To this end, some events drive revenue, but all can reduce or eliminate unnecessary costs. Tracking financial performance helps ensure planners receive credit and consequent support for their work.

A North American bank held investor meetings throughout Canada, serving lunch to registered attendees. Data revealed a no-show rate of 30%, leading to wasted expense on food and beverage. The bank revamped its process to better manage invitations, RSVPs and attendees.

Outcome: The no-show plunged to 7%, saving 3,000 meals annually.

Closing Thoughts

This is just the tip of the iceberg; SMM today can do much more.

The bottom line is this: Implementing SMM has never been easier. The latest solutions lift you out from under the pile of day-to-day details. They provide tools to elevate the planner’s role to Event Strategist.

SMM can significantly enhance the attendee experience – while also driving cost savings, policy compliance and planning efficiency. All this should be music to the ears of your C-level executives, stakeholders, attendees and meeting team.


  1. 1. “Strategic Meetings Management Maturity Index,” Global Business Travel Association (GBTA)
  2. 2. “Strategic Meetings Management: A Handbook of Emerging Strategies for the Next Generation of Meetings and Events Management,” Aberdeen Group, July 2012
  3. 3. Data from Forrester Research
  4. 4. “Transforming Your Career from Event Planner to Event Strategist,” Event MB and Evenium, May 29, 2019
  5. 5. Data from GBTA
  6. 6. 2020 Global Meetings & Events Forecast, American Express Meetings and Events
  7. 7 and 8. “Transforming Your Career from Event Planner to Event Strategist,” Event MB and Evenium, May 29, 2019
  8. 9. “The Role of Business Travel in the U.S. Economic Recovery,” U.S. Travel Association, 2013
Gain Control of Unmanaged Meetings Spend_Aventri ebook

This Post was Written by Patty Meister

Patty is the Senior Hospitality Marketing Manager at Aventri. Her focus is on developing the go to market strategy for Aventri venue sourcing solutions. Additionally, she manages the marketing efforts for the company's partner channel. Patty has...

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