Guest Column: Don’t get left out in the cold

Why September travel freezes frustrate travellers and non-travellers alike

It’s two-thirds of the way through the year, and your finance team declares a freeze on all business travel. Despite the fact you have a significant pitch coming up, you have to go through detailed justification and layers of management to circumvent this, culminating in CFOs having to spend precious time signing this off. Sound familiar?

Many businesses today have run down their travel funds by September, hitting the panic button to impose a blanket travel ban. At the same time, they boost the travel budget for the following year, with no analysis or logic. And so the cycle continues.

To make money, you need to spend money, whether it be visiting prospects or exhibiting at events. But in a business environment where competition is high and customer loyalty easily swayed, half the battle is knowing which area to invest in, and being able to predict travel and expense (T&E) levels – and poor management of this leads to travel bans.

The problem isn’t isolated to one particular sector or geography, either. Freezes are now common across the board, with many organisations experiencing “September Travel Freeze Syndrome”. In September last year, Deutsche Bank put a stop to junior and mid-level employees travelling, and later the Bank of England cut staff expenses after a £390,000 travel bill row.

And it’s not just sales teams that are affected, as travel managers’ workloads can double as a result of analysing hundreds of individual travel requests that will still come in. CFOs and finance directors also carry this extra load – the same people likely to have imposed the ban in the first place.

The solution is better visibility, actionable T&E insight and forward planning. While data analytics is being deployed within most businesses to enhance productivity and competitiveness, the one area that lags behind is T&E.

As T&E is the second largest expenditure after payroll, there has to be a better way than imposing blanket travel bans. So let’s drop the rigid rules in travel policies that only focus on costs and savings, rather than productivity and return. The next generation of business traveller has different expectations around flexibility and self-empowerment; they will not be dictated to by policies that don’t encourage their best performance. Policies need to flex to manage and engage with employees.

Of course, finance people prefer concrete figures, to predict future spend. The future of T&E management lies in being able to derive ROI from spend on a case-by-case basis. This visibility around who and what to spend money on will then enable business leaders and sales teams to determine which customers are worth investing in.

Also integrate T&E into your customer relationship management system for a holistic view of all spend associated with acquiring and retaining business; no doubt your sales and finance teams will warm to you if you cut out pointless administration and their need to justify what they’re doing and why.

SalesTrip was a finalist in this year’s Business Travel Show Disrupt Awards

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