Kari Wendel leads strategic and enterprise customers, and global operations for CWT Meetings & Events. She has been with the company for more than 11 years.
We talk to Kari about the trends shaping the meetings and events industry, how to listen more and talk less, and why it’s important to be selective about the questions you include in your RFP.
Can you tell us about your role?
I am lucky to lead the most talented Meetings & Events team in the industry. We work with larger customers with centralized meeting strategies and large events & incentives to deliver amazing results on a daily basis. I was hired in 2010 to build and lead our Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) offering as well as to start our SMM consulting practice. Over this time my role expanded and became global enabling the development of our strategic account planning processes as well as key partnerships such as the first ever partnership in Japan for SMM service delivery.
Strategic meetings management is the management of enterprise-wide meetings processes, spend, volume, standards, suppliers and data to achieve measurable business objectives that align with an organization's strategic goals. It’s just like travel management for meetings.
What do you see as the most important trends and/or developments that will shape the meetings and events industry in the next 5 years?
Without a doubt, the hybrid meeting will reign supreme for years to come. The last two years have taught us that we really can work virtually and accomplish key goals and objectives as we collaborate remotely, and that some meetings can be successfully delivered in virtual or hybrid format without undermining their impact.
Additionally, the chatter about sustainability is now a roar and all parts of the supply chain are focused on doing their part to progress in this area. Meetings and events provide a unique vehicle for the achievement of key sustainability initiatives and its time has certainly come.
Beyond the immediate view we will continue to see a merging of travel and meetings teams and strategies with a focus on Total Meetings Management where every type of meeting – from simple to high touch incentives - derives significant benefit from the SMM program.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I’m most proud of the industry thought leadership I built and delivered during more than 10 years of significant volunteer work. From being a leader in the creation of the discipline now widely known as SMM or Strategic Meetings Management, leading several committees, councils and boards that fed this industry leadership, and designing and teaching the only professional industry certification in SMM. Not only was this personally and professionally fulfilling but it also supported my career progression here at CWT M&E – a bonus buy if you will!
What skills are vital in your job?
Leadership, perseverance, and a crazy need to solve complex problems. We are a global organization that was made up of dozens of country organizations just a few short years ago. The challenges inherent in moving to a global focus while maintaining that critical country and regional level nuance is not for the faint of heart. We have to stay focused on big goals while being flexible with solutions…and then the landscape changes. But I always say, it’s better to be busy than bored. It keeps us on our toes in the quest to deliver amazing results on a daily basis to our customers while driving high levels of internal engagement across teams.
How do companies and organizations need to adapt to meet changing behavior and values?
Change seems to be the norm these days and our ability to embrace it rather than run from it is paramount. We need to listen more and talk less. The simple act of asking a few high-level questions – what’s working/not, what’s great/not – is crucial.
And then it’s important to let the conversation flow. You can derive a level of detailed insight and feedback that no survey can touch. Keeping a pulse on the changing value of our customers and team members enables us to adapt strategies and build new solutions that connect and ensure the continued forward progress of our joint objectives.
What do you think are the key considerations when looking out for a new M&E provider?
Finding a partner that “fits” your own company’s culture and business approach is mission critical. Does that partner have a proven track record of success that matches your goals and objectives? Do they have teams that can help you frame a vision and then achieve it? Can they support all of your changing needs and will they deliver strategic help to advance your strategies through a very unknown 12 – 24 months as we move out of the pandemic?
As a former buyer, I also found that in the search for partners a few strategies proved highly valuable. First, ensure you get to know the potential bidders for your business before you enter the highly controlled RFP process. You can accomplish this through an RFI or simply through socialization and meetings in advance. Second, be very clear about the services you are bidding and have an established strategy that underpins that vision. Last but certainly not least, throw out the 300+ questions from your typical RFP that will not actually inform your decision. You should only need between 20 – 30 key questions to evaluate supplier options and finalize your selection.