For as long as I can remember, I have been continually frustrated with the process of business travel and expenses — both as an employee who travels regularly, and as a CEO.
For years I would receive information about my team’s collective travel spend for the month and struggle to see what return this had delivered on the top line. The multiple travel and expense systems I used only served to create further inefficiencies. Data sets were incredibly siloed – so much so that I had no visibility of where individual employees were travelling to, or even which sales opportunities or customers their travel was linked to. Most nonsensical of all, I had no insight into whether my team’s travel spend was delivering a good return on investment (ROI).
I would often find myself asking why we had spent £60,000 on corporate travel in July when equivalent expenditure for June had been just £30,000. Had the tickets been more expensive? Had more people been travelling than usual? And most importantly, would we see an attributable peak in sales conversions? I didn’t have the answers because I couldn’t see the bigger picture.
The biggest contributing factor to this scenario was the inability of travel and expense data sets to ‘speak to one another’ – both within my own team and across business functions. This led to an environment whereby my colleagues and I would work off ‘gut feel’, taking stabs in the dark to determine which business trips held the greatest revenue potential, and then investing in those with a ‘fingers crossed’ approach. It was far from scientific.
Travel: A frustrating business
My experience as an employee who travelled frequently wasn’t much better, either. I often arranged my own travel and experienced first-hand the inconvenience of having to pull data from multiple sources in order to determine the best travel option. Invariably, I’d end up having to send numerous emails and scan various websites just to sort out the flights and accommodation for one trip. The entire process was time-consuming and tedious, when I should have been doing more meaningful work.
Integration: More data, more intelligence
Clearly, the business of travel and expense management has been ripe for change for a long time. But where does the solution lie?
It begins with breaking down long-standing data silos and enabling business travel data to talk to business expense data. It doesn’t stop there, though. In order to achieve true visibility as to the ROI brought in from specific spend, these data sets also need to integrate with the organisation’s wider financial and operational data, such as that found in a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).
Integrating travel booking and expense systems not only makes the business of travel more efficient, and therefore a better experience for employees, it also allows managers to better understand whether, or not, their team’s travel spend is delivering increased ROI. A single, comprehensive system that comes with built-in, real-time analytics also empowers decision-makers to quickly assess whether the expense of any one business trip is warranted or not. In other words, decisions that are driven by data instead of instinct.
A large proportion of an organisation’s travel spend, for example, is either spent – or signed off by - by its commercial or executive teams. But would these decision makers choose to authorise or take these same trips if they had an immediate view of the amount of time and money that had already been invested in a particular customer or business prospect? If the data showed that it made commercial sense, yes, absolutely. But if it revealed poor ROI from specific revenue growth opportunities, continued investment in these could be halted, allowing spend to be re-directed towards more worthwhile business opportunities.
Gone are the days of blindly spending large sums on nurturing opportunities that are only perceived to be valuable based on instinct alone. If business leaders are to remain competitive and avoid corporate travel becoming a drain on their profits, they must now leverage smart data systems to strategise their customer and prospect relationship management, ensuring spend is focused on those who are most likely to deliver a good return.
A mechanism for business growth
In this way, and as technology precipitates better insight and more informed decision-making, the way in which business travel is viewed across the organisation is changing, too. The smarter systems with built-in AI and Machine Learning capabilities are reducing – or in some cases, even eradicating – travellers’ long-standing frustrations with trip booking and expense claims, creating valuable time savings for employees and cost savings for the business.
Perhaps the biggest revelation of all though can be seen in the Finance department – a business function that has typically viewed travel and expenses as an ongoing cost that is difficult to predict and manage. By enabling insight into the ROI of specific business travel spend however, business travel can, for the first time, be viewed as a mechanism for business growth rather than just an uncontrollable cost.
Essentially, newer travel and expense management technology that is driven by CRM data can empower business leaders to put a science behind their business travel spend, giving them the necessary visibility to identify and eliminate illogical spend.
Manoj Ganapathy, CEO, SalesTrip