Meetings Mean Business
Transform the World
By Tim Sanders
I PARTICIPATED IN DOZENS OF MEETINGS—sales rallies, customer events and planning offsites—at Yahoo for years before I was a professional speaker. When I first came to the company in 2000, we had meetings every other week (it seemed).
All the locations had one thing in common: good weather. We networked, learned about our industry and bonded. We heard talks from outside luminaries such as Malcolm Gladwell and Dr. Julius Erving.
The year 2000 ended on an ugly financial note, and budgets were trimmed. The next year, the stock market crashed, and budgets were filleted to the marrow. We had about six meetings in 2002. Total.
They were Spartan, too, held at cost-effective locations and more regional in focus. We provisioned resources from everywhere to make ends meet. Most speakers were internal PowerPoint jockeys, and the educational programs were largely snore fests.
“Price” replaced “The Experience” as the criteria for event spend. All along, I knew that if Google started meeting again, for real, they’d have better morale and connectivity with each other, and we’d get behind. By early 2003, I got wind that Microsoft’s MSN network was on a meeting tear with national sales, customer and industry events rolling out to support new products.
Along with several Yahoo employees that served on the meetings committees, I worked on a plan to educate our leadership about the financial value proposition of meetings. We needed to position meetings as a have-to investment, instead of an entitlement or a luxury. We partnered with sales, finance and ops people to analyze the sales productivity “bump” that historically took place after our sales conference. We partnered with finance, sales and customer care to analyze the incremental spend of customers who attended our event. The more we put numbers to events, the more credibility our vice presidents and directors had when they asked for more meetings and budget to go with them. And we started to meet again.
Sound a little familiar? The recession, politicians, layoffs…all of these factors limit the total, size and scope of your meetings. Your people are less connected than ever, and morale is low. If your competitor suddenly starts meeting, they will likely be targeting you—asleep at the wheel, shrinking your way to greatness.
So take control and turn meetings into business investments. Talk the language of business and help your corporate or association stakeholders succeed as they get you incremental meetings and budget. Remember: Your sales VP loves the national and international sales rally. It’s the only way to introduce product and people and get that big boost in confidence. Your membership director loves meetings as a way to provide education services, network members together and market new products. Your HR group loves their annual planning offsite as well as what the incentive meetings do for the retention of top sales talent. So you have friends in high places—they just need proof that your meetings are money in the bank.
Here are four ways to demonstrate the business value of meetings.
1. Measure the Lift. If you program events for motivation, inspiration and buy-in, you’ll likely change behavior in the attendees immediately. For a sales conference, you’ll likely be able to see an increase in call volume (via call logs), prospecting (via sales force automation) or actual sales. Measure the period before and after the meeting over 30-day windows. Association professionals should measure the traffic to Web sites, membership numbers or incremental member spend right after annual or regional events. For customer/user events, measure the incremental spend and retention figures over a longer period, up to a year.
2. Document the Savings. Chances are, your meetings reduce the expenses associated with product rollouts and process improvements. With breakouts, dozens of smaller in-office meetings are no longer necessary. Document the costs that would occur without your national or global meetings including shipping, executive time, presenter travel, logistics and telephone. Also, see if you can measure the savings associated with the coordination and elimination of duplication that occurs at meetings when everyone “gets on the same page.”
3. Benchmark the Competition. Network via friends, Web searches and social media to find out if your competitors are meeting. Document locations, speakers and the buzz associated with those events. If you can prove that you are being out-met, you will likely increase the urgency of your business partners as they campaign for meetings.
4. Evangelize the Power of Meetings. MPI provides ample resources to document the educational, inspirational, practical and networking value of meetings. Create a short-but-smart PowerPoint and play host to brown bag lunches across your organization. If you’re a hospitality provider or meeting vendor, offer to conduct a presentation for your meeting planner clients or at industry functions. Focus on business decision makers, executives and finance staff.
You and I know that meetings matter: They change the world. If you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do some slide ruler work, you can get back to having them again with adequate if not ample budgets for production. Never let your guard down in the future, even during bull markets. Meetings mean business, and it’s your job to talk-the-talk at all times. One+
TIM SANDERS, a top-rated speaker on the lecture circuit, is the author of Saving the World at Work: What Companies and Individuals Can Do to Go Beyond Making a Profit to Making a Difference (Doubleday, September 2008). Check out is Web site at www.timsanders.com.