Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away…
I had what I thought at the time was the greatest job in the world. The work was interesting and challenging, and I was learning something new every day. Then one day I had a meeting with my manager and the president of the company. We talked about the $110 million dollar federal loan program I was managing, and how soon we should be ready to submit paperwork for our first reimbursement. We talked about the processes we built to insure that all of our I’s were dotted and our T’s crossed. Then the president of the company asked one question that neither my manager nor I had even thought about. (I wish I could recall the question, but I’ve slept some since then, but not much, as you’ll see if you keep reading.) Suddenly all my efforts to be ready to make that big submission by “x” date, went out the window. Suddenly it seemed like I was expected to battle a huge wildfire in 70 MPH winds with only a pint of water and extinguish the flames in 30 seconds! (Ok…to be honest, I was given a deadline of 3 weeks, with what seemed like an insurmountable amount of work to do.) I simply responded in conversation that what was expected was a pretty tall order, and I wasn’t sure there was enough time to get it all done.
The Beginning of the End (or is it…)
The president of the company then asked me “Eric, how much sleep do you get every night?” I responded with “about 6 hours, why?” He quickly replied with, “Good! That means you have 18 hours a day where you can be working to solve this problem and meet my deadline.” WHAAAT did he just say?? (Look out; it gets a little ugly next. I was a lot younger and a lot less diplomatic than I am now.) I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, you don’t pay me enough to work those kinds of hours, and I have a family that I enjoy spending time with. You have unrealistic expectations and there is NO WAY I can get all that done and meet your deadline.” Yep, you read that right, I just bad-mouthed the company, how much (or how little) they were paying me, and not only insulted the president of the company but also and his relationship with his family….ALL IN ONE BREATH! (For future reference, I would advise against such a thing.)
That Very Next Day…
After I had my “little” altercation with the company president, I got called into my manager’s office and was told I had 6 weeks left at the company and that the next Monday I would start training my replacement. Well now, that’s a pretty clear example of cause and effect. Ouch…Ok, I’ve got six weeks to find a job. I can do that!
And Then Reality Sets In
The job market in Southern Indiana in late 2005 turned out to be lousy. I did manage to get one interview during those 6 weeks. I also managed to get zero offers. My wife was a stay-at-home mom back then, and we also had her aging and ailing parents living with us, so until I lost my job, I was the income source for the entire family. Sure, my wife’s parents were receiving Social Security, but they were lucky to be able to make it through the month with enough cash to buy their food and all the medications they needed to survive another day.
Not UNemployed but way UNDERemployed
The next two and a half years were very difficult for me and my family. Employment in my chosen profession was difficult to find in my home town, and when I did find it, the jobs were temporary at best. So I did what any good husband and father would do, work multiple part time jobs in order to be able to pay the bills and keep food on the table. There were days that, between all the jobs I was working, and travel time, I would only get four hours to be home with my family, and most times, we were all sleeping then.
Enter the Salesforce Ecosystem…almost
Back then, I did a lot of job searching by looking at the Sunday newspaper classified section. I remember seeing and as for a company hiring technical support agents, computer and customer service skills required. I applied online and a few weeks later, late on Sunday afternoon, I got a call from a recruiter asking me to take an online test & if I could be at the company’s office at 7am the next day for an interview. She also wondered if I could start right after the interview, assuming they liked me. “Sure”, I said. I can do that…it would mean rearranging my schedule with a couple part time jobs, but for regular hours at decent pay, I was willing to take that chance, even though they said it was an 8-week, short-term assignment.
I passed their test with flying colors, for the job, and after 3 days of training, was live, on the phones and providing world class support to that company’s clients. The 8 weeks came and went. I began to wonder how much longer they would need me. The call volume on the particular product I was supporting was never that heavy, so the trained me on how to support several other products. I came right out and asked, “Should I be looking for another job soon?” “Don’t worry about that,” I was told. “We will give you a few weeks’ notice if we need to cut you,” my manager said.
The Longest 8 Weeks Ever…
Eight months later, the company’s HR department called and said they had a direct hire role in the contact center available, and wondered if I was interested. Well sure! Why wouldn’t I want to work only 1 job with good money, normal hours and benefits? Sign me up!!
Wait, you mean I have to interview for the job I’m already doing?
Yes… I had to formally apply and go through interviews. Meh…no big deal. The one thing being “under employed” taught me was interview skills. I got plenty of interviews, but few good offers and on roles I didn’t really want. My first interview for the role (remember, this is for the role I am already working, it would just be a status change and more money) was with the VP of Enterprise Business Solutions. She was in charge of the contact center, and a whole lot more, and she was at HQ in San Diego, so it would be a telephone interview. The call went something like this…
I have just one question to ask you…
Why are we wasting both our time having you on the phones talking to our customers, when your skills could be put to a much better use elsewhere in the company?
My (almost) smart-ass answer…
Because that’s the only job you have open. I know, I just looked at your website.
So…maybe I STILL do not know when to shut up…
“Yes, I know, but I’m working on approval for a new role that would be perfect for you…a Business Analyst role. You can help us roll out Salesforce.com to the contact center,” was the reply I just heard. Then the VP told me to tell HR I did not want to be flipped over to a direct hire. Whoa…back that bus up. You want me to turn down a sure thing for a role you hope to get approved? That kind of makes me feel like Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) in the movie “Speed” -> https://youtu.be/l7jRaGBtVww
Fortunately, I took a chance, and shot the hostage. Not literally, I did NOT shoot anyone! More accurately, they took a chance on me. I told the VP in the interview I had never heard of Salesforce.com, and she still said, “So…do you want the job?” I gladly accepted her generous offer. I also listened to her when she said, “Find a user group and get connected so you can start learning.”
She created a monster!
My first user group meeting was in Chicago, and it was the same day as the Chicago stop of the Salesforce World Tour, or whatever they called it back in 2010. That one event was like knocking over the first domino in a long string of dominos. After that, I spent 1 to 2 days a month going back and forth to user group meetings all around the Midwest. After a few months of that, I decided that I couldn’t be the only Salesforce user in Southern Indiana so I decided to start a local user group. My first meeting had 6 people at it, but it’s not the size that counts. It’s the interactions and creative, crowd-sourced problem solving that matters!
Fast forward a few months …
Early summer, 2010, and it’s getting closer to Dreamforce. “Can I go?” I asked my manager. “I’m sorry…the budget is shot. We can’t send you this year.” Most people would simply accept that and say “There’s always next year.” Not me. I thought to myself, “If I can’t go to Dreamforce, I’m going to bring a little bit of Dreamforce to me.” And the idea for Midwest Dreamin’ was born. Apttus was one of the companies who became a sponsor of that inaugural Midwest Dreamin’. Al West, now Senior Vice President, Global Sales at Apttus, was my first connection. That very first Midwest Dreamin’ took place in May, 2011, and the Galt House Hotel played host to about 100 Salesforce enthusiasts. In 2014, when the second Midwest Dreamin’ took place, it was at Chicago’s Navy Pier with 500 people, which grew to almost 800 in 2015.
Suddenly a Salesforce MVP
I remember it well; it was April 10, 2013. The day I was first awarded the title of Salesforce MVP. I’m not really sure what I did to deserve that award. I’m not big on the Answers board like Steve Molis is. In fact, I’ve asked way more questions than I’ve answered. I’m not a super technical, awesome developer like David Liu is. I’m more a clicks kind of guy, not code. I’m not the consummate Admin like Leyna Hoffer. I’ve had admin rights in orgs, but I’ve always been more the analyst. I’m just a regular guy who seems to have a knack for connecting people together. I was only leading what I liked to say was the smallest Salesforce user group in the world, the Southern Indiana Salesforce User Group, but I also proudly said I likely had the highest percentage of attendees to registrations, averaging about 85% of registrations actually attending, and there was that little thing called Midwest Dreamin’. Yes, being named an MVP was a total surprise, and actually more of a surprise than most people know. I didn’t access my personal email from work back then, and I had mobile data shut off on my cell phone when the announcement came out so I missed it. I discovered I had been awarded the title of MVP when I connected my cell phone to a Wi-Fi source at lunch and it started pinging like crazy. I missed a bunch of emails and tweets from current MVPs all congratulating me. For what I thought…then I checked my email and discovered the official “You’re an MVP” email.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…What’s it like being an MVP?
I get asked that a lot…and it’s not really an easy question to answer, at least for me it’s not. I could simply say it’s awesome and leave it at that, but those of you who know me, would never let it end there. So, I’ll describe it like this – there’s a lot of pressure on the MVPs, however, I would say that 90% of it is self-inflicted. Sure, there are certain things MVPs get early access to, or have knowledge of prior to the rest of the Salesforce Community that we are bound by a non-disclosure agreement to keep confidential, and there are plenty of opportunities for MVPs to provide feedback directly to Salesforce Execs, but I think the inherent pressure comes from not feeling like we deserve the honor bestowed upon us. I don’t think any of the MVPs were doing what they did simply for the purpose of becoming an MVP. I really think the MVPs are just a little more passionate and a little more vocal than your average community member, and they feel driven to a sense of accomplishment from knowing they helped someone solve a problem. So i think, to some degree, when MVP status is awarded to you, it’s like the clock starts ticking. You know, that 15 minutes of fame clock…everyone wants their moment in the sun. Everyone dreams of being rich and famous. I don’t think there’s been a scientific study done that would prove being a Salesforce MVP will make you rich (in the traditional monetary sense) but I know most of us MVPs feel richly blessed to have made friends from all over the world through the Salesforce Community. And then, thanks to events like Dreamforce, we get to meet some of those people in person and that is yet another blessing. Of course, with anything good, there’s typically a dark side too. When I first became an MVP, a few of the more seasoned MVPs told me to expect LinkedIn to blow up with offers to connect from recruiters, and that the number of followers I have on Twitter would likely grow exponentially. They were right. It seems everyone wanted a piece of me. Within 3 months of first being named an MVP, the number of followers I had on twitter doubled, and there STILL isn’t a week that goes by without me receiving at least one or two emails or LinkedIn messages asking if I was interested in working for some company, or working through a recruiter that now I don’t recall the name of, or what the companies do, where they are…or if they are even in the Salesforce ecosystem! Obviously, they made a huge impression on me. (And that, my friends is sarcasm. One more thing I’m kind of famous for.)
Aside from the things I touched on earlier, like early access to knowledge, easy access to Execs (and product managers), MVPs enjoy some other perks. We do have reserved seating at the major Keynotes at Dreamforce, we also get preferred seating at World Tour Events, but those are only perks if you can attend those events, and if you choose to sit with the other MVPs. Personally, I’d give up the good seats in a heartbeat if I was in the middle of a conversation with a seasoned community member, or a even a first time Dreamforce attendee who wanted to see the keynote, but didn’t want to be lost in the crowd without a familiar face to share it with. (That’s not just me blowing smoke either…I’ve done both of those. Just ask Kristin Puttika about the Dreamforce 2014 keynote.) I say this every week in my “Bacon” blog series – “For me, one of the greatest strengths of the Salesforce Ecosystem is its people and the connections that are shared” because I firmly believe that WHO you know is (slightly) more important than WHAT you know, because who you know can get you access to information you need. Because who you know can get you connect you to others you NEED to know. Because who you know can lead to GREAT things!
Flashback to Dreamforce 2014…
A week or so before Dreamforce 2014, the Salesforce MVPs got an invite to a half-day training & demo with Apttus that was occurring on the Friday morning just after Dreamforce. I thought about it for all of 10 seconds, clicked the link to attend, and then sent an email to a couple of friends that I would need to change our plans from a morning walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, to an afternoon walk.
I’ll spare you all the details about the entire week, since probably everyone reading the post would have been to Dreamforce at least once and simply leave this Twitter conversation here:
And with that one defining moment, my desire to be associated with Apttus was born.
Why I chose to work at Apttus?
You mean you don’t get it already? Apttus is all over the CPQ and CLM space…world-class, industry leading solutions for Configure, Price, Quote as well as Contract Lifecycle Management but Apttus also has a hidden gem, a secret weapon, if you will, in the battle against poor Salesforce adoption.
Enter X-Author for Excel
X-Author for Excel is a game-changer. It levels the playing field and makes the point of entry to get data into Salesforce as simple as the Excel spreadsheet your sales team is already using. So what’s the big deal? Everyone knows you can import data from Excel into Salesforce. Here’s the secret sauce: with X-Author for Excel, you do NOT import data. X-Author exists as a ribbon inside Microsoft Office applications that brings all your Salesforce controls and inherent security to your Excel spreadsheets. Using X-Author, you simply define fields in Excel that you want to map directly back to fields and objects in Salesforce. Every time a change is made in Excel that change is immediately reflected back in Salesforce. EVERY change, EVERY time. And guess what? You can use X-Author with any, yes, any, object in Salesforce, including related AND unrelated, standard AND custom objects! Can you just imagine the power you can put into your users hands? I said users, not sales teams. That’s because anyone can use X-Author for Excel. Your sales teams, your marketing personnel, even your Salesforce admins will see the power and convenience that X-Author brings. And what’s even better, is that X-Author is a managed package, which means that the custom objects, tabs and apps within X-Author do NOT count against your Salesforce limits.