Errors to Avoid When Starting a Meetings Management Program

Biggest Errors
When implementing a global meetings management (MM) program for a life sciences company a number of years ago, we were asked to expand the U.S.-based program into the rest of the world. One of our early stops was Mexico City, where we presented to the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Director of Procurement. We shared the vision of standardized processes, a global technology platform, and a global policy. After presenting for an hour, we stopped for questions, and the Director of Procurement said, “That is wonderful. When can we start conversations with each of our 13 meetings departments to learn their custom requirements?”

During the same program implementation, we noticed that a number of key marketing stakeholders were refusing to participate in the MM program. When trying to understand why, we discovered that a number of the incumbent meeting-planning companies were whispering to meeting owners that a MM program would constrain their ability to deliver the best events possible. This was also whispered to internal meeting planners, who then amplified the message back to the meeting owners. Between them, the internal planners and incumbent agencies were acting in what they believed to be the client’s best interests, which coincidentally aligned with their concerns about their own future business relationships or employment. This whispering generated considerable concern, ultimately leading to a number of parties deciding not to participate in the MM program, diluting its impact.

When meeting with a new global life-sciences client and conducting a baseline evaluation of its existing MM arrangements, we were told it had a MM program that was not meeting its goals. Exploring further, we uncovered an enterprise-level meetings technology platform (which was only being lightly used) that the company thought of as its MM program. Over the years we have seen similar situations where companies have implemented a few components of a MM program, but not the fundamental components, and have struggled to achieve their goals. As we explained to the client in this instance, at its most fundamental level, a MM program is composed of three components: policy, standardized processes, and meetings technology, all working together to deliver savings, compliance, and quality events. Without these three components, a MM program will not succeed.

The three foregoing examples show the kinds of errors that can hinder the implementation of a MM program. Not that there aren’t other possible errors, but these are the most prevalent and damaging that we have encountered.

The Origins of These Errors
Companies are motivated to start managing meetings for a variety of reasons, including controlling spend, mitigating the risks associated with meetings (such as the safety and security of meeting attendees and preventing intellectual property theft), and ensuring a standard level of service quality for meeting owners and their attendees.

To deliver on these goals, companies typically implement three fundamental components of a MM program , including:

  • A meetings policy or guidance;

  • A technology platform to register events, source venues, maintain budgets, and report on supplier usage and compliance to the program; and

  • A set of standardized strategic sourcing and meeting-planning processes to ensure event quality and participant satisfaction.

These three components funnel demand through the technology platform, enforcing the standardized sourcing and planning processes to ensure compliance with the meetings policy.

Enterprise-level MM programs have historically focused on savings and compliance – excluding event quality and participant engagement as primary goals – resulting in a split in how these aspects of meetings and events are managed. Procurement departments have typically focused on savings and compliance, and meeting and event stakeholders – often marketers – have typically focused primarily on event quality to deepen client relationships and brand loyalty, and generate sales.

Procurement-driven MM programs have delivered savings and compliance successfully through competitive bidding, service-level agreements, preferred supplier programs, and standardized processes and procedures. Marketers, on the other hand, have resisted having their live events rolled into MM programs, eschewing procurement methods and instead focusing on applying well-known and constantly evolving marketing methods to convert participants at live events into customers and drive loyalty.

Assisting clients in the design and implementation of their MM programs over the years, we have seen how different stakeholder goals don’t necessary align with the overall corporate goals, which can lead to serious enough resistance to change that the program partially or completely fails. The following chart illustrates some of the different goals of the various stakeholders.

Ultimately, the character and goals of the MM program depend largely on those responsible for the program’s design and implementation, and to what extent they involve other stakeholders in the design efforts. However, in our experience, in far too many cases the program designs have been driven by one group to the exclusion of others, leading to programs that do not meet all stakeholder needs. This is the primary reason for resistance to the implementation of MM programs by marketing departments, for example. Interestingly, this is also one of the main reasons MM opportunities are missed for other departments, like onboarding programs managed by human relations and educational programs managed by learning and development.

Sources of Resistance
Resistance to early-stage MM programs typically comes from people who truly believe that implementing a MM program will diminish the companies’ ability to achieve their business goals. For internal corporate meeting planners and incumbent MM agencies, MM programs tend to outsource many planner positions and consolidate the number of suppliers, thus threatening their livelihoods. The other source of resistance that cannot be ignored typically comes from those responsible for marketing and selling a company’s products and services. These are the very same people who generate an organization’s revenue, and as such, senior leadership listens to their feedback. If they complain that the MM program is interfering with their ability to deliver new customers or market share, convert leads to sales, or deliver revenue, management will listen, and the MM program will be hurt – possibly never to recover.
Resistance Mitigations
The largest error in the design and implementation of MM programs to-date has often been not to involve key stakeholders in the design phase when their needs can be heard and incorporated into the conceptualization of the program. Involving stakeholders early in the design phase not only captures their needs, but also provides them with a sense of ownership over the program, and the certainty their needs have been heard and incorporated into the final design. This is probably the most effective mitigation, and reduces potential damages from a whispering campaign.

Change management is also an important tool in the creation and roll out of a MM program, as change-management techniques effectively help identify the potential locations of, and reasons for resistance to a new program. They also provide ways for stakeholders to share their needs and have them incorporated into the program. Change-management initiatives help create a finely defined vision of the future, provide a structured approach to understanding the resistance to change so it can be mitigated prior to program launch, and can inform the current initiative based on earlier change initiatives, so resistance can be anticipated and addressed ahead of time.

In summary, we see that the mistakes to avoid are:

  • Not involving all key stakeholders in design decisions at a very early stage so as to ensure the gathering of their needs, thereby ensuring their buy-in;

  • Focusing on the wrong components of a MM program, which will not deliver on the stated goals of key stakeholders; and

  • Underestimating the resistance that internal corporate planners and incumbent agencies might bring to bear in their concern for the quality of events in a future MM program, and their concerns over threats to their livelihoods.

    • If you have questions about any of these issues, or would like assistance executing on any of these tasks, please contact Shimon Avish at

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