Navigating the new normal for meetings procurement

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Bobbi Djordjevic, Global Category Manager, Dentsply Sirona in Gothenburg Bobbi Djordjevic, Global Category Manager, Dentsply Sirona in Gothenburg

Bobbi Djordjevic, global category manager at Dentsply Sirona in Gothenburg, takes us through navigating the new normal for meetings procurement and tells us why Covid has thrown the sector into the future...

Tell us about Covid, and how that impacted you as a meetings procurement professional?

Covid was a pivotal moment for procurement because, previously, people were reluctant to collaborate with us. It was hard to get executive buy-in, so we were always advocating and trying to internally promote the benefits of having procurement on board.

Then Covid hit and, while some people were made redundant or had their roles changed, meetings procurement got extremely busy. With no lead time, we had to, one, cancel everything that could be cancelled and renegotiate cancellation clauses and contracts. And two, start rebooking everything to virtual around May-June 2020. And this all had to be done ‘today’.

On the bright side, we finally got the opportunity to prove to the organisation the true value of meetings procurement as an internal service. They saw our value in renegotiating contracts and showing them an alternative way of sourcing and it was the first time our direct impact was recognised and we were mentioned by the CEO as a key function for the survival of the company. He told everyone to ‘work with procurement, we have to manage our costs and the better we do this, the fewer people will have to go.’ And everyone understood that equation.

It's a common theme among buyers, that the senior management team started to see the value both in event management but also travel management and they stopped seeing it as a cost, more as something that could deliver ROI.

Yes. And it even continues now, post COVID, because everybody is so busy with their core business. Marketing – for example – are still receiving hotel confirmations, but don’t have time to go through the legal terms and conditions to check we are covered, that proper force majeure clauses are in place and, in case of cancellation for any reason, there is 100 per cent liability, and so on. It is critical that we are involved in negotiating these contracts.

I think Covid has projected us 15 years into the future.

How have your processes and suppliers changed as a result of last two years?

The sourcing process hasn't really changed, though on the supplier side, we are now looking for a global partner that will help us on a strategic level and across event project management. The big difference was events becoming virtual or hybrid. They opened a door wide to marketing agencies who, all of a sudden became experts on virtual events, so we had to advise our stakeholders not to rush, and to let us explain that, for example, we already had the technology inhouse, or we already had our own AV providers. All we needed was the virtual platform. So, the cost of buying those packages could be heavily reduced.

Do you think that stemmed from panic? They felt they had to do something and here was an instant solution.

Absolutely. They didn’t have enough time to do proper analysis, they had to act now because nobody knew what was going to happen - would budgets could be cut further? What they did know, was it was important to stay close to the market. It has been a journey to explain to every stakeholder why it is a risk to work with suppliers without proper contracts in place, or that you can't just let everyone have access to your data. It was something we needed to educate the business on.

Have you gone back and work out how much money you’ve saved them?

It’s interesting, because initially it felt we were preventing them from being agile because they had found this seamless, ‘push the button’ solution and here we were pausing them and explaining they had to adhere to our sourcing, contracting and data policies. But when they saw the cost comparisons, they understood it made sense. And from that moment, they would have had to make an active personal decision to opt out of that financial saving at a time when the company was struggling with costs.

How are the meetings and events you are managing now changing?

Most of the educational content driven programmes were on their way to pivoting to digital even before Covid. We were lucky that we had already started that transition. So, it was easy to continue. Most of the content driven programme is digital now and obviously that saves a lot of money in terms of speakers’ costs and T&E, but also gives us much higher attendance and we can easily prove that. Our internal meetings continue to be virtual, too, and we now have the technology and skills to make them as efficient as in person events. We understand that salespeople need to get out there, though, and these are the only in person meetings that are automatically approved right now.

Do you think there will be a time when the balance will shift again back towards physical meetings?

No. I think Covid has projected us 15 years into the future. We were already talking about it; we just needed the impetus to make the move. It was nice to travel, and get together, it enriches our lives as humans. But Covid presented clear evidence that we can be productive, we can communicate, we are elastic and adaptable creatures and so the excuses dried up.

The leadership has seen huge savings, and you can’t argue with the sustainability benefits. So, that leaves the external meetings - strategic meetings with partners, suppliers or customers? Because those relationships are not automatically built, it still requires that in person connection, which is why big shows and exhibitions will stay with us.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

One thing I am very passionate about, and always ask peers and colleagues, is if they're able to measure return on events. It makes me happy that this disruption, which forced us online, gave us access to so much new data, and I see the ripple effect. Suddenly IT is onboard, leadership is on board, and we start seeing systems integration that allows us to leverage that data in a relatively short space of time.  

Taking responsibility for events end to end – to have true alignment with business objectives - that’s what makes me happy about all this.

Bobbi Djordjevic is an advisory board member for Business Travel Show Europe, taking place 29-30 June at ExCeL London, and is speaking on two panels at the event, ‘How to manage the new normal for meetings procurement’ and ‘Code red – How to reduce your company’s meetings risk’.

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