As the United States raced against Russia to put a man in space, NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history. Based on the unbelievably true life stories of three of these women, known as “human computers”, the movie Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox, 2016) follows these women as they quickly rose the ranks of NASA alongside many of history’s greatest minds specifically tasked with calculating the momentous launch of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.
And….. That brings me to the Sales Enablement Society 🙂
How, you ask? Let me explain.
I just watched the movie a few weeks ago. Since that time, I’ve had several SE Society members ask me if I’ve seen it. They said they see a lot of parallels to what we’re doing at The Society and what happened back in 1960’s at NASA. What the heck!? I was curious, for sure. I gotta tell you, I enjoyed the movie so much that I not only watched it on the flight from Seattle to Washington, DC, but I watched it with my three kids with the hope that it would both inspire them and humble them at the same time.
One of the greatest things about that movie (spoiler alert) was the fact that NASA, and some of the greatest minds in the United States, simply could not figure out how to tackle the problem of bringing a human being back from orbit successfully. Why? Well, because the math simply didn’t exist in their minds — yet. You know what? They couldn’t figure it out. Nope. They were stuck. Ironically, they KNEW it was possible to bring a man back to earth successfully (Russia just helped Yuri Gagarin orbit the earth and bring him back alive). Think about it. How frustrating! I mean, they knew the Russians did it and all they had to do was, you know, figure it out!
Yep, the folks at NASA knew what needed to happen — they just needed to figure out HOW to make it happen. And that’s the parallel. That’s the SE Society. We know we need to elevate the role of Sales Enablement. And we know there are WAY smarter people out there who can help us get there (that’s where you come in). That’s right. I’m saying we’re NASA minus the $10B USD annual budget. 🙂
Not sure what I’m talking about? Let draw some comparisons:
We Have a Clear Vision
- The SE Society Vision is clear. Elevate the role of sales enablement to Chief Sales Productivity Officer.
- The NASA vision was clear. Put a man into space to orbit the earth.
We Are Empowering, Not Micro-Managing
- The SE Society leadership team recognizes that imposing a “standard org chart” onto The Society is defeatist. The organizational structures of yesterday don’t align the customer (or member) experience of today. New models need to emerge — now.
- NASA leaders recognized that the functional and organizational “rules” that existed at the time put barriers between the problem that needed to be solved, and those equipped to solve those problems. Bathrooms ended up being a 1/2 mile away, women weren’t allowed into the meeting where the problem-solving needed to happen, and vital information was redacted because “it’s the way we’ve always done it.”
A Big Problem Stands in Our Way
- The SE Society problem is clear. “We don’t know what we’re doing to create a superior member experience, but we will figure it out.“
- NASA’s big problem was clear. “We don’t have the math to figure out how to move from an elliptical orbit to a parabolic orbit.“
Smart, Dedicated People Can Figure it Out
- The SE Society is organized by “nodes”, or “molecules.” Let me be clear. A top-down org chart is the last thing we need. Think about it. Too many people end up fighting over “sales and marketing alignment” instead of helping customers be successful. Why on earth would we create a membership-driven organization that has a “content function” and “events function” that likely end up at odds?
- NASA’s organizational chart (and outdated policies) gave way and eventually became obsolete — especially when everyone rallied to solve the problem. Perhaps it’s easier to believe that “the Russians are watching our every move” (a real concern for US citizens back then) than it is to believe our “Customers have evolved while our sales conversations have not.” But, I’m here to tell you that that most salespeople can’t spend 2 minutes talking about their customer’s problem without mentioning their product, company, or widget (and I have the data to prove it — message me).
Each Team Can Solve a Specific Problem
- The SE Society leadership team has divided up the problems we need to address using the member experience as a guide. Much like “put a man into orbit,” our moon-shot equivalent is “create a valuable member-experience.” After all, shouldn’t we use customers (members) as the design point for our work? And, do our members CARE how we’re organized? Nope. They just want help. Our teams are comprised of problem-centric “orbits” that we’re evolving in (message me to find out more)
- NASA organized itself by each problem it needed to be solved. They had the “how we get the astronauts into space” team, and the “how do we make sure the astronauts don’t die”, and the “how do we retrieve the astronaut from the ocean after they return team”. Each team had a specific problem to solve.
As the movie wrapped up I found myself pondering some questions about our fledgling SE Society (we’re about 1 year old at the writing of this post). I would like to ask you the same questions that came to my mind. I hope you reflect on each. Especially if you’re engaging with others in The Society. Here we go…
As a Sales Enablement professional:
- What are YOUR Sales Enablement biases? Do you view revenue generation as a series of mandates? I mean, do you think to yourself; “Ugh, they need to do this..” or, “Geez, they need to do that?”. If so, you may be one of those people simply saying, “I’m awesome! It’s all those OTHER people who need to get their act together! Really? I encourage you to be curious about other perspectives from those who are also supporting the sales force. Call someone else in The Society and ask them their opinion. Let’s stop preaching to each other. Maybe, just maybe, the person on the other end of the phone (like “that trainer” or “that marketer”) knows a thing or two about achieving sales results. Is that really so shocking? Let’s learn to give people in the Revenue Generating ecosystem the benefit of the doubt and learn to value differing perspectives. Not bludgeon people of working in a different function.
- Are YOU being a jerk? The movie had a lot of jerks from beginning to end. Those jerks tested the patience of the smart, genius ladies calculating the launch and landing trajectories. I can only imaging how it required a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem to persevere through the actions of a few people who believed they had power over them. And, while I wasn’t there at the time, it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t any fun for the ladies who were on the receiving end of such behaviors. I’m wondering. How do people perceive YOU in your email communications? How do they view YOUR style and approach, especially if they’re strangers (like another member in The Society whom you’ve never met)?
- Are YOU hyper-protective of some big concerns? In the movie, the white folks were hyper-protective of a lot of stuff that is pretty darn racist by today’s standards. Let me ask you something. Do you have a personal platform, passion or purpose that you believe is THE answer to today’s sales challenges? Or better yet, do you end every discussion on the singular premise that YOUR idea is THE answer to the problem every. single. time? Let’s lower our guard a little bit shall we? Can we learn to give others the benefit of the doubt, especially if they’re members of The Society? (By the way, please don’t flame my post for mentioning racism in the context of sales challenges. That’s not my point. And to be clear, I believe racism is bad. very bad. We all need to do our part to eradicate it)
So there you go. In summary, the problem was clear, but the solution was not. That’s how the SE Society and NASA (in the 1960’s) are alike. And yes Scott Santucci is our Kevin Costner (ha). And, oh by the way, this is where you come in. I invite YOU to engage to and help us tackle the challenge we’re facing. It’s official. I’ve just kicked open the door, and held the mirror up in front of you. What thoughts do YOU have? Post them below. Oh, and want to know more about the movie? Here’s the trailer:
And you can find out more about this extraordinary story here (Smithsonian Magazine).