She may not have intended a career in meetings management, but that hasn't stopped Sharon Marsh, CMP, CMM, from making successful meetings her mission. And not just her own meetings, either. The corporate meeting professional (most recently with Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft) sees her role as an opportunity to share her vision for the future of the industry — a vision in which coordination between planners and procurement pros is the focus.
The notion of corporate procurement departments working hand in hand with their meetings management counterparts may still seem radical — not to mention unnerving — to career corporate meetings managers used to handling vendor selection on their own. But it's a notion whose time, Marsh says, has come. “Some meetings professionals struggle with the idea,” she explains. “I, however, embrace it. The procurement specialists can perform the tasks they are well-skilled at, leaving us time to perform the tasks we are skilled at.”
For instance, Marsh notes, “Procurement specialists are used to going out to bid for every item under the sun. For us as meetings managers, our buy is much more complex. It's not just about the best price. A hotel can practically give away a space, but if that space can't accommodate our group, it does us no good.”
Marsh has worked with her procurement department to help create the elements of an effective RFP. “They get all the components and organize them in a nice spreadsheet,” she says. Once proposals come in, her team sits down with their procurement partners and grades different sections based on 10 areas they have identified as ranging from most critical to least critical. With procurement's measuring tools and grading scales, “it makes it easy to compare apples to apples.” Once a few promising apples are picked, her meetings team reviews references while procurement, which is “great at quantifying, putting numbers to things,” handles price negotiations.
The collaboration has led to the creation of preferred vendor lists in various categories. These lists give Marsh's meetings managers free rein to pick the vendor best suited for a particular job without going through a labor-intensive approval process each time.
Now, from her leadership position with MPI's Northern California chapter, and armed with her freshly earned CMM designation, Marsh is determined to help fellow professionals embrace the inevitable changes taking hold in her industry. “The trend is consolidation — meetings departments working with the procurement and travel departments,” she says. “I'm not saying that any of them should be reporting to the other, and I don't think they need to battle with one another. Each must do what it does best for the good of the company.”
Sharon Marsh can be reached at sharon [email protected].
WORD TO THE WISE
“If a vendor wants to know how the collaboration between meetings management and procurement is going to impact them, they should ask their main contact at the client company. They should say, ‘I don't want to step on anyone's toes. I want to work with you in your preferred manner. How can I do that?’ And they might have to make an extra effort. But once you become a preferred vendor, you're in that company's system.”
IN OR OUT?
“The outsourcing of meetings planning is a cyclical thing. As soon as they outsource, it lasts about two years, and then they bring it back in. If you're being asked to support why your department shouldn't be outsourced, you darn well better be tracking what you're doing.”
SATISFACTION IN ACTION
“Meetings professionals by nature are hands-on. We like to start something, and we like to finish it. We are behind-the-scenes people. Is recognition nice? Yes, but that's not why we do what we do. We are the people who have all these little lists. We list out what we're going to do, and we get it done.”