Small meetings and events are exploding: Are you capturing the data?

Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

“Decisions are happening over dinner” — Alexander Hamilton [Lin-Manuel Miranda]

Despite all the great promise of technology, meetings still matter! Marketing, sales, and team culture are still driven by human contact, perhaps now more than ever The need to connect face-to-face to offset digital fatigue and isolated working conditions has given rise to an unprecedented surge in smaller meetings and events.

Companies across the world are trading in the big glitzy conferences for the intimacy and engagement of smaller events, often used as the best way to handle “mid-funnel” problems. In the marketing or sales department, a mid-funnel problem is when companies are able to successfully attract interest from lots of customers at the top of the funnel, but start to face difficulties with conversion. In this case, intimate smaller events have proven to be the most impactful tactic to earn trust in the brand and seal the deal. Similarly, small offsite events have proven to make a meaningful difference for recruiting top talent, training employees, shaping company culture, and achieving consensus amongst key stakeholders.

Another big reason for the overall surge in meetings and events has to do with the fact that we can now measure the effectiveness and ROI of our meetings and events. Today’s technology enables us to measure and track “micro-reactions” and participant behavior before, during and after events. This measurement not only helps us measure conversion and impact, it also allows us to amplify the effect by making real-time changes. This model of rapid feedback and iteration allows companies to expend larger budgets towards events, often working across departments and roles. Smaller events, in particular, allow companies to expend micro-pools of capital to iterate each event to perfection and boost long-term event strategies and ROI.

Despite all the benefits and opportunities around smaller meeting and events, there are significant hurdles for companies. Here are the top three issues facing companies regarding their small meeting and event programs:

  1. Fragmentation, where is the spend happening?

“Can we get this client out for dinner to get them more comfortable?”“Let’s do an influencer event and test this out.”“Need an urgent board meeting to resolve this.”“Going to Chicago, need to camp out and have all my meetings somewhere.”“Please organize 8 small launch events in the midwest for Q3.”“Yo! Let’s get the product team together for drinks after work.”

These are just some of the many use-cases for small meetings and events. Increasingly, these events are not going to a centralized department. People are grabbing their teams and going. Finding the right venue and booking these events is a fragmented process across the company, organized by different people, and across multiple departments and roles. Ultimately, these smaller meetings and events are typically paid for on the corporate card and misclassified as general T&E. More than 80% of these smaller meetings and events aren’t being routed through a centralized events department, TMC, or meeting planner. When asked why they failed to centralize the request, the typical employee responses are:

  • My spend for these smaller events is under our required protocol.
  • Takes too long to explain what I need to the meeting department or TMC and then I have to wait for responses, and it’s often more money than I wanted to spend
  • It’s better for me on my card (it’s within my spend limit and I get points).

Small meeting and events are no small business for companies. Based on the 2017 American Express GBT Meeting & Events Forecast, 60% of all known corporate events are small (under 100 guests). This is just known events. Most companies recognize that the actual small meeting and event spend is well in excess of this number, and amounts to more than 1% of all corporate spend, often matching or exceeding the company’s entire travel budget. Based on the American Express report, the main use cases for small events are HR-related (team building, recruiting, training); marketing and sales (launches, client development and market development); and corporate (strategic, board, etc). Smaller events are seen as recession-resistant, relatively low-cost, and creative way to engage when it really matters.

One of the key reasons why fragmentation exists in small meetings and events is because of the lack of a consolidated booking channel. Often the events are sourced in one way and booked in another. The lack of a streamlined channel leads to widespread fragmentation. Corporate needs for small meetings and events are diverse and go well beyond hotels.

2. Adoption, why is centralization not working?

Most company executives, particularly CFOs, are aware of the huge black hole that small group spend presents. It’s a large number (over 9 figures for many Fortune 100 companies). Solutions to the problems have included tactics such as company-wide protocol mandates (i.e. “we will not reimburse you if you don’t follow the procedure”); more aggressive meeting and event departments (i.e., “please run any group events by me so I can make sure we get the lowest rate”) and existing expense or event software like Concur or Cvent. The problem is that none of these solutions have worked. Most of them have fallen flat at the adoption phase.

There are a couple reasons why these strategies have failed. Top-down protocols through the meeting department are inefficient. Meeting departments are inundated with larger events and lack the software to process small meetings, often resorting to Cvent or other eRFP processes that they use for large events, which yield long wait times, poor venue response, and stubbornly high prices. Employees feel like they can get to business faster on their own, and this trend has not changed. Further and more importantly, many employees want to own venue selection, as they want to pick a place that really fits the occasion and need, and it is often not a hotel which is the focus of many existing platforms today. Further, many employees who have regularly booked events in the past have their own venue relationships and they feel it is far easier for them to simply contact their relationship and get the matter accomplished faster. Speed and ease are key bottlenecks in the adoption process.

Another key bottleneck for adoption are the existing platforms themselves. The most successful enterprise software platforms that have worked for adoption, such as Slack, Dropbox or others, have built an interface that employees truly enjoy using. These platforms resonated across the organization not only because fulfill the required functionality, but because they deliver the content experience, design, and ease-of-use that today’s professionals need to feel trust and engagement. The unfortunate reality is that most event sourcing platforms today have built for the corporate meetings department, but not for adoption across the company.

One of the biggest risks with lack of adoption is compliance. All too often, venues are competing on similar prices and resort to extra incentives for employees booking on their own. Since the transactions are booked offline, through email and telephone, companies are missing the visibility they need to make sure that the company is accruing the true benefit.

3. Data is missing!

The third, and perhaps biggest, problem facing corporations in regards to their small meeting and event spend is the lack of aggregated data. Large organizations rely on consolidated data to leverage their buying power to negotiate better pricing with suppliers. The more data a company has, the more they can negotiate different aspects of their supplier relationship. Today, companies may be able to use Concur or other tools to aggregate gross spend, but often miss out on the granular data they need to drive impactful results. When it comes to small events, differentiating line-item spend on guest rooms vs. food and beverage vs. event services across all departments, use cases, and regions makes all the difference and can drive tens of millions of dollars of savings for large companies.

In addition to the cost savings, without aggregation, the ever-important ROI data is also missing. When the venue selection and booking processes are fragmented and offline, the baseline data for calculating ROI goes astray. Marketing, sales, HR, and corporate teams that most often need to organize small meetings and events must be held accountable to budget, conversion goals and tracking to make sure that the events were effective, and make changes to the next go-around. The key to this rapid iterative approach is solving the bottleneck on venue sourcing and booking and consolidating this spend data with the proper ROI benchmarks and team collaboration.

Can technology save the day?

The answer is no. Technology, in a vacuum, cannot save the day. Corporate meeting and event departments need to be deeply involved in establishing mandates, policies, and protocols and making sure to select the right platforms to empower employees to book their own meetings and events. A centralized approach to sourcing and booking does not work. Ultimately, employees want to book their own small events, their way. If this can be done in a compliant format that provides the data and oversight that companies need to drive cost savings and ROI, then that is a win-win for all. Here are the most important factors to consider when evaluating your small meeting and events technology:

Venue MixAssess if the platform you are considering offers your company access to all the venues they are using, outside of hotels. Administrators, marketing teams, and other self-bookers are increasingly using restaurants, lounges, activities like golf or bowling, vineyards and specialty destinations which are not on the GDS.

AdoptionAssess if folks at your company would actually enjoy using the platform. Run a small focus group with an administrator, marketing & sales professional, executive and meeting manager to assess whether the platform evokes trust and really fits their use. Walk through the actual process, whether it is an RFP or something else, and assess their comfort. Longer term, smaller meetings and events will be decentralized even if they are not today.

ComplianceAssess if the platform fits with your established company rules and can handle the complexity of workflows around booking, invoices, and any other requirements such as insurance. Further, make sure that you are protected against “hidden compliance risk” such as offline transactions.

There are a number of great new platforms out there addressing the small meetings market. With some thoughtful focus around picking the right platform, new ROI is just a couple of taps away.