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Strategic Meeting and Event Planning

Within this guide, we will examine the critical challenges to successful meeting planning. Discover the latest venue negotiation and sourcing strategies to help you supercharge efficiency and drive growth.


 

Part 1: Introduction

Challenging Terrain for Meeting & Event Planners

Planners today face real challenges, given record-setting hotel demand and changing commission models.

To succeed in our supplier-driven economy, savvy planners are moving away from tactical roles. Corporate and third-party planners are trading in traditional eRFP tools and spreadsheets to play a more strategic role. The goal is to provide value-add services that are more in-demand.

These services rest on effective venue sourcing and negotiations – the foundation of successful events. After all, most of the savings on meetings and events (80 percent) are tied directly to the sourcing process. Wouldn’t you like to use those savings to enhance content and networking at your next event?

Planners today are under a considerable amount of pressure to deliver successful meetings with maximum savings and efficiency. It is essential to know if your technology is up to the task. This comprehensive guide is a part of our event strategies that you need to know in 2019. It examines the three critical challenges to successful meeting planning:

  • Pressure to find more savings
  • Lack of visibility
  • Inefficient or manual tools

The guide then shows how modern solutions overcome each obstacle. They help planners elevate their role as strategic advisors who maximize every opportunity to drive savings and growth. It also offers a sourcing technology audit to help you evaluate the effectiveness of your current platform.

Whether you are trying to leverage technology to drive more savings in hotel negotiations or trying to manage more meeting with the same size staff, this guide is for you.   

 

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Challenge #1: Pressure to Find More Savings

Event planners have pressure to find more savings

Many planners think the best way to drive savings is to negotiate more effectively with suppliers. Although this is often true, it can be tough to pull off in a seller’s market. Fortunately, a simple solution for optimizing savings is hiding in plain sight. It is your small meeting spend.

For most companies, small meetings make up the largest category of unmanaged spend, often comprising 70 – 80 percent of all meetings. Typically, occasional planners in different departments handle small meetings (less than 25 room nights).

That means spend data is scattered across multiple business units and regions. Collecting the information manually is simply too time consuming. And so, a lot of the data goes missing.

The trouble is, organizations rely on aggregated spend data in vital ways: to negotiate better pricing, control costs and minimize risk. More data at your fingertips gives you more power at the bargaining table.

Clearly, small meetings can make a big impact. While results vary by organization and industry, tracking this spend enterprise-wide can mean millions of dollars in savings for large and mid-sized companies.

Ask Yourself: 

  • Can you identify every employee responsible for arranging meetings in your organization?
  • Are you capturing and leveraging all their meetings spend?
  • Do you use technology to share benchmark rates by destination?
  • Do you leverage spend when employees book multiple meetings in the same city?
  • What protocols do you have in place for meetings and events?
  • How does your technology improve compliance?
  • Does your technology protect occasional planners from putting your organization at risk based on the the contracts they sign?

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Challenge #2: Lack of Visibility

“In today’s environment, business leaders who aren’t monitoring their top spending categories closely won’t be leaders for long,” says Brad Langley, Vice President of Third Party Market at Aventri. “In a world where data is king, accurate information about meeting spend is vital.”

The challenge for many organizations is meeting planning is decentralized. That makes it difficult to understand your organization’s total spend and report on the savings your team generates. There is no way to know, for example, if you are negotiating based on $6 million in brand spend when it is actually $9 million.

Another complication: You cannot see if inexperienced planners are unintentionally booking out of protocol and putting your organization or client at risk.

The reality is, if you want to make informed decisions that fuel your organization’s success, you need full visibility into M&E activity throughout your organization. And manual data collection and spreadsheets simply will not get you there.

Ask Yourself: 

  • Can you access the data points your CFO wants in 1 – 2 clicks?
  • What hotel brands does your organization use most?
  • What is your average room rate by meeting type?
  • How many meetings did your organization operate last quarter?
  • How many meetings will it operate next quarter?
  • Does every employee who arranges meetings apply consistent contract clauses to drive savings and reduce risk?

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Challenge #3: Inefficient or Manual Processes

Female event meeting planner sitting at the table with trash paper

“Manual work and rework is non-value-added work,” Langley says. “After more than 30 years in this industry, I’m still amazed by how often event planners and clients undervalue labor. If labor were our only currency, we have devalued it to the point of becoming almost worthless.”

Langley recalls a meetings company where he worked years ago. The planning team had saved a client 30 percent of its total event spend through savvy venue sourcing. To Langley’s surprise, the agency wrote off much of this labor. The reason? According to the project manager: “If the client saw all the hours we invested, they’d think we were inefficient, disorganized, or just plain ripping them off.”

“In reality, the only one getting ripped off was our own company,” Langley points out.

The agency used Outlook and several different single-point solutions for venue sourcing. Today, Langley says these tools remain many planners’ go-to sourcing tools. As a result, agencies and in-house teams resort to hiring more people to work with antiquated processes.

Event professionals need technology to manage venue sourcing efficiently end-to-end. Technology should elevate their ability to provide consultative services. To accomplish this, planners need solutions that eliminate non-value-added work and free them up to focus on responsibilities that matter most.

Ask Yourself: 

  • Have you conducted an audit during the past year to evaluate non-valued-added labor in your sourcing process?
  • Do you cut and paste hotel responses into spreadsheets to make bids consistent?
  • Do you spend time chasing after hotels to get complete responses?
  • Do hotels respond to your RFPs after you have already submitted your bid summary?
  • Do you quantify concession values and savings for all hotels you source even though you are going to select only one?
  • Do you use online collaboration tools to enhance communication between your sourcing team and event stakeholders?

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What's Wrong with Traditional Tools

Stressed event meeting planner

Fact is: Traditional eRFP technology and manual sourcing do not address the challenges of today’s market.

If these tools are so effective, why do planners spend hours every week researching venues, going back-and-forth with hotels, compiling bids, hunting through emails for missing concessions, getting meeting owner changes … and then starting the process all over again?

Let’s look at the main drawbacks to conventional venue sourcing.

Traditional technology is limited, used primarily to send eRFPs. You dash off your requests and wait days, sometimes weeks, for responses. Then, the rest of the work is up to you. The technology beats calling hotels manually one-by-one. But the simple truth is: Traditional eRFP tools were created to SEND RFPs – nothing more.

But researching venues and sending eRFPs are only 10 percent of a planner’s job.

Traditional eRFP tools leave you to do the rest of the work manually. They do not help you manage all the back-and-forth with venues. They do not gather and reformat bids. On top of this, they do not track negotiations or improve your bargaining power. And when your CFO asks you to report on last year’s spend with preferred brands, your eRFP tool does not do a thing.

Lacking these capabilities undermines success. Think about how much time you spend annually doing and redoing spreadsheets and hunting for emails from venues. Does it even matter to your stakeholders or clients that you spent all this time collecting, crunching and reformatting that information?

This is not the best use of your experience. There is more to meeting planning than collecting information from venues. Great planning is about transforming the client or meeting owner’s vision into an amazing event.

That Means: 

  • Attracting the right attendees
  • Negotiating great hotel deals
  • Proving return on investment to sponsors
  • Acquiring new sponsors
  • Managing logistics
  • Creating exceptional content
  • Boosting attendee engagement and satisfaction

Traditional eRFP tools do not help with any of this.

“Ironically, planners often think a ‘free eRFP tool’ is the most cost-effective means of sourcing,” Langley explains. “They overlook other substantive costs associated with the process."

"‘Free’ becomes expensive when you factor in labor, opportunity costs, lost savings and finally loss of trust for not presenting the right options to fit meeting needs,” he adds.

Langley offers his 13 Reasons Why Clients Leave Suppliers in the Meetings Space, and why meeting owners lose confidence in their in-house teams.

Angry client screaming at supplier in the event meeting space

13 Reasons Clients Leave Suppliers in the Meeting Space:

  1. Incomplete or inaccurate sourcing information
  2. Perceived lack of depth of sourcing team staffing
  3. Perceived lack of appropriate scope of search
  4. Failure to present sufficient options
  5. Inadequate venue comparisons
  6. Mismatch between meeting needs and opportunities presented
  7. Delayed or incomplete responses to RFPs
  8. Failure to secure client’s optimal venue at the right price
  9. Failure to leverage meeting volume
  10. Insufficient transparency throughout the sourcing process
  11. Diminished confidence in supplier’s ability to use the right tools
  12. Lack of credibility in supplier’s ability to find the best value
  13. Perception of supplier’s indifference to the sourcing process

How to get fast responses to you RFPs

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Sourcing Technology Audit

Venue sourcing wheel

How Do You Rate? 

Consider the Venue Sourcing Technology Audit below. How does your organization rate?

If you score less than 80 points, your technology is behind the times and unlikely to efficiently manage the demands of today’s competitive marketplace. It needs an update.

Sourcing Technology Audit

Rate your organization on each item below on a scale from 0 – 5 points, with 0 being Never and 5 being Always.

Challenge #1: Pressure to find more savings, underleveraged spend

Sourcing Technology Audit - Challenge #1 - Pressure to find more savings, underleveraged spend

Challenge #2: Lack of visibility or control over meeting and event

Sourcing Technology Audit - Challenge #2 - Lack of visibility or control over meeting and event

Challenge #3: Inefficient or manual processes

Sourcing Technology Audit - Challenge #3 - Inefficient or manual processes

Scoring

  • 95 – 100: You’re a sourcing tech guru. Good job!
  • 80 – 94: Keep refining your sourcing tech prowess. Some gaps to close.
  • 79 and below: Your sourcing technology is behind the times and unlikely to efficiently meet the demands of today’s competitive marketplace.

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Bridging the Divide

Clearly, there is a gap between the needs of a fast-paced seller’s market and traditional eRFP tools.

To bridge the divide, meeting planning today calls for strategic solutions that support meeting planning end-to-end. So, what would an ideal system look like?

It would be a solution that automates repetitive work. So, planners can put their expertise to use and deliver value-add services.

The platform would have powerful data tracking, storing and sharing capabilities. It would provide transparency into team activity to help reduce risk and leverage brand spend. In addition, the technology would connect decentralized teams. It would offer robust reporting for keeping leaders, stakeholders and clients in the loop. And it would protect the large volume of data events generate.

Also important for high adoption and quick results, the solution would be easy to roll out and simple to use.

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The Solution: A Strategic Sourcing and Negotiations Solutions

Aventri's Strategic Sourcing and Negotiations Solutions

Strategic Sourcing and Negotiation Technology 

Fortunately, a new generation of sourcing solutions is meeting these requirements for successful planning teams across the globe.

These elegant solutions provide easy on-boarding. Occasional planners master them in 30 minutes. Yet the technology offers advanced features power planners appreciate. It solves their three biggest planning challenges and helps them manage the process strategically end-to-end.

Let’s take a look.

Pressure to Find More Savings 

Technology plays the crucial role of helping planners manage hotel negotiations and drive more savings.

When technology provides real-time visibility, for example, you can leverage your organization’s collective brand spend. You can reduce risk by locking contract terms and concessions into every RFP. And you can share team knowledge about venues – both good and bad. Flag hotels that provided poor service. Spread the word on cancellation credits, upcoming renovations and more.

Strategic sourcing technology builds in best practices to set you up for easy negotiations, too. Special tools encourage competitive bidding. Other tools require venues to send complete responses the first time. There is even a negotiation tracking tool that captures the complete evolution of each bid. Access all the details through a single portal. And get a crystal-clear picture of how negotiations are progressing in one click.

Today’s world moves fast. Planners must have immediate access to data. This is especially important in a supplier-driven market. Don’t leave savings on the table because of cumbersome technology.

What to Look for:

  • Single dashboard of meetings shortlisted or booked by destination
  • Data-sharing capabilities to leverage spend
  • Savings-to-spend ratios by hotel and brand
  • Quantified costs and concession values
  • Negotiation tracking
  • Tools to lock in contract terms and concessions
  • Collaboration tools to share team knowledge on venues

Lack of Visibility into M&E Spend

Venue sourcing visibility to reduce meeting and event spend

There is no reason for failing to capture critical data. The new generation of sourcing solutions captures and curates it automatically throughout the planning process.

The beauty of automation is there is no unnecessary work for third-party suppliers or in-house teams. Using next-level solutions, you centralize the data without worrying about centralizing planning teams. All the information you need is available in one place, ready to pull up at a moment’s notice.

Set different authority levels to allow for deeper viewing across your entire organization. A user-friendly meetings dashboard presents a bird’s-eye view of meetings activity enterprise-wide. You gain valuable insights on company activity and supplier performance in real time.

Part of the fun of using the technology is you can structure the data any number of ways. Check spend and cost avoidance by hotel, brand, user and business unit, for instance. Look into performance of preferred brands, compliance with travel policies, and more.

Empower your team through visibility, too. Let them improve their negotiations with a look at the venues their coworkers are sourcing. That includes hotels short-listed, at contract and operated during the past year.

Technology that captures the right data points enables you and your team to shift focus from compiling spreadsheets to making strategic decisions based on hard data. Showcase your expertise in reports to senior leadership or customers. You will demonstrate your team’s vital role in driving sound decisions – a great way to build credibility and trust.

What to Look for:

  • Automatic data capture
  • Single portal for housing data
  • Instant visibility into M&E activities enterprise-wide
  • Visibility into meetings at each stage of planning process
  • Savings and spend by hotel, brand, user, business unit
  • Visibility: Volume with preferred vendors
  • Visibility: Reuse of canceled meetings space
  • Compliance with travel policies
  • Visibility: Cities where organization holds most meetings

Inefficient or Manual Processes 

If you are not harnessing the full power of technology, it’s time to take a fresh look. Using modern sourcing and negotiations solutions, planning teams increase meeting ROI. At the same time, they slash souring and booking time more than 50 percent.

Let automation handle repetitive, manual tasks. There is no more waiting days, even weeks, for bids or chasing down hotels for missing information.

Next-generation sourcing solutions have a 90+ percent response rate. Complete bids arrive the next day or sooner. The technology even automates communications with hotels and makes it easily accessible in one place.

There is no more spreadsheet work, either. You can create customizable bid summaries in seconds. New solutions require venues – not meetings teams – to provide cost and concession values. They automatically compile bids into a uniform summary, so apples-to-apples comparisons are a breeze.

Reporting is streamlined, too. Using next-level sourcing solutions, pull data-driven reports in mere minutes instead of spending days or weeks collecting information manually. Data visualizations instantly show meetings activity, spend and savings.

Demonstrate your strategic role by providing reports quickly to your senior leadership or customers that prove your team is moving the needle and helping your customer or organization achieve its goals.

What to Look for:

  • Automatic data capture
  • Instant access to data
  • Complete bids the first time
  • Aggregated bid summaries compiled automatically with apples-to-apples comparisons
  • Quantified cost and concession values from venues
  • Simple but robust reporting capabilities
  • Tracking tools to simplify hotel negotiations

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Conclusion 

Today’s supplier-driven market demands a strategic approach. To ensure success, planners need comprehensive sourcing and negotiations solutions to their top challenges throughout the planning process.

Among other things, the technology must enable planning teams to handle more meetings without additional staffing and expense. It should empower planners to do more work and leave the office on time.

Also, important, it must free you up to focus your time and energy on planning and strategy. So, you improve meeting ROI and grow your business or corporate footprint.

A solution that meets these requirements is available today from Aventri, one of the world’s leading providers of end-to-end venue sourcing and event management software.

The Top 100 Meeting and Event Venues in the United States

 

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