Dave Derington  08:09

Welcome to CELab the customer education laboratory where we explore how to build customer education programs, experiment with new approaches, and exterminate those myths and bad advice that stopped growth Dennis tracks. Hello, everybody. I am Dave Derington.

Adam Avramescu  08:25

And I’m Adam ever miscue. I

Dave Derington  08:27

hope you hope

Adam Avramescu  08:30

always hope one can always hope to be oneself. But we could also hope to be today’s very special guest, Melissa Van Pelt.

Dave Derington  08:39

Yay. Yay.

Melissa VanPelt  08:42

Thanks so much for having me. I’m super excited to be on the show with you guys.

Dave Derington  08:46

This is one of those days we’ve been waiting for for a long time. So thanks for joining us.

Adam Avramescu  08:51

Yeah, we are so excited to have you on the show. Melissa.

Melissa VanPelt  08:55

Thank you so much, you guys I’ve been fans for for so long. I think you both know, my story about cold calling Adam back in 2018. On LinkedIn, first putting together our customer education program and trying to learn as much from the pioneers of the space as possible and create the best customer education program for a SaaS business. And so it’s kind of just, you know, come full circle that I couldn’t be here today and chat with you guys.

Adam Avramescu  09:31

Yeah, that was so funny. After you told me that you cold cold called me on LinkedIn. I looked and I found it. And I found that first little conversation where I had and I was I was shocked to see even that it was just a few years ago. Because you know how much respect that we have for you in the space and all the expertise that you’ve acquired and I loved actually seeing that at the time you had said hey, you know I’m coming from customer success. I have community In my remit adding customer education, I want to soak it up I want to learn as much as possible. And gosh, like, it hasn’t been that long, Melissa and I feel like you know at all.

Melissa VanPelt  10:12

Oh, haha, Never Never No No at all I’m a lifelong learner, I feel like there’s always so much to learn and our space just continues to evolve and change and grow. So it’s, it’s super exciting and the fact that we have so many awesome people resources like yourselves and the customer education community and the books that have been put out by various you know, thought leaders in our space. I’ve been just instrumental in my success and ability to kind of learn this space and grow our program at seismic so just super special to be on the show with you guys today.

Dave Derington  10:48

That’s awesome. So before we tee it up, no, we forgot to do our thing we always do our tradition here at them. Today is what is a drumroll please. national dress up your pet day.

Adam Avramescu  11:03

You dress up your pet day

Dave Derington  11:05

national dress up your pet day. I know my animals don’t like that the kids do it all the time.

Adam Avramescu  11:12

You just have your pet Melissa.

Melissa VanPelt  11:15

Well, I don’t know if I want to admit this. But on the spot. I will. I do have we have two dogs, but one happens to be a teacup Yorkie and she has a pretty extensive wardrobe. So yes, I do.

Adam Avramescu  11:32

I love it. I love it. If I if I had a Pat, I might dress them up.

Dave Derington  11:38

You might and they don’t like it. Ours don’t. Um, alright, cool. Yes. Well, let’s get into today. So I was thinking about this. So today, I think this is kind of special. Because one of the things that I would say actually mentioned your name today, just today or earlier this week, Melissa, as someone who’s doing a really exemplary job bringing it all together. Or in the spirit of the discussion today. It was okay, you do something you’re in a position that’s really interesting. Tell it tell us what your title is. Because I know you’ve just recently like changed or upgraded. You got a lot on your belt, which for us is education people. Hi, you know, we talked about getting a seat at the table. I like to think you’re there. And it that’s really

Adam Avramescu  12:26

important. You you’re seated, you’re seated at the table.

Dave Derington  12:29

So mentor us we want to learn about your background, how did you get where you are today, I know some of the story. And I think it’s a really good one. But then we want to talk about things like this customer education plus advocacy plus community, this dynamic that synergy you get by introducing and bringing together these sometimes roles that have at different home. And then really talk about this hybridization, this crossover between like you’re at seismic we think a lot about enablement, but you’re also thinking about education. I’ve been a customer of love your program. Well, maybe I’ll start off with that. What How did you get to where you are today? What’s your role? And what we’ll learn more?

Melissa VanPelt  13:10

Yeah, sure. So my current role, or, you know, title, I’ve never chewed on titles, but I’m, as the vice president of customer education, community and advocacy. So I lead the teams that own the programs for our customer education path, our community offering and our advocacy program, which is is what you’re referring to in terms of my recent increase in scope, that’s, that’s a new program that we brought into our portfolio. So, you know, I think that this is, is important as the, you know, the market becomes so laser focused on customer experience, right, and that’s a buzzword that everyone is throwing around these days. But, you know, big picture, you know, my North Star perspective, what we’re trying to do at seismic have been with my programs is put together, you know, a tightly integrated portfolio of programs that orchestrates a very natural progression of learning and engagement opportunities for our customers along their journey with us. So, you know, at a, at a high level, we are responsible for fully understanding the learning and engagement needs of our customers and addressing those needs through unified programs that, you know, ultimately enable our customer success and so if we can, if we can do that really well, then, you know, hopefully, we would be creating competent past demurrers confident customers who are driving success at their own organizations with our technology and become raving fans of seismic. So you can kind of see that natural progression. And, you know, I’ve been, I’ve been super fortunate because I’ve grown at seismic over the last six years where I started as a customer success manager at a time where our company was still rather, you know, rather small, I think we may have been 100 100 People at that point. And so customer success managers were wore multiple hats, right. So we weren’t just account managers and renewal managers and project managers, we were, we also did implementation, and we didn’t at that time, I think, have a dedicated implementation team. So we were very hands on with the customer, we were working with the product organization to bubble up product feedback. So we were doing a lot of things that put me in a really, really good position to understand our customers, their use cases, their learning needs, the way they wanted to engage with our business, and set me up and, you know, coupled with a prior position at a former company in med device, which was in a training capacity. So a couple bad experience with this experience, it put me in a really good position to focus on customer facing programs that enable our customers success.

Dave Derington  16:33

I love it. So you came in from customers, I think that’s really important, because we’re thinking, we’re seeing a lot of different openings now for higher and higher level positions in education for SaaS companies. And that I am always, when I was thinking, I was talking to somebody that had such a role, and I was thinking about your background and your trajectory, and the fact that you came in with that customer success, understanding understanding what the customer is all about, that post sales journey and the understanding of all these different pieces. So you came in with like, kind of a natural, high level look and feel like, well, this is where we need to go. And then you’re you proceeded to build it up. And now you kind of own several different competencies. So attorney, I don’t think that could have been easy. Bring it all together? Which is why I probably call it call it the Adam here and what I mean, what was the spirit of that first call when you called like exam? Are you talking about? I was a sponge, I was soaking all this up? I’m calling trying to figure it all out. You already knew this Yes, part. But now it’s like, how do we teach people?

Melissa VanPelt  17:34

Yeah, that’s a great, great question. So at that point, in time, I had just, you know, in 2017, we had launched the seismic community. And so that was kind of our first step into a more scalable, you know, customer facing support program for our customers to kind of expand their knowledge and reach into seismic into other customers. And so when I reached out to Adam, I was just starting to build our strategy for the customer education program, we had just gotten a formal investment in a program, a dedicated program, right, I had been doing training for seismic and, you know, informally, but at that point, it was a formal charter. And so I started scouring the internet and more specifically LinkedIn for, you know, people that were in positions, and SAS businesses, and customer education. And I stumbled upon a lot of blogs that Adam had written. And I started reading all his blogs. And then I stumbled upon dilkusha, its maturity model for customer education in SAS, right. And so it was like, perfect, because that actually became somewhat of a loose blueprint for me at that time to say, this is what we need to do. And this is kind of our roadmap at a high level. And so and then, when I reached out to Adam, I just kind of wanted to connect with him and pick his brain on kind of our auric, my org structure and resource model. And that’s when he had said, look, there’s a great community, past customer education community, you should join that. And so from there, I think

Adam Avramescu  19:18

I think I was trying to give you an end to end customer experience. I was like, I can answer your question directly. But did you know that there’s also this whole community of practitioners out there?

Melissa VanPelt  19:28

Yeah. Yeah. He still, he still started. He was traveling and couldn’t talk to me. No, I’m kidding. But yeah, I’d

Adam Avramescu  19:39

like to think that you’re much better equipped from having met a whole network of professionals than from just having talked to me. Yeah, it was. That’s the value of community for customers to write.

Melissa VanPelt  19:49

It really, really is and it’s and the customer education community is just amazing. I mean, I just I the how engaged and active that community our community is is just super powerful. And then of course, you know, I, I’ve told you guys this, but I have listened every single one of your cielab podcasts. And I love the show. And I actually I, you know, I think it’s so funny you guys have great humor. And it’s interesting and you bring on great people. I’ve read books and you know, I read Adam’s book, which was another huge, helpful resource for me. So, so yeah, so that’s, that’s kind of how it started back in 2018. And being the company that seismic is a really high growth company, we did move really, really fast from in our customer education program, we went from zero to 100 pretty quickly. And it’s been interesting, it’s been interesting to reflect and look back on kind of how we matured and actually even more interesting how we’ve had to take steps back in maturity as we’ve acquired other companies that you know, at a different products at a different skews to our product. So yeah, it’s been quite a quite a whirlwind, super exciting. I love this stuff. And building and growing things is a passion of mine. So yeah,

Dave Derington  21:14

that’s amazing. I, you know, I don’t know if you have questions, you could start, but I know, a question I’d like to start with. So good. Go ahead for it. It’s. So in your role, you’ve got three different hats to wear all under one hat? And like, what are the things that you’re really finding that, like, she talked about a few things, so you’re getting loyal customers, they feel supported, you’re developing advocates, and that’s that whole customer advocacy thing? I’ve always felt like it’s been a marketing gig. And it’s more like, Oh, do you love the product? Oh, I’m going to do a little thing with you. It’s not like, Well, how do I develop that person? In the first place? Is that where you’re like, one of your charters is to say, Okay, well, I educate, I want to build you got the outcome. But then you’ve got that community layer. That’s a lot going on, like, how does this fabric work together?

Melissa VanPelt  22:08

Yeah, I mean, I think if you think about, you know, the natural progression of a customer, let’s just start at post sale. Okay, I understand that the it starts presale, but let’s just start post sale and you think about, okay, well, this is how we are preparing them for implementation with some education to you know, get them ready and vendor onboarding, they’re learning through the educational products that we’ve developed, like, the courses on seismic University, and yeah, Academy. You know, we’re trying to drive performance and platform proficiency and ultimately, you know, a best practice implementation of seismic. Right. Okay, so that’s where the education piece is a big part for us, and then you think, Okay, so now implementation is, is done the initial implementation, and the customers launches, and they’re starting to realize value from the platform, and they’re seeing success with adoption. Hopefully, this is all in a perfect world, right. Um, but they they’re achieving their own business object, then ideally, they start to become involved with our community of practitioners and giving and getting support within the community and joining special interest groups and user groups and, you know, engaging in our blogs and events, right. So they’re right there, we’re driving deeper customer relationships through these additional engagement opportunities that we’re presenting them in this progression. And so I’ll ultimately, right, we are hoping that those that are feeling supported and connected and engaged with us every step of the way, through their learning journey through their community participation, they become loyal to our brand, right, they’re having a great experience, they are, you know, passionate about their success and sharing that. So advocacy, you know, then becomes somewhat organic, we would hope right? And our advocate pool becomes larger and the burden of securing advocates becomes becomes lighter. And then there you go, we’ve we’ve done our job or contributed to supporting, you know, scale growth of the business. Yeah,

Adam Avramescu  24:32

I think you know, that’s really interesting how they all fit together, because you’re right, like you, you’re telling this, this story of how these functions really enhance one another and why? In a lot of ways it makes sense for these candidates to be housed in one place, although we know that everyone takes a slightly different point of view and what’s what’s in their customer education portfolio. I would love to hear a little bit about like, what are some of the key metrics that you associated with each of these programs? And how do you how do you report on on all those different pieces of your portfolio?

Melissa VanPelt  25:07

Yeah, I think it’s each one is has, you know, their dedicated metrics. The data I love when you guys bring up the data, because data is so so important to understand if we are doing an effective job and are things working. But let’s just start, you know, with education, right? So when we start to think about what we’re trying to do with education, well, for one, we’re trying to drive a best practice implementation and product adoption. So are our customers using the product in a best best practice way? are they gaining success? And are they renewing? Right? Are they are we retaining these customers? And are they really right with us? So obviously, you know, we don’t have direct control over that. But we can start to draw some assumptions around, they’re taking our courses or they’re engaged with our community and their sentiment score is a you know, ARB versus those that aren’t engaging with us aren’t learning and their sentiment scores might be lower, or they may have churned or something like that, right. So we do look at stuff like that we look at are they taking courses that are specific features turned on? Or are they interested in purchasing additional products if they’ve taken courses, so we start to look at those types of metrics? You know, community is an interesting one, because initially, when we launched community, it was primarily a support community that was really started to expand that you can use case to be more of a you know, user, user groups and industry information and event information beyond just your your primary support. But so initially, the reason why I bring that up is we would look at, you know, our customers that are engaging in community, do they have less support tickets? Are customers that have taken courses and are certified? Are they answering more questions in community and start to look at metrics like that? So those are some of the metrics around education and community. In terms of, you know, advocacy, this program is brand new, we just mean right before I left on maternity leave, which I’m back this week from

Dave Derington  27:38

graduate program. Sorry, I said, welcome back. That’s, uh, now now you’re launching it and you’re thinking about, Okay, now we’re going to do this whole new advocacy thing. So one of the one of the key indicators that say advocacy is working or looking like organic impressions of people posting on LinkedIn, or social media.

Melissa VanPelt  27:58

So we, the advocacy program is multi dimensional, and in perspective, the perspective of we also within advocacy. So I’ll take back a step. Yeah, we believe that if we put the right programs in place for our customers with advocacy, where they are joining users, we have user groups for them, where we have product feedback sessions for them, where we may have an advisory board, we are highlighting their successes at conferences for them and connecting them with peers. Right, then. They’re they’re going to want to partner with us more on additional things like sales reference calls, but just a perfect example. Right? So they’re doing all these activities, they become great to talk to prospective customers. So we may want to look at, you know, what percent of our advocates are contributing to a deal win loss? Right. Are they involved? And have they influenced deals for prospective customers? That’s

Dave Derington  29:03

cool. That’s interesting.

Melissa VanPelt  29:06

We like to look at, you know, what, which programs that we put in front of them, they are participating? Are they coming to the town halls with the executives? Are they participating in the user groups and meetups? Do they want to speak? Are they interested in us, you know, highlighting and spotlighting their successes with seismic things like that? And so we do for them for those situations, too. We do also look at okay, these are these are our advocates. This is how they’re engaging with us. What how is their account how that’s another important metric. We look at tying kind of engagement in these programs to account health.

Adam Avramescu  29:45

So yeah, yeah, it sounds like there’s a lot of correlation analysis that you’re doing and connecting different systems. I am super curious, just because advocacy. That’s not one where I’ve tried to do that sort of reporting before. Do you have to have all of your systems, you know, piping into a CRM or data warehouse to track this? Is this something you’re getting through an advocacy platform like Influitive? Like how, how do you actually do these sorts of analyses? Or is it all in spreadsheets? Like, are you doing those sorts of? Yeah. Analysis?

Melissa VanPelt  30:20

Yeah. So we are actually underway in the implementation of reference edge in our Salesforce environment, and we will integrate with Salesforce and Gainsight. And so the data will be collected there that, you know, it’s the data cleanse leanness is everything. And we’re going through that process right now of cleaning up our data in our our environments, because the the tools that we implement to manage these programs are only as good as the data is. So

Adam Avramescu  30:51

we have garbage in garbage out. Yeah, exactly.

Melissa VanPelt  30:53

So we have a little bit right now we have a little bit of, you know, implementation prep work to do to implement reference edge to start tracking everything in regarding advocacy. But, you know, to your to your point, yes, we have been managing it in spreadsheets, historically, which is a very efficient, or effective way to manage the avenue. That’s

Adam Avramescu  31:15

where a lot of us start.

Dave Derington  31:16

Yeah, that’s where we start. That’s okay.

Adam Avramescu  31:18

Yeah. So okay, so you have a super big scope, I love how all these things tie together, I love that you have so many metrics and ways of looking at the impact of your programs. Um, there’s like, two directions that I want to go in. So maybe I’ll ask you these in, in sequence. I guess the first question that I have is, like, when you’re when you’re talking to your customers, or your executives, or or the board? How do you tie all of these together in a really succinct way? Or how do you kind of make sure that, that in some ways these feel like a, like a unified program and not, you know, a series of functions? Or do you

Melissa VanPelt  32:02

that’s the goal, I think we have some maturing to do to get there where, you know, we that we are providing a superior, highly engaging and differentiated, you know, customer experience, and it’s smooth, and it feels seamless, and it feels coordinated, and the customer is just, you know, overly satisfied and pleased, right. But, you know, there’s a maturity path that we have to follow. And so we’re trying to get there, we do, we do. Really try to just in terms, like, for instance, integrating the systems, right, so community and our LMS system, or seismic university, you know, we have, we do our best to make those digital assets feel consistent and feel branded the same way and part of our brand, we try to provide easy access for customers to go from one to the next. You know, advocacy, again, it’s, it’s brand new. So there’s a lot that we’re putting in place, especially when it comes to trying to showcase this portfolio of programs as a real, or, you know, coordinated program when it comes to our customer conference that will be coming up in a few months. So we’ve got a ways to go, but we’re focused on getting there. Yeah, you know, I

Adam Avramescu  33:38

love I love that you went there, Melissa, because I think a lot of the time, so okay, like people are people are probably looking at you and saying, you know, she’s a VP, I want to be a VP, I want to have that level of scope. I want to have all these programs, and might feel that to get to that level or to like succeed at that level, you have to have everything buttoned up and completely figured out and like all your narratives in place, and all your marketing polished and all the programs tied together. And like what I’m hearing from you is, you got some of that, but a lot of it is still work in progress. And a lot of it is just de facto like a constant refining of these things as you grow. And as you learn more and like, I can say, I’m not a VP, but like, from, from my point of view, managing several programs, I feel like our programs are always in flux as well. And a lot of the time someone asked me, Well, hey, how do you think about this? Or how do you tie these things together? And I’m like, No, we try. We’re just trying our best, right? And that’s kind of what you said, and I really, I like that I love it because I really do think it’s easy, like the higher you go in an organization and the more scope you take on, the easier it is to feel that imposter syndrome, but not necessarily having all of those answers buttoned up.

Melissa VanPelt  34:54

Yeah, I definitely am one of those leaders that does not pretend to have Bob answers, I ask a lot of questions. I’m hungry to always learn and iterate it, we had to pivot several times right on certain things that we were a priority at one point, and then all of a sudden, they’re not that much of a priority in the present moment that you’re facing, and that Sass per hate, and that’s high as, but yeah, yeah, I am. There’s a lot to bite off. And there’s a lot you can do. And I know we talk about this a lot in our community, but you know, you want to do it all. And oftentimes, if you try to do it, all the things, you might not do all the things exceptionally well. So I think it’s trying to pick some things that we can really mature, especially this year, as I’m looking ahead, like, this is where we really this is where we’re going to have the biggest impact for the business, and customers and their experience and their success. And let’s let’s do this and focus on this really well. I think that’s important because one, that’s, you know, there’s a lot in customer education. But when you do start to increase your scope, it does become, there’s a lot of bloat in there, that you have to kind of weed through and get down to the heart of it.

Adam Avramescu  36:24

Yeah, one, one thing that, you know, a manager that I had once on the customer training team, and I thought this was really good advice. One thing she said was, you know, kill things publicly. And I think that’s to your point, like, that’s the way to combat bloat. And I totally agree, especially when you’re growing quickly, and you’re trying out different hypotheses and you’re experimenting with things, you are going to end up with some legacy programs or some bloat that it takes a while to actually get rid of. And I think the more you can normalize, killing things that either aren’t working or have outlived their usefulness, or the better. Yeah, the other thing that I hear in what you’re saying this is, this is actually a concept that I learned from these consultants that are called the Vega factor. And they have kind of an analogy for progress, not perfection, and they call it the sketchy baby. And so my team makes fun of me for saying sketchy baby all the time. Even though I totally didn’t make that up. I’m taking it from these people, the Vega factor. And the analogy is that, let’s say you’re trying to like paint a portrait of this baby. Well, did you start by like painting the corner and putting all the colors in and getting that rights? And then the rest of the painting is completely unfinished? Or do you like sketch the baby first. So you can see the face the baby is making and, you know, give yourself enough room to at least like show what you’re trying to depict? Before you start filling in all the color and painting it and getting it in higher fidelity because you never know when you’re going to have to drop the pencil or the paintbrush. So that’s kind of the concept of the sketchy baby or in some ways, maybe like an MVP, not you MVP, but minimum viable product.

Melissa VanPelt  38:09

And yeah, I love that analogy. I always tell my teams like let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good. Because if we focus too hard on getting everything perfect, we know that the the dime could could be tossed and we’re going to be pivoting in a different direction. And we spend all that time being perfect. Now that’s hard. I’m a perfectionist at heart so that that’s hard. But you learned pretty quickly in a in a sound high growth SaaS company. Yeah, you just can’t You can’t can’t operate like that. Perfect. Yeah, there’s no time for perfect. Yeah,

Dave Derington  38:49

but Can I jump in on that I because I want to live I want to own the or have this moment have space, because this is a one of the resonant themes in our Sassette I’m using the term SAS education more generally encompass enablement, too. Because I think that is such an ingrained thing in most of us because, like, I’ll go back when I was teaching a university. You know, one thing I did with my students, I changed my entire class, and I got rid of grades per se. And I did this more of a yearning points. And as we go along, it was really this, like, disorienting at first and then the students like, well, this is liberating. You’re not, you’re not thinking about the same thing. Like normally you think, okay, let’s imagine you have 1000 points in a semester and a course, right? It’s very punitive the way we teach, because you’re gonna unless you’re perfect, unless then we strive for that because I’m looking to get 100% I want to be 100%. But then we start chipping away at that. So perfection is aspirational. And in SAS, we’re moving at the speed of light. And that the the thing that I try to do, and I’ve had this conference I had to beat it out of me. I had to help my instructional designers to understand this. And a lot of times they never got they’re completely, like, Well, I really want to fix this and get it out the door, ship it, but it’s not go, we don’t have time for that you do later, right? Like, say IPO or two years out of that I have time to really build educational services, but just want to bring space and attention to that point. That perfect is the enemy of done. It combats what we’re trying to do.

Melissa VanPelt  40:29

Yeah, I mean, the shelf life shelf life for for education, and SAS is very, very short. Right? So if you spend all that time more time working on something, then it’s available for customers, or it’s current for customers, then you’re in trouble.

Adam Avramescu  40:45

Yeah, like and like high, high quality doesn’t necessarily mean high production value. Yeah, but you want to be nimble, you want to iterate? And so this takes me this was the second question I was going to ask earlier, sort of, but I’m going to pivot it a little bit, because of the conversation we’re having right now. Like, I’m curious with your scope, right? You’ve got these different teams, these different functions, you’ve got a limited number of resources, you’ve got a bunch of customer needs. How do you make decisions about where to prioritize across these functions and, and kind of where to spend your time and get a little bit more into the weeds or high level? I’m just super curious how you manage the whole scope.

Melissa VanPelt  41:22

I mean, a lot of my, my prioritization is dictated by the business, really, the business objectives, what’s important to the business, what’s important to our CEO, and our chief customer officer who I report into the product organization, right? What products are the sticky products that are going to drive adoption and customers to realize maximum maximum value of our product, right, and so you kind of start there, and then you work your way out. Um, you know, I’ll give you, I’ll give you a good example. How things can change pretty quickly, last year, localization, internationalization was a big priority for us, because, you know, we were expanding rapidly in international markets. And so, you know, one of my big focus was to prepare my education org, to localized content. And that was a massive, left. There’s a lot as you guys both know, that goes into that, well, about six months into that our product, and through acquisitions, and through some strategic product decisions we made, began going through a massive transformation. Now, that would not make sense for us at that point to continue to move forward with localizing and translating all of our content in current state, because we would just have to go through that process again in six months. So that’s a perfect example where the business is saying this is one priority, but things could change pretty quickly. So it’s the constant checking in for me, it’s constant checking in with, you know, our executive team on what the priorities are what’s most important, it’s knowing, you know, are staying really, really in touch with our product, the best practice use cases, knowing what’s the sticky feature functionalities are for our customers. A lot, a lot of listening for me, I think that’s one of my strengths is listening, interpreting, and then being able to make decisions that really align to leadership’s vision.

Dave Derington  43:42

That’s our job. Yeah, totally makes sense.

Adam Avramescu  43:44

Yeah, I mean, I think like, that’s like your your vision has to cascade from from the business needs. Obviously, there’s a, it’s like aligning the business needs with education, best practices and innovation within our field, because that’s why you know, businesses hire people at your level to like, help craft a vision that’s rooted in your craft, but also is solving business problems,

Melissa VanPelt  44:09

right? I mean, I’d love to sit here and say, you know, what, every decision I make is data driven. It’s all objective. And I get it from what customers are finding, you know, most valuable.

Adam Avramescu  44:21

It can’t be it just can’t can’t be. Yeah, no, yeah, you can’t be data data informed. I’m a big fan these days of saying data informed, not data driven.

Dave Derington  44:29

Yeah, that’s a good that’s a good discrimination to between it because informed is that means you’re not completely beholden to it. But you’re definitely using it.

Adam Avramescu  44:38

Right? You want data to be able to answer key questions, you want data to be able to guide you in making important decisions. Where you know, you’re going to have that data or right like, like, you know, we always talk about like discovery and value matrices. So you want to be able to answer those two things wherever possible so you can make decisions about what to maintain, or what to repurpose or what to kill publicly. But you’re going to be asked a bunch of questions that require data that you don’t have. So what are you going to? Do you use the data that you do have as proxies? Or you make the most logical decision in spite of it. So, I don’t know, I agree with you. And also like, I think you, you have to have some of your vision that really ties to like, Where do I see the business going? And let me be decisive about that versus really listening to your data to make every single decision, you’re going to get analysis paralysis, right?

Melissa VanPelt  45:28

You know, if they came to me and said, you know, revenue from your org is super important, right? I would, I would probably, I would focus my attention on our fee based offering. And that’s not the case. But you know, if they came to me and said, you know, your biggest priority is decreasing the time it takes to onboard you know, faster time to value right, then I would make decisions around the content that we have that supports onboarding and how to get a customer realizing value super quick. So it’s those type of things that you listen, and you make your decisions. And if you know, you know, your team, your resources, and you have a good strategy in place, you can execute pretty well.

Adam Avramescu  46:08

And is it do they do they say to you that directly like this is the thing that we’re expecting out of you? Or this is the thing that’s most important to us? Or is it like, you’re listening to the overall company strategies for the year and looking at the macro level, and then saying, Okay, this is what I’ve heard over and over, I think this is the area that you want me to focus, like, tell me if I’m right or wrong? Yeah, the ladder? Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Cuz I think I think sometimes it’s hard, right? When you’re like, you want someone to just like, hand you the strategy?

Melissa VanPelt  46:38

Yeah, well, I think you learn pretty quickly as you kind of grow up and grow up into higher leadership levels, that your management is going to expect you not to look for them to define your strategy, you have to listen and go to them and just bet it that your strategy, you know, come to them with solutions more than, you know, questions.

Dave Derington  47:00


Adam Avramescu  47:01


Dave Derington  47:02

That’s a hard lesson for a lot of folks. I mean, like, I think, what if I would reflect on what you’re saying here today. And you know, the fact that you’re in a VP level role is really interesting to me. Because a lot of people I was talking to somebody just today that she was talking about where she’s at now and where she wants to go. And it actually we were talking about you say, Melissa was one of the people that I respect, and I show is a really good example of like it just what we’ve talked about here, you have this integrative approach to advocacy, engagement, and educational and one, you get to see that. But you know, what, a lot of people lament getting into customer education. And I’ve been in this in certain positions where I didn’t have that really strong tie in to executive leadership, like, what do you really want, I’d had to force that. And as your companies grow, it gets harder. So you’re in the right place. And that’s kind of aspirational for folks in our field. We’re not necessarily talking about chief learning officer, but the role that you have in the position you have bringing in integrating these things together, allows you more field to play and say I can Okay, now we’re gonna pivot more towards community right now. You’ve basically got all of these things at your disposal to help you out. That’s pretty fascinating.

Adam Avramescu  48:20

Yeah, so so that that kind of takes us towards there’s another topic data that you mentioned up top that we wanted to talk to, you know, seismic being an enablement, company, and Melissa, for you kind of thinking about how enablement and education relate to each other. So I’d be really curious and David sounded like you were to just to kind of hear how you think about that relationship and how those pieces fit into the puzzle.

Melissa VanPelt  48:45

Yeah, it’s so interesting, because I think we, we see a lot of people these days, kind of using enablement and education interchangeably. And I would I would argue that they’re different.

Adam Avramescu  49:00

abled, what’s, what’s the Yeah, what’s the difference? Because like, they sound like the same thing,

Melissa VanPelt  49:04

right? Um, in short, enablement is multi dimensional education is just one piece of an enablement function. Okay, so a well rounded enablement program has multiple components to that program, which which includes an education or a skill development coaching component, in addition to you know, teams or resources that are dedicated to content, you know, marketing materials, a team dedicated to communication, and active ongoing and active data driven or even to your point data informed feedback loop to know what’s working and effectively and what might be missing the mark. And these are all coordinated and integrated efforts, right with different different teams. specialized in different capabilities like like a learning team or a comms team or your marketing team right? There under one roof. They’re seamlessly integrated under one central organization, and they’re focused on driving performance and results. And so, you know, I would caution people to think that, you know, enabling is education and education is enablement. Good.

Adam Avramescu  50:30

So like, Should we be calling our teams and you know, you know, that, like, I’m saying this through gritted teeth, ourselves, like customer enablement, teams, instead of customer education. We want to take on broader scope.

Melissa VanPelt  50:42

That’s what I was gonna say, I would not, I would not. And this is my my point of view, how a customer education team that is pure play the learning team to call themselves customer enablement. And last, they have taken on those other capabilities and specializations that you know, and and let me just say, again, I’ll caveat this with there’s a maturity for every organization, right? So you got to start somewhere. But I think if we are honestly talking about an enablement program, and you want to coin the team, the enablement team, there’s got to be it’s got to be multifaceted.

Adam Avramescu  51:32

Yeah. And those and those facets, you said are it’s like what we consider the education function, which includes, you know, all the subcategories of that, like, often we put knowledge in there, we put academies in there, we put live training in there, IoT, all that good stuff. But then also you said having, like, content,

Melissa VanPelt  51:53

right? Yeah, I would think about like customer marketing, right? Marketing is creating a lot of content for customers. Customer comms team, sometimes that’s one in the same but but you get where I’m going

Adam Avramescu  52:09

with. So you’ve got like basically like delivery content comms, and then like ops and data, not to you together. It’s kind of like a holistic enablement. Whether it’s like internal enablement, or sales enablement, or customer enablement. It’s like they’ve got to have like those different functions to them to be successful.

Melissa VanPelt  52:27

Exactly. So I’ll put my I’ll put my seismic hat on for a minute. So Right? An enablement, revenue enablement, right. We have a revenue enablement team, well, within this function, you know, they’re responsible for onboarding new sales reps quickly and keeping experienced sellers, competent and new and new products and updates. You know, there’s risk resources responsible for, you know, providing content with the right contacts of when to use content and for what audience or selling situation and that content can be personalized for different scenarios. There’s resources that are dispersing information to keep sellers informed, maybe, maybe about the market or industry news, etc. And then they’re using technology to measure and determine, you know, what’s working effective? And where do they need to? Where do they need immediate turn of the crank, right? So that’s a great, you know, enablement program with all these different areas of specialty that are, are enabling the sellers to be effective in their roles and do what they need to do right to align to that business objective of driving new new revenue or driving driving new leads. And you could say the same thing, just like you mentioned, on the flip side for customer enablement, right. It’s, it’s kind of creating that seamless and managed customer experience across an ecosystem of specialized resources that support our customers. So that’s kind of my pitch. It’s

Dave Derington  54:05

a really good way, education really good way to to, to talk about that. And I think what you’re saying is that, well, something I could add in here is that I’ve always had an interesting relationship with enablement teams, sometimes I integrate more sometimes integrate last, but it’s really important to think about the entire entire arc internally too, and I’ve always been kind of dumbfounded sometimes to say, hey, you know, I built all this great content for training, why aren’t you using it internally? And sometimes like, well, you know that but then you come around and go, Oh my gosh, no, I don’t have to build that. But in so I feel like enablement and you know, that customer education role when it comes to enablement can be kind of like a help. Like we can help each other because like, like, ideally, if I were to paint a picture of, you know, developing like going quarter to quarter, getting the updates, getting new product stuff, it’s a handoff to up with a bunch of different people to like elicit and understand that But we have to do that as a partnership to, like an enablement. We

Adam Avramescu  55:03

have a we have a really old episode about this day. I think we did the sharing with others episode. Uh huh. Did we talk about this?

Dave Derington  55:11

Yeah, I think we talked about this down, but it’s still top of mind for me like I Yeah, yeah, it’s constantly. Yeah, one of the words, I really want to talk to you, because you’ve kind of subsumed several different really good related functions. And where I see things going down the road is, I’ve mentioned, you know, the really cool to have education czar, or a committee or council inside a growing company that helps to orchestrate and get all these knowledge streams together. Because I was saying this on a call with somebody for a consultant yesterday, about how we’re kind of cultural anthropologists working internally to understand what our company’s mission is, how we, how we capture that knowledge to do the things that we do. And one of the things that are underlying all that is like what, I said this to somebody on a podcast recently, hey, you’re going to Napa, with a company SK Oh, everybody’s on the bus, it gets hit, and everybody’s gone. Except for maybe the CEO, one other person, like what happens to all that knowledge? This is where we have to work with others fluidly in that multi dimensional thing. How do we share all this knowledge? I like I like the seismic platform, because it offered a lot of interesting ways to like surface and share that information to get to it and get it to my customers. And maybe you reflect on that a little bit like should we be aspiring to integrate more with these teams? Are they okay being where they’re at?

Melissa VanPelt  56:31

Yeah, I think that relationship and the the cross cross functional collaboration is super important. To get it right. And I think that, you know, in an ideal world, it would be amazing if there was like an Education Center of Excellence. Right? That Yes. Yeah, that that supported, you know, on the sales side, and the the posts, the external and internal, right, but there’s, there’s a lot of content that could be repurposed and

Adam Avramescu  57:04

reused. Yeah. Sometimes you at least end up with like a committee like I’ve done this before, where you’ve got basically all the different education or enablement teams in your company, you’ve got customer education, you’ve got sales or revenue enablement, you’ve got l&d in there sometimes, at least to seeing on. What are some of the big top of mind areas where we can work together are we going to repurpose and that’s often how you end up with things like like revenue enablement, repurposing, customer education materials, like especially like certifications, and things like that as part of the way to enable the team because now you’ve got all of your product knowledge and best practices in one place, you don’t have to recreate that wheel. Yeah. And then on the flip side, often in customer education, you might end up taking some of the enablement materials that they’ve prepared for the internal teams and actually using that as subject matter expertise to eventually produce customer facing materials, especially when it’s more about like methodology. And like best practices around going to market versus like pure product knowledge will often the enablement team has already done a lot of that work and thought about the positioning and all that already. So that’s like one or two fewer smears that you might end up needing to interact with. And we know that Smee time is always at a premium and you’re developing content. Absolutely.

Melissa VanPelt  58:21


Dave Derington  58:24

Alright, well, you know, we are coming up in about an hour. Honestly, we thought we were going to be shorter than that. But it always seems to go longer. Any other final parting discussion points we want to want to tackle before we ease on out this episode. We think we’ve had a lot this is a juicy one because you were talking about this integration with all the different stuff, different advocacy as a new one that we haven’t really covered before. So I’m super excited about that. Anything,

Adam Avramescu  58:56

okay, I’m just I’m gonna I’m gonna, I’m gonna shoot, I’m gonna shoot a shot out here. And but, Melissa, if you have other other topics or advice that you’d like to give, yeah, I think our listeners would be into it. I think the one question that I would ask is like, and perfectly okay, if there’s not a straightforward answer to this is like, for anyone out there is saying, hey, I want to be a VP of education or a VP of enablement. And I want to have that, that scope in the organization. Like, regardless of whether titles matter, like scope matters, and influence matters. Like what advice would you give to someone who, who maybe has an eye on doing that sort of thing in their career path?

Melissa VanPelt  59:34

Yeah, um I think that for me, from my experience, the reason why I’ve been able to grow as much as I have and as fast as I have is a few things. One I have been so hungry to really understand these different, these different spaces, right? I didn’t have a strong background in customer education. But I did everything that I could I clawed my way relentlessly to find out everything I can to absorb and learn this space. I did not have a customer marketing background where advocacy typically sits right, what did I do, I joined customer marketing communities, I talked to customer marketing vendors, I talked to other professionals at you know, organizations that I had contacts at who were had been doing it before. So it’s about learning, it’s about somewhat throwing caution to the wind, right, we talked about imposter syndrome syndrome, it’s really easy for people to fall into that trap. But I would argue, sometimes you have to. Sometimes you need to fake it. till you make it really I mean, I don’t know if that’s the right analogy to say, but sometimes you just have to dive into something, roll up your sleeves, and get into the weeds, I will say that every level that I have stepped into, I have never really taken myself and maybe my leadership, I would argue this is a fault of mine. But I’ve never taken myself out of the trenches. I’m always in the trenches with my teams learning and growing and thinking and strategizing and collaborating. Because I feel like that’s how one you can become a better leader. And that’s how you continue to evolve and keep a pulse on your program and the needs and how to grow it and make it better. So I would say to people that are hesitant, you know, dive dive in, there’s, there’s nothing that’s above you, if you put your mind to it, you can do it. It’s, it might be harder for you, if you’ve never done it before, it might take more time and more investment. But then you do it and you learn, right, and you can take them to the next company that you go to.

Adam Avramescu  1:02:09

But you know, like when you say fake it till you make it. Like I know, you hesitate even about using that phrase like I, I here’s how I interpret that and tell me tell me what you think. Because like it sounded like the distinction you’re making in some ways is there are people who fake it till they make it quote unquote. And what they’re actually doing is they’re trying to kind of like wallpaper over their their vulnerability or they’re being like performatively vulnerable, at best. And so fake it till you make it for a lot of people means like, I am just going to pretend like I’m an expert. And in doing so I’m not going to open myself up to be curious or honest about the things that I don’t know and how I can go learn them. And that’s not what I seen you do. And it’s not what I think you’re describing in terms of your path. Like you’ve actually been very straightforward about what you don’t know and what you want to learn. And like what you what you call fake it till you make it I almost think of is like you you start acting and then you learn from that action. And like, like I’m thinking now about the like Brad Stolberg, performance coaching stuff that Dee Dee from our previous episode actually shared with me. What the science says is like mood follows action. So once you start doing something, and if you do it with intellectual humility, then you will start to learn and apply yourself instead of just sitting there protecting your ego. Wow,

Melissa VanPelt  1:03:32

that’s it. That’s, that’s exactly. Yeah, yeah. Like I said, fake it till you make it. It’s not a good way to describe what I was talking about. You hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what I’m hearing. I think, you know, if you can listen to what your business is telling you, and you pay attention, and you understand kind of the general strategy and then you can dive in to pick apart that tactical execution pieces that need to happen and you learn and you want to grow and you want to stretch yourself, then you can be successful in moving into new roles. But to your point, you have to be open to it. You can’t fake knowing everything. I I’m always the first one to raise my hand and say, I don’t know that but I will find it out and I will perfect my skill in that.

Adam Avramescu  1:04:25

Yeah, to me that’s more valuable than thought leadership any any day of the week.

Dave Derington  1:04:29

Yeah, we love that. This those are, this is a great way to end an episode. Those are real gems. Really good advice. I think all everybody in so many people, we talked to this, they want to go and evolve their careers and expand and learn and grow and most of them have share your DNA. You know, like, we need to stay open, we stay transparent. And that’s actually fun too. Because when you have that transparency and you’re more facilitating the act of this journey and taking people along with you to learn that so much More fun than saying, Oh, I know everything and then having to suffer for that. So this wonderful sage advice from one of our favorite people. Always favorites too. Yeah. Yeah, well,

Adam Avramescu  1:05:13

love fest.

Dave Derington  1:05:16

That’s what we’re here for. We’re like, the other thing I’ll say is that one other thing I really liked, what you said, is that you’re not afraid to find the others. And that’s really what we’re doing here is we’re trying to bring voices like yours out. Because you’re doing the hard work. We’re all doing the hard work. We’re in the trench every day. So if any of you out there listening, and you’re new to the market, introduce yourself, let us know sign the manifesto. Get into community get out there and chat. Let’s let’s talk get on LinkedIn, wherever we’re at. We meet all these great people like Melissa, and we got to learn together because this is a brand new field and built on the bones of other things we’ve done. It’s it’s just very new. So you want to take us take us home here.

Melissa VanPelt  1:06:02

Sorry about that. I agree with you, Dave. I mean, just out to the community. I love talking to people, I love learning. I love sharing experiences. I love picking each other’s brains, I wish we could get an A in a room or in a bar and have a beer and talk about these things. Someday we will but in the meantime, you know, reach out, stay connected. And thank you guys, both for having me and keeping up with these podcasts. Because like I said, they’re so so valuable for people that are doing the hard things, right, build these programs and grow their program. So

Adam Avramescu  1:06:37

because yeah, thank you for coming on. It was so great to have you and to make us all feel like MVPs today. That’s awesome. Yeah, I had to perfect, perfect transition into finding the others and coming together as a community. So if you listeners want to learn more, we have a podcast website at customer dot education. That’s the full URL. You can find shownotes transcripts, other material goodies. Other stuff. Great. And if you found in this podcast value, then please share with your friends, your peers, your network, so that we can help find the others as well. On Twitter, I like to generally tweet nonsense at FM sq.

Dave Derington  1:07:25

Cool I met Dave Derington. Melissa, do you have a Twitter verse account?

Melissa VanPelt  1:07:31

Do you but I don’t really use Twitter.

Adam Avramescu  1:07:36

On LinkedIn, I don’t even know why we say our Twitter handles on LinkedIn. That’s where people find us. Yeah, thanks. Okay, everyone, everyone connect on LinkedIn thanks to Alan Coda for providing our fee music. We know many of you are subscribed already. So thank you for doing that. But if you haven’t yet, please leave us a five star review on Apple podcasts. Let us know what you think and share our little show with the rest of the world and to our audience. Thanks for joining us, go out and educate, experiment and find your people. Thanks for listening

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