I understand the value of face-to-face meetings for building relationships, especially across borders where everyone speaks a different native language, having managed International Commercialization for a Fortune 500 company. There was also a lot I could do from the comfort of my home office when budgets and time were tight.
Use these simple questions to determine how you can make travel more effective while also saving time and money.
1. What is the purpose of the trip?
Be clear on what the trip will accomplish. If your team is asking to attend a conference like Dreamforce be specific about what you are expecting. The purpose may be finding new business partners, learning how to maximize a product you've already purchased, recruiting new developers, or simply rewarding your engineers with a wild week in San Francisco.
If education is the goal ask the employee to present the findings to the organization. This will spread the benefits of the travel through the organization and create an opportunity for your talent to show their leadership skills. This request will also weed out unnecessary trips if people feel like there will not be enough value for a presentation.
2. Is travel absolutely critical to success?
Ask yourself, and your team, whether travel is really required. Use online meetings to save time and money. ooVoo and Google Hangouts are free for use up to a certain number of attendees.
3. Who are the most critical people for the meeting?
Many people will want top tier management in attendance. Your time is valuable. It is important to ask whether you truly need to be at the meeting. Is there someone in the organization that can travel instead? Or is this an opportunity to give your up and coming stars a chance to shine?
More is not necessarily better. I have been in meetings where potential vendors had two times the number of people in the meeting than we, the customer, did. No wonder the cost of the solution was astronomical and they lost the deals. Know who will be showing up on the other side and plan accordingly.
4. Is there flexibility when you travel?
Avoid traveling on holidays and during major conferences as airline and hotel costs, and headaches, will spike. You can also save money by flying on non-peak days like Saturday. Many websites like Kayak allow you to look at options across multiple days to easily find the least expensive option.
5. Is it time to have someone local?
If you are flying somewhere every week, with no end in sight, it might be time to hire a local or relocate someone on the team. Internally this can save you travel costs and give employees opportunities to grow. Externally you will build credibility and show commitment to your partner.
6. What did the trip accomplish?
Measure the results of the trip. Define what success is based on the determined purpose. Success could be tied to sales numbers, business process optimization, or employee satisfaction. Use this data to inform future decisions - Did that conference really provide the ROI we were looking for? Evaluate and recalibrate if necessary.
It is easy for people to get caught up in the mind frame of "this is what we have always done". Take a few minutes to run through this list of questions for all your travel. I guarantee you will identify many opportunities to maximize your time and money.