Trust the Process
The legendary and infamous professional boxer Mike Tyson once said something to the effect of:
“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.”
That is not exactly what he said, but the point was clear. When adversity hits, your best laid plans might not mean too much.
You have two choices. You can scrap your plans altogether and come up with an entirely new plan of action. The other choice is to see where the plan went wrong and tweak it.
When chaos ensues, it sometimes feels as if the best path is to choose the first option. We are experiencing our flight or fight response which senses danger and tells our mind to scrap logic and plans and critical thinking.
I want to make a case for the second option. It flies in the face of the urgency we feel to throw our plans out with the bath water. Our short-term minds gravitate to short-term actions. By relying on experience, data, and patience however, the better course of action is sometimes to stay the course. Below I share an excerpt from my upcoming book “Community-in-a-Box” about a time when trusting the process made the most sense.
Launching the Boston Enterprise Sales Forum felt like the proverbial punch to the face. I had bold dreams about how Boston could be as large and vital of a community as NYC. Then I woke up from those dreams to a rude awakening.
As an aside, the Enterprise Sale Forum was a community I started the year prior in NYC. It was an opportunity to bring startup founders and salespeople together to learn from each other, collaborate, and learn what is working in sales from expert practitioners in sales. The group grow from tens of people to hundreds, and then over one thousand when I started getting messages from people to start a community in their cities.
Boston made a ton of sense as the next city launch for the Enterprise Sales Forum. It was a reasonable drive from NYC; there were many tech companies growing in downtown, which was a core demographic for the community; and several people reached out specifically about launching a community there. As an added bonus, I already had a few good friends in the area willing to help.
The very first Boston event was a huge success. I repeated the fireside chat format with the Salesforce guy who happened to live in Boston and had become a huge fan of the Enterprise Sales Forum. The second event was almost as successful, getting the support of an up-and-coming Boston startup in the sales enablement technology space. At that stage, I thought I had unlocked the winning formula to scale the forum across the globe.
In planning the third event, I was connected to someone who had built the sales training function from the ground up at HubSpot, a leader in the marketing automation market. They had developed a world class sales organization and I thought it would be amazing to have someone at the very beginning of that journey to share his insights at another fireside chat.
It was the day of the event and as I was driving up to Boston, the pit in my stomach grew larger and larger. There were only twenty signups for the event. Given the typical turnout, that meant anywhere from 15 to 18 people would show. In actuality, only a dozen people were in attendance. My speaker was very gracious though and the content itself was incredibly insightful. However, as I looked at all the empty chairs, I could not help but think I totally messed it up.
The following event was just as poor, but with slightly more people. Conversely, the main issue with that event was the audience; it consisted of mostly random people not in sales, including one person who would blurt out nonsensical questions to the speaker and who I constantly had to cut off. Again, my speaker was gracious and patient, but the embarrassment was tearing apart my confidence.
Was my plan flawed? Did I make some fatal mistakes? Was the Enterprise Sales Forum not ready for prime time? That drive back from Boston was full of questions and few answers.
Instead of scrapping my plans, I decided to double down and execute with more intensity and focus. I found a true local speaker who was the CEO of an outsourced sales lead generation company. I got a better venue through a company that was in the sales enablement market and was helping to support the event. I also tripled the amount of promotion over the previous events.
Better execution and tweaking the plans worked! The combination of speaker, support, and promotion helped to turn the tide and netted the Boston chapter over 100 signups, even with an impending snowstorm on the way. Using the same strategy, the following month yielded 100 actual attendees. The Boston Enterprise Sales Forum was becoming an actual community!
Trusting the process is not easy in the face of what looks like epic failure. When I asked other organizers of other communities, they all mentioned “hitting the valley” at some point. That is when, despite all best efforts and intentions, things do not work out for an extended period of time. Any number of issues occur from events with poor attendance and speakers not working out to the mix of attendees being off.
In every instance of hitting the valley, things always turned around and the community came back stronger. Sometimes the valley is just one event, and sometimes it is a few events. It can even take several months. For example, the NY Tech Meetup was just a handful of people for the first few years meeting in random offices before eventually becoming a community of over 60,000 members fifteen years later. The core members were committed to the vision of the community and passionate about technology. They trusted the process.
I talked about metrics in a previous post, but be careful of getting too fixated on numbers. The point is not that 100 people attending an event makes it a success. Rather, focus on execution and the four elements that get the flywheel going. What I did not realize at the time was that some of the people who attended the Boston Enterprise Sales Forum during the “valley” would become the strongest supporters of the community.
Later, when launching the Singapore Enterprise Sales Forum, I focused on execution to get the flywheel going. Even though the number of attendees was not huge, what was building from the first event was a core group that understood the vision of the community and would eventually lead it. I just stuck to consistency, quality, and curating the attendees to get through the valley.
It is hard to trust the process when you do not see immediate results. We grow impatient with every passing day. However, community building, just like launching a startup or starting a regular exercise routine, is not about seeking immediate results. That can happen, but the more common journey is a slow build with many valleys interspersed with the peaks. You will have highs and lows, but the process keeps you grounded to your vision so you can allow the community to flourish in its own time.
What are some situations you are facing now where you have to either stick with the process or scrap the plan for something else? What data did you and your team use to support that decision?
Also, if you enjoyed this short excerpt and are contemplating or currently managing a community, I encourage you to visit “Community-in-a-Box” and check out my upcoming book available on paperback or eBook formats.
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