The Trailblazer Community Origin Story with Erica Kuhl

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast we sit down with Erica Kuhl, VP of the Trailblazer Community at Salesforce, to find out the story behind the creation of the Trailblazer Community.

Join us as we talk about how the Trailblazer Community got its start and the guiding principles that have made it all work.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Erica Kuhl.

The origins of the Salesforce Success Community.

Erica started as a teacher at Salesforce, teaching Admins how to setup and configure the platform. This was pre-campaigns, pre-dashboards, “that tells you how long ago this was because I could never be an Admin workshop instructor today,” Erica says. The program was 5 days long in San Francisco at the time and while it was an awesome experience, eventually they’d have to leave and lose the awesome connections they made.

“What I recognized so quickly is that Admins are change-makers,” Erica says, “they take the ideas they learn in class to change their businesses.” When she looked at that… community, she realized that she needed to do something to support it and strengthen those connections. “This was a radical new idea,” she says, “community, now, is a thing, but back then it was maybe a Listserv at best.” When she was transferred into Marketing doing content and training for Dreamforce, she was able to pitch the idea to the CMO and make it happen.

Why people help people.

“Since I was creating this community in the Marketing department, it was a little radical and Marketing didn’t know what to do with me,” Erica says. It was just her trying to create a movement, but she was able to recruit a couple of subject-matter experts to answer questions on the forums. “But as soon as I saw any community member answering another community member’s questions, I quickly removed Salesforce from the picture. I decided at that moment, whether it was a strategic decision or not, to pour all my energy into that person.”

If a community member posted an answer to help someone else out, Erica would call them up and try to find out why they did it. After all, it’s not every day that one decides to spend their time on someone they’ve never met. “What I heard was so radical and so great: they were doing it to learn,” Erica says. Figuring out how to answer those questions was the best way to get better at Salesforce in the days before easy Googling and Trailhead, and there was the added bonus of feeling like you’re giving back.

Developing the MVP program.

The MVP program started because there were channels popping up all over the place and Erica’s team wanted the community to connect everywhere they could, not just the official forum. The first thing she did was, again, call up the people who were already doing the things she wanted to scale up with the program and run the idea by them. They gave her a lot of wonderful feedback and formed the core of the MVPs.

The vision statement for the MVP program has remained the same: “it rewards and recognizes individuals for their ongoing contributions to the community,” Erica says, “it’s about individuals, not about the fancy company that you work for.” Becoming an MVP is about being motivated by helping, at the core of what you do. At the same time, “it’s contributions that are at a level that’s incredible,” she says, not everyone can do that but there’s also tons of other ways to be recognized.

The secret to long-term success.

“You can lose focus by trying to be too many things,” Erica says, “we just started with a forum and kept iterating from there— we didn’t try to be everything to everybody.” They created a great central place for getting help, but they also embraced all the platforms that users might want to engage with, like Twitter and StackExchange.

Erica is often asked who or what she modeled the community program after. “Nobody was really doing this, and so I had to do it based on gut, what I thought was right, and the guidance of the community themselves,” she says. She didn’t bother thinking about things like ROI or KPI, it was just about how she could get the community’s questions answered quicker. Sticking with those guiding principles is how the community became what it is today.

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