Making a Business Case for SMMP

How to sell a strategic meetings management program to top executives

There has never been a better time to bring meetings management skills to a higher level. Organizations are now scrutinizing areas of unmanaged spend to increase efficiency and streamline costs. The concept of an SMMP, or strategic meetings management program, is built on these primary objectives, and recognizes that processes related to meetings and events should involve key stakeholders across multiple departments, from travel to procurement to risk management and human resources.

Implementing a thorough SMMP is no simple undertaking, notes Debi Scholar, PricewaterhouseCoopers' lead and director for travel and entertainment expenses. Scholar, who holds the certifications CMP, CMM, CTE and others, consults with Fortune 100 companies on expense management initiatives related to meetings and travel, and has had a prominent role in the National Business Travel Association's efforts to develop tools and educate the industry about strategic meetings management.

This past January, Scholar led a seminar for the New York City Business Travel Association, a chapter of the National Business Travel Association, on how to build a business case for strategic meetings management. Just preparing the case to present to top management could take 100 work hours or more, Scholar estimates, and implementing the process could take several years.

Following are highlights from a 26-page template that Scholar shared with NYCBTA attendees. The full document is available for download at here. To begin with, a solid business case must have the following components.

Executive summary

Many people read only the executive summary and the financial analysis when reviewing a business case. Therefore, this should be a concise and compelling digest of your proposal. It must generate enough interest so that the document and idea will survive the initial screening process, convincing top executives to accept and move forward on the actions requested.

Answers the questions:

  • What business problem will this solve?
  • Is this a good fit with our strategic initiatives and objectives?
  • What are the important business objectives for our organization?
  • What value will this bring?
  • What are the costs and benefits?
  • What are the risks?

Top Reasons Why Most SMMP Efforts Fail
Kari Kesler
Implementing a successful strategic meetings management program is a huge undertaking that more often than not results in failure. So says Kari Kesler, president and chief strategist of Minneapolis-based KK Strategic Solutions, who has had to overcome those odds at three different companies. "The vast majority of corporate SMMPs either stall or simply never reach their potential," Kesler notes. "To me, that's failure."

Kesler breaks down the most common reasons she's seen for derailed efforts.

• Major decisions are made without research or due diligence. Broad, strategic changes often are made in a vacuum. Someone might elect to centralize meeting planning and outsource it all, for example, without establishing whether that model will work with the company culture.

• Only some pieces of an SMMP are implemented.
"Some people believe SMMP is just about getting all of the contracts centralized, for example," says Kesler. While putting some pieces in place might be helpful, it won't help that company realize the benefits of an SMMP.

• There isn't executive buy-in. Kesler doesn't believe you need executive buy-in to start a program. But to grow the program and keep it going, that buy-in is crucial.

• The project leader rushes in uninformed.
Much of what is known in this young field was learned through trial and error. That's slowly changing, and expertise is available. Those charged with implementing new programs should take advantage of that, be it through consultants or educational opportunities.

• There isn't broad stakeholder buy-in.
This, says Kesler, is the number-one problem with failed or stalled SMMP efforts. "Almost every other problem stems from this one," she asserts. The importance of getting a broad base of support from key stakeholders -- not necessarily C-level -- can't be underestimated.

By Michael J. Shapiro

Current situation

To make a strong argument for change, you must completely evaluate and understand the existing environment. This section outlines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats inherent in the current situation.

Answers the questions:

  • How are meetings and events managed today?
  • What are issues of concern with respect to the current situation? Why can't it continue as is?
  • What is the gap in the existing environment (risk, spend, savings, service, consistency, processes, resources, etc.)?
  • What do the business leaders think about the current situation?
  • What do other stakeholders think?
  • What do the customers think?
  • What do the suppliers think?
  • What is the scope of your analysis and initiative? Is it global? Domestic? Enterprise-wide? Other?
  • Are meetings and events captured in a centralized system today?
  • Are approvals in place to ensure that meetings and events meet strategic objectives and approved budgets?
  • Is strategic sourcing and contract management considered?
  • Are contracts signed by authorized approvers and, therefore, legitimate?
  • Do the planners have the right skill set to ensure quality and consistency?
  • Are we employing multiple planning companies?
  • Are payments made to suppliers using a centralized system in order to capture all meetings-related spend?
  • Are all legal and regulatory risks mitigated?
  • Do we have clear visibility into all meeting and event spend?
  • How do we capture the data in the current environment?
  • Does the current reporting structure make sense?
  • Who were the stakeholders contacted to discuss the current situation? What have they contributed?
  • What obstacles do we face?

External environmentConduct a comparative analysis of how competitors manage meetings and events. What are the best practices in this realm? Include other relevant statistics and projections for factors that will influence the marketplace.

Answers the questions:
  • How do our competitors manage this spend?
  • What are the options for service? If our customers do not use the services of our meetings department, where are they turning (e.g., internal executive assistants, external meeting planning companies, etc.)?
  • How are our competitors structured?
  • Where do our competitors excel?
  • Where are our competitors weak?
  • What are our competitors' pricing and discounting policies?
  • What are the demographics of customers who will use our meetings management service?

OpportunityThis drills down to the details, outlining areas for process improvement, savings, risk avoidance and other benefits to carrying out a strategic meetings management program. To emphasize the extent of currently unmanaged spend, consider adding a pie chart showing the estimated amount that would be managed under an SMMP.

Answers the questions:

  • Do we have consensus throughout the enterprise to manage meeting spend?
  • How much money can be saved?
  • How much risk can be mitigated?
  • How can resources be used to reduce duplication of effort and increase productivity?
  • By how much can we improve quality and consistency?
  • How can unnecessary meetings be eliminated?
  • How can meetings be approved by leaders before being planned?
  • For crisis management, how can we capture where meetings are occurring and who is attending them?
  • How can we leverage our transient and meeting spend throughout the enterprise?
  • How can we ensure that documents are retained in the proper location for the correct amount of time?
  • How can we streamline our current processes?
  • How can we determine if we have the right number of preferred suppliers?
  • How should we direct our spend to those preferred suppliers?
  • How will we overcome the obstacles that exist?
Strategy and recommendationsThe type of strategy you propose will vary based on your organization's structure, needs and objectives. For example, a market penetration strategy might include moving meetings management into business units that are not currently using your service. Or, a service development strategy could involve introducing new services, such as virtual meetings or incentives. Determine your strategic focus by speaking with stakeholders and understanding the problems and risks in your enterprise.

Answers the questions:
  • What are the objectives?
  • What is the strategy?
  • What do we recommend?
  • What business problem will this program solve?
  • Based on the financial analysis, will this be profitable for us?
  • What are the critical success factors?
  • What are the services we're proposing with this business case?
  • Will the services fit within our strategic initiatives and objectives?
  • What value will this bring to the business? What are the rewards?
  • Why will customers use our service?
  • How will they value our service?
  • What will influence their decisions?
  • What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with this solution?
  • What is the reporting structure and organizational structure?
  • Why is that structure the best? What are the alternatives?
  • What are the priorities that must be implemented first? And last?

Financial analysisDemonstrate the incremental cash-flow difference between the proposed environment and the current environment. Cost savings are apparent only when two scenarios are compared. Be sure to include an analysis in addition to the numbers. Try to assign financial value to all benefits of the project. For example, if cycle time is reduced or service is improved, determine the related dollar savings.

Answers the questions:

  • How much will this cost? (Consider insourced staff, outsourced meeting management company fees, technology, operating costs, change management and training, etc.)
  • What methods will be used to obtain the data?
  • Will the returns be able to justify the investment?
  • How will the returns be calculated?
  • What will this do for our business performance?
  • How can we maximize the results?
  • Which financial criteria are important to decision makers?
  • Who assumes the costs?
  • Who receives the benefits?
  • How much will we save in hard dollars, soft dollars and productivity?
  • What risks will be mitigated that could be translated into savings?
  • What resources are required?
  • What technology is required?
  • What metrics are business leaders seeking? How often?

Determine the targets of this initiative. Will it roll out to the entire company? A specific business unit? Only executive assistants and other ad hoc planners?

Answers the questions:

  • How do we know the business wants us to deliver these services?
  • What is the market potential for these services? Is there unmanaged spend today? How much?
  • What is our service and industry?
  • How do we differ from our competitors? What is our unique selling proposition? (Competitors might be internal staff members who plan meetings in addition to their other roles.)
  • How do we sell this service? How do we price it?
  • Is it insourced, outsourced or both? Why?
  • What is going on in the environment that could affect our plan and our success potential?
  • How do we educate and motivate customers and potential customers?
  • How will our customers evaluate the value or importance of our service?
  • How do our customers make their buying decisions?
  • Do our customers have purchasing policies to follow (requests for proposal, etc.)?
  • Who makes the decisions?
  • Who influences the decision-making?
  • Who approves the spending? What are their spending limits?
  • How will we distribute our message? To what audiences? By what media?
  • How will the desired solution be implemented?
  • Who owns the project?
  • How will we manage the changes to the environment?
  • What training is required and for what audiences?
  • What compliance enforcement measures and consequences will be in place?
  • How will we know if we're successful?


Wrap up with a brief summary of the key elements of the proposal, along with recommendations for moving forward.

Answers the questions:

  • What is the most important message of this business case?
  • What is the business objective it will accomplish?
  • What problem will it solve?
  • What will it cost?
  • What motivational initiatives will sell this solution?