Planner's Workshop: Pre-Event: Meetings Technology: A Strategy Guide

Using online meeting planning tools requires diligence. Successful companies make smart decisions at every step of the process. This requires a good action plan and some hard work. Part one of this series will detail how to research and purchase an online planning tool.

Step 1: Understand Your Needs
Perform an internal assessment of your company's meeting planning needs. To do this, seek requirements from internal stakeholders and document the tools that currently are being used. Knowing what you will need is critical when you research available products in the market.

Be sure to establish metrics for success. Examples of metrics include: economic savings / revenue, employee satisfaction, adoption rates, and meeting attendance. Having a strategy to measure success will be crucial as you recruit executive support for your plan.

Step 2: See What's Out There
Before you start calling vendors, appoint a team to evaluate options and products. Solicit a cross-section of your company's stakeholders to offer a variety of perspectives.

Industry trade shows and conferences can also be useful resources in identifying potential meetings programs. Use these events to view program options, but also to network with peers about the tools they use and recommend.

As you evaluate the options, be sure to determine the product's stability and the financial stability of the vendors. The last thing you want to do is select a tool that experiences significant downtime or a vendor that lacks the resources to enhance the tool as your relationship and meeting planning needs mature. Clearly identify what features are nice to have and which ones are necessary to make your meetings program successful.

Additionally, get the full pricing picture from vendors. Many products have an implementation fee, an annual fee, and a transaction fee. These fees tend to be negotiable based on the volume of transactions that can be delivered—or the number of meetings planned.

Understand the cost of ownership. Some products are more user-friendly than others and will require less training. Are there any hidden costs like customization or integration with your company's existing systems?

Step 3: Make a Purchase
Be sure to consult individuals who will be impacted by this purchase, such as the corporate travel manager, procurement manager, and meeting planners.

Where can you buy the tool? In many cases, programs can be obtained directly from vendors or distributors who can provide a cheaper price if you can deliver volume. A distributor can package a program with other valued items.

Next month: How to implement the program.

Jeremy Stubbs is the director of GetThere meetings management, a provider of online corporate travel reservation technology. He can be reached by visiting www.getthere.com or calling, (800) 850-3906.

Originally published July 01, 2007

For more ideas, tips, and tools for better meetings and events, get Successful Meetings' weekly e-newsletter delivered to your inbox.