April 4, 2017

A lot has happened in a year

A little over a year ago 14 sales and marketing professionals met at my country club in Ashburn, VA for the first official Sales Enablement Society meeting. (Back then we were called “DC Area Sales Enablement Networking Group). We struggled with what sales enablement is and is not and here were our findings.

We met each month, many of our meetings were all over the place. We argued. We disagreed on what to produce. But, our little group kept growing. Why? because we reached out to each other personally and we created meeting formats that were inclusive of people’s opinions. We learned that a lot of people have strong opinions about this topic so we had to create a friendly way to allow people to disagree without regressing into personal attacks.

A congress of sales enablement professionals – “The Birth of the Society”

By September, we began to receive requests by other people to start similar local groups to explore some of the questions we were raising. We agreed to expand and I asked my company, Alexander Group, for space at our annual conference so we could have a national meeting. Our idea was to provide an open invitation to anyone who wanted to shape the direction of our community and would try to run the meeting similarly to the congressional congress in 1776 which led to the Declaration of Independence. We would have been thrilled with 25 attendees.

Over 100 people found their way to Palm Beach, Florida for a meeting that started at Noon the Friday before Thanksgiving. These 100 “founding members” worked collaboratively on our vision and core foundation potions.

Our vision: To promote and elevate the role of sales enablement

Position One: While interest in the function is expanding – the only thing we agreed upon was that our members see themselves as heads of broken things more than a defined role. The source of the “broken things” is friction between a corporate function and the sales organization. We’ve identified four different sources of this friction which led to our view of “four flavors of sales enablement” Those flavors are friction between the sales organization and: 1) human resources, 2) marketing, 3) finance, and 4) administration. Why? We want to avoid dogmatic debates given the emergent nature of the function, embrace the diversity of our community and create an inclusive culture.

"The Birth of the Society" Letter to SES Members

Position Two: Regardless of the flavor, Sales enablement is a cross-functional problem and, to be successful should be run as a business within a business.

"The Birth of the Society" Letter to SES Members

Position Three: Just as the CIO evolved from Data Processing, or CFO’s evolved from Bookkeeping – we wanted to set a target for what we are shooting towards. We had fantastic debate and we landed on “Head of Sales Productivity”

"The Birth of the Society" Letter to SES Members

We broke into different working teams to brainstorm what our community would need to do to accomplish those ideas. We discussed, debated and then signed our own version of charter to enact the mission. When we left that meeting, our whole community had 3 active chapters (Washington DC, San Francisco, and Boston) and a total of 753 members.

SES Founders Meeting in Palm Beach, FL – November 2016

So, what are we?

Flying out of Palm Beach that Saturday, I was emotionally spent. Not only was it a huge politically risk to host the meeting, but I felt so much pressure to make things happen as a result. This is where things are difficult. How do you create content and build platforms when you don’t have a bank account (we still don’t)? How do you get things done in an 100% volunteer organization when so many people have different and strong opinions about what to do? How do you follow through on expectations of quality outputs without people to create them, processes to ensure their quality, or ways to produce them?

It goes without saying, while we did have founding partners help sponsor the meeting, we don’t have any current source of funding, no communications department, no IT group to build platforms or websites. We are a community in its truest sense existing in the cloud (or rather the either between linkedIn, Twitter, personally connections and local meetings). So, 2017 was going to be a trying year – how do we build an organization from scratch, to serve members with the constraints listed here?

Establishing our 2017 Strategy

Given the emerging nature of the role, we decided that we are going to build an organizational model completely in support of our members experience and well be designed for growth (read – not going to organize around silos).

"The Birth of the Society" Letter to SES Members

Our strategy

  1. Get local chapters activated. Because we didn’t have any products or services, the only thing our organization can offer are local meetings right now.
  2. Create a highly federated (or compartmentalized even) organizational structure. With all volunteers, we’re going to need to create a model of well coordinated but independent cells so we can leverage small, self organizing teams but not be negatively impacted if any of those groups do not accomplish their mission (we have to factor in the nature of volunteer groups)
  3. Put the member experience at the atomic level. We defined seven attributes of what we think our members will want to experience over the period of time it will take to achieve our groups mission: to elevate the role.
  4. Define tangible services to bring us together. While the local chapters get activated, we need to create some tangible accomplishments (or entitlements) for all of our members at a national level. Things like (A common platform for all of our members to connect with and exchange information, sharing best practices, job boards, a conference, etc)
  5. Create an organizational team and clear roles. We need to build leadership teams both at a corporate and local chapter levels, all on the fly and then find the right people to assume those positions with people comfortable with a high paced, ambiguous, unstructured, and constantly evolving community.
  6. Build and execute a revenue plan. We are going to need to pay for things which means we are going to need to generate revenue sources, but these must be informed by our member experience and map to our mission.
  7. Create principles to help establish a culture. Because our profession is growing so rapidly, we are still defining the right mix of experience and entitlements for membership, and what’s required to succeed in the role – we need to create a culture that will adapt to our organization over time. Our culture will evolve over time, but we need to establish a few core principles to provide the guiding posts to help us execute on all of our goals.

What is our organizational model?

We believe that organizational silos lead to cultures of risk avoidance and create a variety of random acts of sales support; both of which weight down firms growth objectives. The Sales Enablement Society is going to challenge ourselves to develop an alternative model based on: growth, adaptability, and community. If our firms are going to ask the sales people whom we all serve to get outside of their comfort zones, then we should design an organization that does the same thing. This way everything we do as an organization can be a learning opportunity and an innovation engine.

Following these drivers, we’ve defined three orbits within which cells of organically formed teams with light weight charters will operate. We believe we will be successful the more discretely we define the objectives of each cell so that we can:

  1. More rapidly respond when members have cool ideas
  2. More easily get teams of volunteers together
  3. Bypass bottleneck from: group think, too much planning, etc
  4. Reduce the risk missing major goals (volunteers work at their own pace)
  5. Innovate – great ideas emerge from a market place, they are not driven by a central structure. If we are going to elevate our role, we’ve got to organize to innovate. If we don’t – we are only going to get incremental improvements off of what we are doing today.

So, the different Orbits include:

  • Chapters. We’ve assigned a President role to help build a local presence in geographic region. These groups are asked to have: 1) a minimum of four (4) working meetings 2) four social event and 3) develop a local community. Our vision is that the local chapters will be doing the heavy lifting of debating and voting on positions the Society will take, but right now we just want them to form and find a way to get settled into a cadence.
  • Workgroups. Our members have requested a lot of things. Best practices guides, road maps, certifications, focus areas on specific topics, etc. All of these things are important but require a lot of work. We’ve decided that 1) our members will decide what topics get advanced by offering to lead a work group on the subject and 2) what outputs get created will be based on how strongly that ideas resonates with the community and they can attract people to create outputs. In addition, workgroups provide virtual ways for people who do not live in a geography that has an active chapter to engage. The Society, is going to foster a “start up” culture for these and invest in ways to help workgroup leaders find like minded volunteers. The key point here is that all content is member-driven.
  • HQ. The HQ or “mothership” has three primary roles: 1) to support the chapters and workgroups by creating ways for them to be increasingly more effective; 2) to create services for our members like events, programs, webinars, podcasts, etc and 3) work externally with the media and analysts and hiring managers to influence how our role and organization is perceived.

What are our principles?

It was difficult to reflect on this hyper growth and distill the lessons learned down into something manageable and then meaningful, We expect learning to practice all of these is going to take a lot thoughtfulness and patience across our community as we develop and learn entirely new ways of working. However, we know these are important if we are going to come together and build a community that elevates itself. None of this is easy, so we will consistently pick challenging objectives to give us all something to shoot for. If we don’t hit then, so what? Who is going to fire us? We exist to elevate our role and we are not going to do that unless we set up an organization and culture that challenges itself.

"The Birth of the Society" Letter to SES Members

What are our goals for 2017?

In light of our mission, we are setting very challenging goals for ourselves for 2017. Why? Several reasons. 1) If we are going to elevate our profession to the heights we want, we need to be comfortable with aggressive goals. 2) We’re developing an organization focused on growth, so we need to set goals to force ourselves to ask why we are doing things and if it will help create growth or will it impede progress. 3)We want to make it fun to ask that audacious question, why can’t we do that? Nothing is going to happen if we don’t meet the goals – but we’ve got a structure we can examine ourselves as to why it didn’t work and our findings will benefit all of our members. In other words, we want to create a model of continuous learning. This is why the organizational structure and success principles are so important. Oh, we are going to make this all fun – if you’ve ever been in sports, setting objective goals and hitting them is really, really fun.

So what crazy goals have we set for ourselves by December 31, 2017?

  1. We want to have 20 active chapters (Up from three (3) at the “National” meeting)
  2. 5000 members (Up from 754 at the “national meeting”)
  3. Host our first Sales Enablement Society international conference (and founding member meeting)
  4. Deploy our own, private, platform to allow our members to connect with each other (yes, LinkedIn is a terrible medium for us)
  5. For the Society to have the most media mentions related to the topic of “sales enablement”, establishing us as the most influential voice in the market
  6. Be able to provide a tangible example of an organization that is not siloed, operates in an adaptive way, and is designed to drive a customer experience (in our case, its members).
  7. Develop a more standard way for chapters to check in and check out meeting topics and take positions for “The Society”
  8. To have all of our content to be group sourced from our membership, developed by teams of volunteers assembled for the sole purpose of that project, and then managed also by member driven policies.
  9. To be the most social media savvy and active organization on the planet where we innovate completely new ways of working levering the medium
  10. To have at least 20 active workgroups by the end of the year.

We can achieve amazing things if we buy into our vision and work together

How are we going to accomplish this? Well, honestly, I don’t really know. That’s what makes what we are doing so exciting.

Remember, this time last year we only had about 20 members and just finished our first meeting. Today, while we are a legal entity (non-profit), we don’t have an address nor a bank account yet. No one is a full time member and everyone volunteering has a day job. Our member information exists in two places (LinkedIn and on our website) and getting common emails out to people is really hard. We don’t have any of the back office things you might expect. I am going to write a separate announcement highlighting our amazing successes in the first Quarter of 2017.

Not to steal too much thunder, but since the “national” meeting (we have to call ourselves global now) we’ve launched chapters in: London, Chicago, New York, Australia, Phoenix, Tampa (Central Florida), Miami (South Florida), Dallas (sort of), Atlanta, and Seattle. If we factor in all of the existing chapters, recently launched and incubating ones – we are at 22 (110% of our annual target in one quarter).

Our membership has grow (as best as we can track) from 752 to over 1400 (almost 100% growth in 4 months). We’ve built an amazing HQ leadership team from scratch and have announced both our platform of choice (Higher Logic) and our international conference (Oct 26-28). More on all of this later, but none of this would be possible if you were not helping. Something as trivial as just reading information, talking about what we are (or asking what the heck are we), liking or sharing notes, commenting – all of those seemingly little things make a big different. Let alone the work people are putting in here and there between jobs or while they are on conference calls – shooting texts to each other. All of this is a testament of what we are ALL doing together.

It’s not to say we don’t have growing pains

This isn’t easy. We have terrible communications mechanisms. To activate all we needed, I just didn’t have time to write notes like this (but the data on LinkedIN shows our members much prefer to get updates via short status updates, yes… the data shows you like the LinkedIn traffic!!) nor do we have an effective way to share.

It’s hard to communicate how fast we are growing and how strained we are when we most of our community is still trying to figure out exactly what we are. We’ve run into some bumps were we’ve lost volunteers because some of members (who perhaps had the wrong expectation of our group) were demanding of them (I was expecting X, Y, Z – when do I get it). We’re experiencing frustrations with how ambiguous things are, which can create personal tensions and effect moral. All of that is natural. What we’d ask is that you really try to internalize what we are trying to accomplish.

One ask is that lets turn our issues around and make them really interesting questions. Here’s one.

How does a 100% volunteer organization that didn’t even exist a year ago deploy enterprise class software to over 1400 members dispersed all over the world, and get all of them to log into the system and actually use it? Keep in mind, no one can do this full time (so we don’t have a full time program manager?) We have some ideas, we’d like you to get engaged and have a fun time with us figuring it all out.

In the meantime, please use LinkedIn status updates to communicate. It helps us communicate across our network as we are all impacted stakeholder and helps us all learn together.