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Vertical Specialization: Required for Successful Travel Management Consulting?

By: Chris Pouney

An oft heard criticism of procurement, and one of my motivations of getting qualified in it, was the assertion that procurement professionals knew nothing about travel and their skills were more akin to buying paperclips one minute and fleet cars the next.

The procurement rebuttal would be that the travel category carries many of the same attributes of other indirect services purchased on behalf of a company. Also, procurement specialists with broad category purchasing experience could apply fresh thinking and ask more difficult questions, which might not be asked by a travel specialist.

Perhaps more relevant today than procurement vs. travel expertise is the question of industry or sector expertise. How does travel procurement expertise translate from one vertical to the next, and how much specialization is required? How important is it to understand the nuances and intricacies of the customer’s industry sector?

From a technical perspective, the argument that ‘travel is travel’ holds some water. And having worked across many industries I can attest to the fact that the principles of good travel management; transparency, visibility, total cost of ownership, strong strategic partnerships where needed, and well-structured tactical relationships where they do not, apply regardless of what sector you are in.

But, a level of sector expertise from a consultant, when combined with the broadly applied principles above, can definitely add value. It’s not enough to be technically correct and produce a mathematically and process accurate proposal or recommendation: we have to win on culture and in hearts and minds.

And that involves forming relationships, showing empathy with our customers and giving confidence that we know their business. In my career I have been fortunate to work across many industries, and the nuance of each sector is critical. Language, level of formality, even dress code play and other surprising considerations play a critical part in forming successful outcomes in specific verticals. For example:

In Government, wearing a tie is critical, as well as understanding complex freedom of information legislation, and never discussing politics

In Financial Services, knowing your numbers, and being prepared to be challenged at every step, and keeping ‘eyes front’ when walking through a trading room as not to inadvertently glance over someone’s shoulder at sensitive financial information

In the Entertainment and Creative sectors, understanding the complex relationship between talent and management is key and building strong relationships with suppliers to help support those seemingly impossible personalization requests. And equipment, so much equipment.

In the Legal Sector, recapping learnings, follow up, and understanding the often complex client recharge processes are key to success

In the Pharmaceutical Industry, understanding the complexity of the regulatory environment and incorporating into policy and documentation is critical to success.

Of course, each sector knows their own company and industry very well indeed -- the culture, the history, the language and all the foibles. But closing off from broader consultative knowledge and insights and examples from other industries means you could be missing out on a wellspring of strategies and practical applications that bring meaningful and lucrative change to your travel program.

In short, understanding travel is important, and applying thinking from one sector to another (cross fertilization) can be productive, but from the consultant perspective, understanding the client’s business and DNA is what makes the consultant, and more importantly the client, successful.


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