While the idea of sales enablement offers a lot of potential business benefits to companies, the concept needs a lot more texture to become clearer for executives if we want to see the role elevated.
Having built functions, been a VP of Sales and Marketing, a research analyst, and management consultant – I pursued the quest to find that elusive formula; “the answer” to make sale enablement strategic inside companies.
In December of 2015 while on vacation with my family in Cancun, I got a simple idea.
What if looking for “the answer” is the wrong path?
Maybe what I need to do is go on a quest (like Morgan Spurlock would do) and allow the lessons along the journey provide me what I need to know.
What if I just talked to a lot of similar like-minded people – free from title, hierarchy, or authority and in an environment that is more human and creative rather than being formulaic and mechanical.
So, In January – I posted this article to LinkedIn to see if people would get together with me to talk openly; free from the confines of time-based agendas. In February, 16 people crammed together into a meeting room in McLean, Virginia and two awkward hours later – the “meet up” idea that would eventually become the inspiration for chapter meetings was born. Current board member and marketer by trade Nicole O’Brien attended that meeting.
And bumpy beginnings
Throughout 2016, we held monthly meetings with interactive open agendas. We’d pick a theme, have public and facilitated meetings and publish what we agreed to on LinkedIn. Only about 100 people would read our outputs. Walter Pollard and Jen Burns joined us very slowly growing network, during this “finding our way” phase. Then, I started getting calls from other people around the country wanting to start their version of our group. This was amazing to me because only about 100 people would read each article, but somehow LinkedIn was a platform to spread these seeds.
Thinking through how we keep the organic nature of spreading whatever it was we were doing, but also try to find a way to have strength in numbers, I was inspired by the continental congress the colonies used in 1776 that ultimately led to one of most unusual documents in the history of humanity – the declaration of independence. We resolved to have a meeting where we’d invite delegates representing all of the flavors of our community and put it out there on LinkedIn.
On November 16, 2016 – 100 practitioners, thought leaders, suppliers and academics gathered in Palm Beach, Florida. On my way to Florida, Tonya Shultz left me the worlds most prolonged voice mail explaining why she was so excited about what we were doing and how she wished she was able to make the meeting (note: I’d never met her before; she just felt like she finally found her tribe). I ran a facilitated session, our group agreed on some core ideas, signed our contract committing ourselves to that concept and The Sales Enablement Society was born. This is where I met Michael Labate for the first time – he heard about this “gathering” and despite feeling uncomfortable with not knowing what this was – felt compelled to go.
To hyper growth
Ask anyone who was at that meeting – what they thought. The sense of belonging, the energy, collaboration, the community was unmatched. One of our conclusions was the idea that the role could evolve into the head of revenue productivity. This idea was scary, inspiring, energizing, controversial, and uplifting to our group. The questions for “what next” centered on two things: can we repeat and share this fantastic experience we all had with more people in our community and they can do it in a way that also gives us a mission that will force the organization to grow – providing us with lessons we can use to elevate the profession. At the beginning of 2017, we set ambition growth goals incredibly with a mission to learn for (and from) ourselves by doing.
Armed with a vision, a focus on being human, and having conversations to understand what’s happening (and relying less on reports or other outputs) we grew.
We grew fast. We grew in numbers. We grew geographically. We grow in scope. We grew in diversity. We grew in the volume of conversations. We grew in ideas. We grew in influence. We grew in breadth. We grew in depth. We grew the number of ways to interact. We grew in every way possible, in all directions, in all meanings of the word.
Together, we’ve built the largest network of it’s kind and also the nucleolus of a light-weight infrastructure to connect our rapidly growing community in all ways to support conversations. This was all accomplished by focusing on what’s possible, believing in others, and having the mantra “we don’t know what we are doing, but we will figure it out.” We accomplished some remarkable things:
- Selling Power, the oldest magazine dedicated to selling, partnered with us to provide a voice to the world at large
- We leveraged ideas to build our community from the book “Chaos Imperative” and Ori Brafman, the NY-Times best-selling author of that book immersed himself in our organization and spoke at our conference.
- A team of volunteers led an effort to create an enterprise-class platform to allow our members to exchange ideas, documents, and build connections all over the world.
- We have 50 local chapters (think local meetups) which create another avenue for people to get together and talk about sales enablement.
- Our footprint and influence is truly global as we have chapters in 15 countries
- We’ve built a reliable brand – driven solely by our active social media presence and different focus of sharing snippets of experiences.
- We’ve developed relationships with many suppliers that are contributing their knowledge to our community and not trying to exploit it for short term transactional success.
- Over 80 volunteers worked together to create a radically different conference, host it and execute it last year that sold out.
- We donated the seed to an endowment with the University of Texas-Dallas to fund the first-ever academic research around sales enablement.
- We pioneered completely innovated applications of LinkedIn that are unmatched by any other organization on the planet.
And a massive expansion to our network
Because sales enablement is cross-functional and includes so many different communities (all of which are going through significant changes) we worked to partner with other non—profit organizations dedicated to helping the professionals they support to succeed. Inside sales teams are a customer of sales enablement departments – so we’re developing a strong partnership with the AA-ISP – connecting our organization to thousands of inside sales leaders.
How people learn in today’s digital economy is a massive topic not only for us but for learning and development organizations – so we’ve partnered with the Association of Talent Development (ATD) giving us access to content and their knowledge of learning insights. Finally, to help bring greater clarity to the business problems sales enablement can address – we’ve aligned ourselves with The Conference Board – a 102-year-old organization dedicated to bringing large corporations together to create strategic insights for solving complex problems in dynamic environments. Overall, we’ve massively expanded our reach, our connections, and depth this year – giving every member more access to people, ideas, and conversation possibilities.
The Sales Enablement Society is a global marketplace of ideas
If you look at what we are through the lens of an “association” or a tradition organization, it is extremely confusing. We are not any of those things – we are an organization born 100% in the digital age, for a profession that is also emerging. So, on first blush, the Society is actually in need of some explanation. If you go back to its origins:
- It is an alternative place to gain insight by actively engaging and learning from the journey rather than being told: “the answer.”
- It embraces the diversity of thought in all aspects: different fields, maturity levels, age groups, gender, race, ethnicity, perspective, seniority and believes that best ideas emerge from open discussion and free expression
- Active engagement with people you do not know is the core medium for value exchange – to get the insight from the journey, you have to participate.
We are a global community of 5,000 core members, with access to 20,000 other people who are tangentially related to our profession. We encourage our members to be human – because the lessons learned from the journey as best realized when we treat each other as equals.
So, what are we?
We are a global exchange of conversations and an environment to foster powerful ideas. We are an ecosystem of insights where the best ones will thrive in our emerging digital economy.
Said differently, we are the modern-day digital equivalent of the town halls peppered throughout the colonies that fanned the beliefs and concepts that ultimately led to the revolutionary and transformational idea: government by the people, for the people.
It’s the coffee shops in Amsterdam & London, and the salons in Paris that provided safe environments to debate and explore ideas that would spark first the renaissance, and then the age of enlightenment – both ignited massive bursts of innovation raised the quality of life throughout most of the world.
Through the breadth of our network, global scale, the scope of our vision, and through the medium of digital engagement; the Sales Enablement Society puts all that wisdom at your figure tips. A rising tide lifts all ships.
The conversational exchange of ideas powers it
Dale Kutnick was the CEO of Meta Group (now Gartner) when I worked for him a long time ago. He had a concept the resonates with me he called “enlightened self-interest.” The idea is to be clear what you want, but also be mindful that it isn’t just about you – as the organization thrives, it creates more opportunities for you to succeed as well. This becomes a positive feedback loop.
So, what do you want?
Like all human beings, we all wear many hats and what we want as individuals is going to change over time. The 80/20 rule tells us we can identify common patterns that are universal. So, accepting the idea of “enlightened self-interest,” it’s likely that you might have some or all of the thoughts in the graphic below.
Figure One: Get clear about what you are looking for
Every human being on the planet sees the world through bias. These biases get in the way for us to innovate or see things from other peoples point of view. A considerable benefit of Society is to engage with people who are like you but have different backgrounds. For me, the word “diversity” has become political, and I associate it more with gender or racial equality (right or wrong, that’s where my mind goes, and I disengage). However, I’ve always gravitated to the “melting pot” of ideas – and that real innovation comes from insight gained from understanding different perspectives and blending them. The way I see the Society working is that the scope and scale of Sales Enablement are so significant, not one of us has the answer – but we each have pieces of the puzzle. If we create ways to share our differences and find where we agree – an entirely new picture emerges. When people from diverse backgrounds reach a shared understanding of something- that is extremely powerful. This has been my personal experience with Society, and it’s completely energizing.
Figure 2.0 Each member has a piece of the puzzle, engagement helps make a piece fit
So, after first focusing on what question you want the answer to, and then accepting that you have bias and a considerable benefit to you is to challenge your thinking – how do you extract the value? Put -you must put yourself out there, find people who are asking a similar question, and have conversations with them. You have to engage.
Figure 3.0: The Marketplace is an idea exchange powered by engagement
By becoming more visible and actively involved in the Society, you are going to dramatically increase the odds of finding the right people you need to answer your question and complete your thinking. Then, it would help if you had a conversation with those people. We’ve worked diligently to create many different avenues to have these conversations based on everyone’s comfort level or personality type (IE extroverts might prefer social gathers and introverts might enjoy an in-depth discussion on a topic relevant to them). This is why we’ve developed so many different places and ways to “interact”: LinkedIn posts (boy do I love that), emails, phone calls, local gathering, discussion boards, conferences, etc. The more we expand the number of people in our network, the high the likelihood of you finding people (from all over the world) to engage with and help you get a complete answer.
Having digital conversations with strangers can be difficult because we all can feel awkward in some way or form. How do I start the conversation? Do those people want to talk to me? What is the etiquette? How do I interact? Etc. That’s why we published and push the principles. When conversations (whether they be one on one or in a group) follow the seven principles – the results are always (yes, always) fantastic. Those principles are designed to be more or less a contract between you and the stranger you are trying to engage with. They help you get started without overthinking and provide the simple rules to help us all remember what we are after – diversity of thought, understanding of differences, the quest of what’s right, not being right.
Why Am I stepping Down as the Chairman and President?
I am incredibly proud of what I’ve helped create and even more grateful for all of the effort, so many other people have put into creating the genuinely innovative and unique marketplace. For this whole exchange for working at scale, and for each of us to get out of it what we want – we need to have self-awareness and balance in our “enlightened self-interest.” That starts with myself by practicing what I preach.
It’s no secret our community has been stymied with many road bumps this year. At this point, it doesn’t matter what they are – what matters is we take positive steps forward to correct them.
I want to see the Society continue to grow and that means we need more voices and people taking an active leadership role, and we need more people to feel a sense of ownership for our success. I have a strong personality and am very engaging and dynamic, but I think I’ve also become the mascot or face of the Society as well. These two worked well last year, but we are too big now, and it just doesn’t work. It creates too much confusion and puts one person in the middle of too many things that can’t possibly be accomplished. Also, leading a 5000 plus member organization isn’t my passion, nor does volunteering the tons of my time pay the bills for my family.
What I am passionate about is enabling companies to grow – to change their lens from looking at sales and marketing as cost centers to profitability engines. I’ve learned amazing things in my time leading the Society, and all of them have tremendous applicability in the marketplace. I am passionate about innovation, creating entirely new and modern ways to solve the complex problems plaguing sales forces today. I am also excited to challenge the accountant-driven, “let’s mitigate risk at all costs” operating models, that handicap businesses from growing right out of the gate. As the Chairman and President of the Sales Enablement Society – I felt compelled to check my personal bias at the door because very few of our members would agree that my own passions align with their view of what sales enablement means to them. I can’t realistically or authentically lead a community into a new phase of growth if how I think about the future is too different than where our members are right now.
So, I Became a Member of the Pride.
Does this mean I am leaving the Society? Heck no, that is crazy, why would I do that? I am going to be a power member; you should reach out to me to learn tips for how you can leverage the Society to get more out of it for yourself.
I want to take advantage of this marketplace of ideas that we’ve all created and get my insights out there without feeling like I am speaking for anyone but myself.
For this community to thrive, and for me to personally benefit from it – I don’t want to be a part of anything that can be even perceived that I am trying to influence the Society for my benefit. This is why I’ve declined participation in the board of advisors (of course I was offered a slot on that by the leadership team, I was the one who declined participation).
I want to be is a very active member. I’ve taken on a part-time role to establish the Sales Enablement Council with the Conference Board (read here if you want more information about that) and will work as a volunteer to manage that relationship for the Society. Most of my time is going to be dedicated to building out my own company; Growth Enablement Ecosystems (and here about what I am doing). In other words, expect to see me engaged – actively finding the right mix of people within our community to challenge myself out of my own biases.
Where does that leave the Sales Enablement Society?
From my lens, I think it is nothing but fantastic news. First of all, I think our overall engagement level has declined – by getting out of the way; it is going to pick up in a big way. Also, I will be actively engaged serving as a model member. If you like what I do, you have a lot of opportunities to collaborate with me – I would love it; I wholeheartedly believe in this whole network model. If you don’t, please disagree with me – I should be able to defend my position if I can’t – no one else should be listening to me. You can also ignore me too, that’s fine as well – it is what a free and open marketplace of ideas is all about.
Perhaps, more importantly, my resignation creates space for more people like you to emerge as leaders. The people filling in the void right now are just like you, and have been involved throughout the journey from our beginning to where we are today:
- Nicole Obrien who attended that very first meeting; is a marketing executive and wants to learn how marketing can provide better service sales.
- Jen Burn participating in those early awkward local meetups and also served as a chapter president – cites the lessons learned from those experiences as the reasons behind her rapid ability to elevate the sales enablement role and level inside her organization.
- Tonya Schulz, the woman who found her tribe through voice mail, has grown tremendously in her skills and ability mainly drive from her personal experiences promoting the conference last year and running the Atlanta chapter.
- You are going to get to hear incredible successes that Michael Labote has had driving innovative social media approaches at SAP – he will happily tell you a lot of his success is driven from his experience engaging with the Society; overseeing the definition project last year and running the South Florida chapter.
- Walter Pollard has his strategic marketing consultancy will tell you how much he’s expanded his thinking about marketing playing a more active role in driving revenue growth -this thinking is driven from his experiences at those awkward early meetings and also his work getting sponsorship resources the help pay for our conferences.
I am eternally grateful to them, and I hope you are as well. These people are putting in ridiculous hours to help manage the Society and execute the conference. Right now, they are putting in 40 hours a week in addition to their day jobs. They volunteer their time; they are making sacrifices in their personal and professional lives.
Because they believe in the vision that if we engage as a community of people – are curious about asking “what works” how it works.. genuinely remarkable things happen.
Please find a way to thank them for the effort they are putting in, take the time to understand why it’s so time-consuming, be curious, and see simple things that have not gotten done and do them.
I think it starts with asking some questions: of yourself, to your chapter presidents, to your peers, and the leaders:
- Do you want to participate in a global marketplace of ideas?
- How can you get engaged? What does engagement look like? What drives engagement?
- How do you get what you want from the Society? How do you help others get what they want?
- How should the Society be governed? What voice should you have, what about a chapter? What accountability will you take on?
- How can you make it easier to check your bias or engage with people you disagree with?
- How will you manage behaviors on the platform? What is acceptable dialog, what isn’t?
- Should the Society raise funds? If so, how will it work?
Have these conversations. In private, on message boards, at chapter meetings – anywhere. Talking about elephants in the room is always healthy. Don’t be scared to ask them – and realize that NO ONE has the answer, that is the whole point. Our community will choose our direction by answering these questions in groups and sharing what was found. Get your group of like-minded people and tackle an issue. Pick something small and get it done, build on your success – have fun accepting the challenge.
However, put all this in the back of your head for right you. The first thing you need to do is find a way to get to Denver, Sept 16-19th and immerse yourself at the conference. Come prepared to engage, to question what works, to think through how you can be successful. There is no other place in the world where you are going to be in the room, with other people like you whom all want to talk about making this stuff work. While there are great presentations, it’s NOT about keynotes, breakout sessions, or the agenda. It’s about having space to get ideas and then engage with people from literally all over the world, with diverse backgrounds – all to help you get the core insights to help you drive what works.
The conference is a massive gathering place to get you to face to face time with your peers. It’s the opportunity to challenge what people say is “best practice” and get into the pragmatic “what works” type conversations. I will be there, shoot I buy so much into this community I am paying to be a sponsor. Find a way to get there – you won’t be disappointed.
The bottom line:
I no longer am the head lion; I am a happy member of the pride. Our Society is a different kind of organization – we are a marketplace of insight that is the by-product of the exchange of ideas through engaging conversations. Nothing like us exists, and we created this together. Our future is exceptionally bright if we choose to make it. Get to Denver, be with your tribe, and play an active role to make this all bigger than what we can imagine. Our very existence is proof that anything is possible.