Not all meetings and travel management companies are created equal. Unfortunately there are no websites available that offer a tick box comparison of the companies currently operating in the market. This article is the next best thing, documenting the many things to consider and shining a torch on the pitfalls to avoid.’

Douglas O’Neill, MD, Inntel

 

Before we even start, do you even need one?

The short answer is ‘Yes’, although you’ll find a significantly expanded version in our article, ‘Outsourcing is in again – and it was only a matter of time’ (Inntel, September 2015).

To quote from the introduction, “Using a meetings management company should be a ‘no brainer’ for any company that wants to protect its brand and grow its business through a programme of meetings and events while saving money into the bargain”. The benefits of working with a meetings management company are clear.  Spotting which companies can deliver the benefits is not so straightforward.

So what should you look for?

[1]
VALUES that match your own

Look at the company’s mission statement, value statement and any other overview type messages that they may be promoting on their homepage or marketing material.  This may seem a rough and ready way to assess a company, but a considerable amount of thought and introspection goes into preparing these corporate statements. While they may be saying similar things, there will say them differently – so look closely at where they place the emphasis. Do you respect their priorities? Do you relate to them?

[2]
CLIENTS you can relate to

Now look at their client list. Are they already dealing with companies similar to your own? (By similar, we mean ‘of similar size and standing to your own’, rather than with the same business profile. If you’re a national company you need to see that they have an equally broad reach, rather than regional limitations, for example.). Read through their case studies to see if they are already delivering the same services you need for others. If you have any particular requirements – needing special rates in 4* hotels, for example – email the company and ask if they are meeting these requirements for any of their existing clients.

[3]
CLIENTS they have had a while

Winning new business is good – but hanging on to old business is better. A good case study will tell you when the company started working with a client and indicate whether the relationship is ongoing.

There is often a happy honeymoon period with any new supplier relationship, especially when the previous supplier’s tenure ended in disappointment or disgrace, so look for clients that the supplier has been working with for three or more years. These will be the ones they have hung on to after the first contract review.

[4]
CLIENTS you can speak to

We place far too much reliance on web content and email communications these days.  If you want something done properly, today, in minutes, the best thing you can do is to pick up the phone. So ask for the contact details of anyone you can speak to on the client’s side as a quick call will tell you more than a 1,000 word case study. In just a few seconds you could be happily hearing: “Yes, we’re very happy. They are well organised, deal with problems fast and have saved us money since we started using them”.  If instead you hear a moment’s hesitation followed by a carefully and diplomatically worded sentence, proceed with caution!

If this sounds like ‘old school’ advice, think about any of your current suppliers who are not performing as expected. Would you have appreciated a word to the wise before hand?

[5]
SUPPLIERS you can use without losing out

Many management companies have negotiated special rates with preferred suppliers and this could be a good thing for your company. Or not.

It all depends on whether the special arrangements reduce your chance of securing better deals elsewhere. If the meetings and travel management company has a bargain rate with a particular budget hotel, that’s great. If the deal means the management company is pushing your travelers into the budget hotel in every town, rather than the better hotel over the road that might be able to do you a deal – not so great.

So when you’re talking to a prospective management company, ask them if they have any specially negotiated rates or deals with suppliers – and look at the terms and conditions of the tie-in before you celebrate. They may come at a cost.

[6]
BOOKING TOOLS you can see working

Companies will either be using off-the-shelf systems or their own booking technology. Whichever route they have chosen, prepare a tick list of things you expect as standard (live updates, traveler tracking, specific reporting capabilities, online approvals, budget monitoring etc) so you are not sidetracked by features that are good to have rather than business-critical.

If they are using off-the-shelf technology it is probably highly compatible with whatever systems you are using yourself, but it could be limited in terms of its flexibility. This is simply because the management company will not be able to add new or tailor existing functions to suit the way you want to do business. They are relying on the developers for upgrades and additions.

If they are using their own booking technology it is likely that they have developed it themselves due to frustration with the limitations of what is on the market, and this could work in your favour. However you will need to check that their bespoke booking tools are 100% compatible with your own systems and that the company is prepared to offer your bookers comprehensive training and ongoing support.

A good way to assess the ease of use and unique advantages of a company’s booking tools is to request a live demo. Make sure you have your own bookers and IT people at the demo as they will ask the most pertinent questions.

[7]
PEOPLE you can trust with your account

The management team may have impressed you, but the day-to-day workload will be handled by account managers, travel and accommodation bookers and event planners.  So ask to meet them. After all, if you put your business in this new company’s hands you’ll be dealing with these people on a daily basis.  Why wouldn’t you want to meet them up front?

At a very minimum, you will need to see a skills and experience profile for the front-line people working on your account. It’s fine to have some newcomers in the mix – we all have to start somewhere – as long as there’s sufficient practical experience in there too.

[8]
PROCESSES that reduce your workload

Most jobs can be done several different ways, so investigate the administrative processes that will be used to carry out your bookings from making the initial reservation to paying the final bill.  Your new management company may take over some of the mundane tasks you have been carrying out in house, which could be a bonus. Alternatively, they may not be able to take on something your previous company offered as standard.

The devil’s in the detail, so be sure you understand what’s being offered in the standard service agreement and how much any extra services will cost.

For example, if your travel arrangements need to be approved by line or department managers, who will be responsible for seeking the sign off? How will invoices be supplied, and who will be responsible for cross-checking them against the bookings made, the agreed rates or the department budgets?

[9]
SAVINGS every day, from day one

The driving reason to outsource any service is to have it done better than you could do it yourself. This means, first and foremost, more efficiently than you can do it and second, in the vast majority of cases, cheaper than you can do it.

You need to know that any savings a prospective service provider can deliver are beneficial savings (achieved as a result of improved efficiency, preferential rates, greater purchasing power, innovative solutions) rather than undesirable savings (from lowering standards, increasing response times, limiting the service offering or availability, using less experienced and therefore cheaper staff).

If a management company assures you they can save you money, ask them how. No amount is worth saving if it’s at your expense.

In our recent article, ‘7 Golden Rules for the Perfect RFP Process – Inntel, October 2015’, we offered a foolproof way to see if a new company is able to deliver the savings they claim they can. Simply present them with a historic project (a meeting or event that you have run in the past) and ask them to provide their ideas and costs for the same project. Then you can compare the estimated costs supplied by everyone on your shortlist with the bills you actually paid!

[10]
RESPONSIVE account management

You find out who your real friends are when the chips are down. Similarly, how a business responds to problems is more telling than how they act when the going’s good.

A critical question to ask, therefore, is how the management company has solved problems in the past – with examples. A confident company will be able to point to a problem that they have identified, taken responsibility for, resolved and learned from. Take it as a good sign.

Setting the standard

When you’re comparing and contrasting suppliers, here are a few facts about Inntel that you can use to benchmark others against.

1. Values that match your own
Who are we?

We’re the ones who go the extra mile to ensure your meetings and travel arrangements run smoothly – and take full accountability for the results. We’re 100% on your side and we can be bothered so you can relax. We’re good people to have in your corner.
Read more about Inntel’s values.

2. Clients you can relate to

The majority of our clients are medium and large enterprises operating across the UK and Western Europe requiring between 500 and 2,000 room nights of accommodation (and related travel arrangements) per month and assistance with the administration and management of large scale meetings (100 to 2,000 attendees) and events.

3. Clients we have had for a while

Inntel is the largest and fastest growing meetings management business in the UK. Our current growth has come about after 30 years of steady progress, making contacts, investing in people and developing our own value-adding technological innovations.

Looking at our current portfolio, 78% of our clients have been with us for more than 3 years. Of these, 52% have been clients for more than 5 years.

4. Clients you can speak to

Some of our clients prefer to remain anonymous for business reasons. However we do have a list of clients who have agreed to be contacted by email or telephone by any other company interested in using our services.

The procedure is that we would alert the client that a named individual would like to speak to contact them and ask when would be convenient. We have no influence over what the client will say.

5. Suppliers you can use without losing out

Inntel is very well connected and able to use its market contacts to secure highly preferential hotel and room hire rates for its clients. In many cases, these rates and deals are better than others are able to secure.

See Case Study – Signal Engineering Company – How we benchmarked our hotel rates to prove they offer the best value, bar none.

We guarantee that the deals we secure for our clients do not limit the opportunities for achieving savings with any other suppliers.

6. Booking tools you can see working

Inntel has developed its own comprehensive meetings management suite, the Inntel Meetings Management Portal. The portal holds a total of nine turnkey software tools that integrate easily with corporate systems and reduce the time, money and headache involved in organising and managing high volumes of meetings.

It’s quite simply the most comprehensive set of interactive meetings management tools on the market.

The nine tools operate independently to give you a focused solution for different aspects of your internal and external meetings management – including diary management, delegate management, budget administration, venue booking and more.

Used together, the tools provide a structured and integrated way to:

·      Implement your corporate meetings strategies and policies

·      Track how much you are spending on meetings and

·      Monitor your return on that investment.
If you would like to see a live demonstration of the Meetings Management Portal we will be happy to arrange one.

7. People you can trust with your account

Everyone at Inntel receives all the training they need to be confident in their work, and the space they need to use their initiative as required.

It takes a lot of energy to deliver great service, so we ensure we provide the behind-the-scenes support everyone needs to maintain their enthusiasm for the job.

8. Processes that reduce your workload

Inntel is able to offer a total, beginning-to-end travel and accommodation booking service that can be accessed online (via the Inntel Meetings Management Portal) or by calling the nominated Inntel account manager or booker.

Some of our clients like to dovetail the service elements they want to keep in-house with Inntel’s services.

Others prefer to outsource all of their travel and meetings management requirements, including liaising with individual travellers as required.

9. Savings every day, from day one

Inntel achieves significant savings for its clients through our specially negotiated rates and deals. We do not charge any extra for the full account management service that is available to all Inntel clients as standard. This ensures that any company will achieve significant savings from the moment they start working with Inntel.

10. Responsive account management

If we think we could be doing more to help, or providing the same service in a more efficient way, we’ll suggest it.

Feel free to ask us for examples of when we have done this.