Capture the Tribal Knowledge in Your Growing Company

Ancient Scroll in PotMany of the clients we work with are transitioning from oral to written knowledge. One of our biggest challenges is to make information more accessible to a growing workforce while retaining the tribal knowledge that makes the firm unique.

When the Bible Becomes a Book

This is not a new problem. Dr. William Schniedewind, Biblical scholar from UCLA, writes about the cultural shift that ancient Israel underwent when the Bible became a book (Schniedewind, 2008). It democratized the written word, shifting it from something that the government and priests did to something that was accessible to the entire populace.

It also took the place of the prominent voice of the teacher, whose role had been to communicate the stories and laws. With the advent of a written tradition, individuals could access the information on their own. The democratization of the Bible changed the power structure and the purpose of writing. Writing went from a ritual to a form of communication without room for oversight of a particular section that a teacher wasn’t fond of. Individuals could take their own viewpoints, but might be less inclined to hear those of others.

Turning Your Tech Tribe into a Reading Community

We find high-growth companies encounter the same issues when onboarding new hires and developing talent. They begin with tribal knowledge, where all information is passed from employee to employee through discussions, but as they grow and early employees leave, crucial knowledge gets lost, and the volume of necessary information becomes too big. The time to ramp new employees starts to lengthen.

We work with these companies to take their tribal knowledge and capture it with written documentation, easing the transition of a shifting culture.

So, how do we do it?

First, we place a tremendous amount of value on the oral traditions of a firm. We find out how they teach new hires and peers and what information people found most helpful. This is not just product facts and sales tactics, this also ties into the company’s culture and how work gets done.

Next, we figure out what people felt they were missing & had to find on their own. We try to determine why that information isn’t passed down and how it is ultimately found. Sometimes, as the firm grows, it is more difficult to get the full message out to everyone on the team. We want to know where and why that breaks down.

Finally, we create a plan to combine the best of tribal knowledge with formal instruction, checklists and guides to help the new hire ask the right questions. This can include a mentor program, structured shadowing and Q&A with executives.

We find that people want to be helpful and offer to “answer any questions,” but sometimes, new hires struggle to know which questions would be most helpful to ask. By facilitating the beginning of the conversation and creating a net so that key topics aren’t missed, we can retain the best of a firm’s tribal knowledge without sacrificing the benefits of documented, biblical knowledge.

Three Things EVERY Sales Kickoff Needs

Brain We’ve got Sales Kickoffs on the brain: Lots of our clients start off their year with a big event to galvanize their sales teams and start the year on the right foot. They bring us in to add an educational element to these fun events, taking advantage of having the whole sales organization in the same place to train them up on needed skills or enable them on new products and features. We love SKOs. They are fun to plan and let us create pithy units to create real learning experiences for our clients.

Of course, the content of each SKO is carefully tailored to our clients’ particular pain points: We like to do new product enablement, active listening skills, objection handling games, and more. Here are some things that we think EVERY SKO needs.


We know that your leadership has lots to say, and your message is important. But here’s the other thing we know. If you deliver your message in a way that lets your team put it into practice, they’ll have more fun… and their retention of the material will be much higher.


Run your numbers, and recognize your top performers in front of the whole organization. It will make them feel great, it will remind you of what is going well, and it will drive your team’s work ethic.


You made a schedule and you put presenters on it. But, every year, they run over their time, and the whole event gets derailed. Participants get impatient and irritated, and there’s not enough food. How to solve this? Get every presenter to give at least one dry-run of their presentation a week before the event. This means prior planning, including having the deck done before the much-loved last minute. But it also gives everyone a chance to get their banter down, and makes clear if your CMO is trying to fit 3 hours of material into a 90-minute slot.

So: Draw your team in with interaction. Recognize their efforts with awards. And respect their time with a healthy dose of prior planning.

How are your sales kickoffs going so far this year? If you are in need of a little help… drop us a line!

This One Crazy Trick Will Transform Your Sales Process

I have a lot of tips about Salesforce Dashboards. I got to talk about them at Dreamforce this year: check it out in the video below!

Here’s the crazy trick: Managing a sales team isn’t about sales metrics. It’s about, well, managing a team. Once you’ve picked the metrics you want to track, the only way to make them pay off for your team is by actually:

  1. Reviewing them with your team
  2. Discussing why they are moving in the ways that they are
  3. Make action plans to improve them, and
  4. Follow up the next week.

…And the next, and the next.

Let you team know that you care about a handful of meaningful metrics, and create constructive plans to move them in the directions that you want to go. And watch your numbers go up.

Watch your numbers.

Crazy, right?

What Garbage Teaches You About Information Design

Moscone Center RecyclingOne of the things we do at Inqune is design information for our clients. Often, they already know what it is that they want to say, but need help presenting it in a way that their team will notice, understand, and retain. That’s where we come in: we can turn around a client’s expert content into first-rate instructional materials in a handful of days, so that when they present their expert content, it will stick with their teams into the next quarter & beyond.

So when I am out in the world, I am attentive to everyday instructional materials: the things in our world that are designed to teach us something.

Like recycling bins.

At Dreamforce, there were elaborate trash, compost, and recycling stations to ensure that every bit of packaging, produce, and promotional schwag discarded by the 130,000 registrants was directed into the appropriate waste stream.

Two elements of the Dreamforce waste disposal stations stood out to me.

Context-Specific Design

For the most part, the Dreamforce plaza was a walled-garden of waste: especially at mealtimes, the food service stations offered a discrete number of selections, and everyone eating from those stations had the same pieces of waste to manage at the end of their meal. The waste stations were designed specifically for this event, and the images on the cans exactly matched the objects that event-goers were holding in their hands for disposal.

It is far easier to know where to throw a plastic bottle if you see an image of that very bottle on the can where it goes, rather than having to check the plastics number on the bottle’s bottom against a printed number range.

The Human Factor

Among the army of event staff, there was a team of green-shirted personnel whose job it was to stand near the bins and make sure that trash went in the right place. The presence of these staff members was two-fold. First, they made conference-goes pay attention, indicating that there was something happening at that moment that was unlike what they were used to. Second, they were there to answer questions and help make sense of the already-very-clear signage.

By conference’s end, I imagine most participants were experts in Moscone Center’s waste-sorting policies.

The next time you have information that you want your people to notice, understand, and remember, think about how you can best accommodate the context in which they are learning, and strategically use available personnel: in person, in video, or via chat tools, to get them to stop, pay attention, and ask the questions they need answered to create deep understanding.

Need help with that? Drop us a line, we’d love to help.

And a PowerPoint Deck In a Pear Tree

Here at Inqune, we just celebrated first anniversary: we’re feeling a bit older, a bit wiser, and incredibly thankful for the opportunities we’ve had in 2013. And we’re going to tell you about it in verse (hey, why not?) with the 12 Days of Inqune. Enjoy!

Inqune in a Pear Tree


On the first day of Inqune, we explored, defined, celebrated and curated corporate cultures, for ourselves and our clients.

On the second day of Inqune, we worked on creating meaning in mentorship. We identified our own mentors and developed formal mentoring programs for others.

On the third day of Inqune, we led amazing events that led to increased capacity, close-rates, win-rates and average amounts for the sales teams we work with.

On the fourth day of Inqune, we encountered clients’ shifting goals and priorities. We learned to manage these changes and adjust our expectations.

On the fifth day of Inqune, we learned new tools and technologies that took our client work to a new level.

On the sixth day of Inqune, we found the importance of design in learning and how the five senses are engaged in acquiring new information.

On the seventh day of Inqune, we embarked on new relationships and partnerships, expanding our own onboarding and communication efforts internally.

On the eighth day of Inqune, we guided clients who were acquiring and merging to realize instant success from those transactions.

On the ninth day of Inqune, we kicked our business development engine into high gear and connected with new and existing clients to explore exciting potential projects together.

On the tenth day of Inqune, we created incredible content and tools that our clients will use to change their workplaces for weeks, months and years into the future.

On the eleventh day of Inqune, we expanded our definition of what it meant to be Inqune: inquisitive and in tune, when it comes to our clients needs, our own needs and those of our community.

On the twelfth day of Inqune, we remembered everything that happened on our first year of this adventure and as we look ahead into the future, are so grateful for the opportunities, experiences and relationships that have gotten us to this stage. We have incredible plans the next twelve months of Inqune and can’t wait to see them become a reality!

Dreamforce Recap 2013

Inqune founder Alana Kadden Ballon speaks at Dreamforce 2013.
Inqune founder Alana Kadden Ballon speaks at Dreamforce 2013.

We know, we took a little longer to recover from Dreamforce and get our post-Dreamforce blog post up. What can we say? It’s the holidays & we have been overwhelmed with amazing customer opportunities. Here’s hoping that continues in 2014! But, we didn’t forget you: we know some of you couldn’t make it to Dreamforce and are still wondering. What did you learn? What was it like? Who did you meet? This blog’s for you.

1. What did we learn?

There are lots of firms who are providing contextual content. What is contextual content you ask? Content that is provided to the user at the point in time which they need it. For example, if you move an opportunity to discovery, a guide to asking open-ended questions will pop up.

These tools can be great – if you have the content. We find that most of our clients struggle to create the right content & keep it fresh. With some of the great tools we’re creating this year for clients, we’re hoping to test out one of these apps.

2. What was it like?

Awesome! It was great to see so many of our clients in one place, meet so many new people and understand what challenges cloud start-ups are facing. Most of them said the following:

  • a. How do we give our reps the tools they need to be successful from Day 1?
  • b. How do we change/scale/merge company culture?
  • c. How do we get our reps to: Prospect more? Sell to existing clients?
  • d. How do we figure out which leads are the best & generate more of them?

3. Who did we meet?

  • Benj Kamm from Health Leads, an organization partnering with doctors who prescribe food, fuel assistance, housing or other resources & that connects low-income patients with the resources they need to be healthy.
  • Vidyard, which provides amazing analytics & embeds video assets so you can see what is working & what isn’t.
  • KnowledgeTree, embedding sales content where you need it so you can close deals faster.

Do You Need More Sales Process?

Inevitably, when clients engage us to formalize their sales onboarding & enablement, sales reps get nervous. They think: “Oh no, here come the sales trainers. They probably don’t know anything about sales and are going to want to put us in weeks of training and then make us fill out hundreds of fields on our deals, which will take hours. I won’t sell more, I’ll sell less, because I’ll spend less time selling and more time mired in classes and paperwork.”

The truth is, I feel their pain: I’ve been in weeklong training, been asked to update hundreds of fields, and struggled to connect with what was in it for me. Sales trainers have good intentions: they want to guide reps and make it easier for them to identify what they are missing in deals to get them to close faster. But they get seduced by process: “If we just add ONE MORE FIELD the reps will finally know how to close their deals!” And that one field becomes 10 which grows to 20– and suddenly, reps are spending hours updating fields, missing out on customer time.

So what’s the answer? There is a sweet spot in between the stagnancy of the solo sales rep flailing in a sea of leads with no clear direction on what to do about them, and the process so formalized that more time is spent typing about sales than actually selling.

The best sales process is minimalist. It should create structure, allowing reps to map out the steps in the deal, list key pains and expected ROI, and chart relationships required get the deal done. Reps must be able to do this without more than 30 minutes of training and update each opportunity in 5-10 minutes. And then get on to the next customer.

Does this graph reflect your experience with formalized sales process? How do you determine where your firm is on the curve?


5 Tips for a Divine Dreamforce

San Francisco Super ColorThis will be my 9th Dreamforce. There are a lot of tip lists across the internet– but you should trust mine.

1. Make all plans in advance.

It is rare that meetings planned during a chance meeting on the show floor actually happen: there are just too many distractions. When people say they want to plan a meeting once we see each other in San Francisco, I politely reply, “Once Dreamforce starts, there is too much chaos and I find it is difficult to arrange meetings. I’m filling up my schedule now and would love to include you, otherwise let’s block time after the conference.”

2. Meet new people.

I’m still in touch with people I met at Dreamforce years ago and they continue to be great clients, connections and resources. Connect with people on Chatter and Twitter, attend meet-ups at Dreamforce, and introduce yourself to people on the show floor.

3. Take breaks.

There are DJs, food stands, and bars everywhere. If you are getting grouchy or overwhelmed, find a place you can go for a few minutes to recharge, and then return to the fun! (Related: Hydrate. Eat.)

4. Carry as little as possible.

It is easier to focus on the conference if you don’t have your laptop in front of you. Your back will thank you and it is easier to maneuver in crowds. I know it is hard to avoid bringing your laptop if you want to get some work done during the day, but it’s worth it to plan a few hours of your day in your hotel room working and a few hours solely devoted to the show.

5. Wear comfortable shoes.

Now that Dreamforce has gotten so big, the distances between venues are significant. Make sure the shoes you choose are ones you can walk at least a mile in and are comfortable standing in on concrete.

The Project Manager in the Kitchen

Multitasking StoveMy mother taught me about project dependencies before I even knew there was such a thing as project management. It has taken me longer than most dutiful daughters to learn the ropes in the kitchen, not least because I was lucky enough to marry an incredible cook. I remember watching my mother in awe as she prepared a Friday night Shabbat dinner for a crowd of people. She began each dish at a different time in what seemed to me to be random order. Then, as if by magic, five minutes before everyone arrived, five to seven different items were finished at once.

Finally, I asked her: how do you do it? How do you know when to start each thing to make sure it will come out at the right time? Her reply was, as usual, simple and deceptively murky: You just practice and learn how to do it over time. You start to know how long each thing takes and you work backwards. Easy, I thought, but each time I tried to execute, either the chicken would be done and cold long before anyone arrived or I stood over a pot of rice willing for it to soak up the liquid while the guests stood around. She was right (of course), it does get easier with practice. I now do a much better job at knowing what needs to happen when. I’m still a far cry from replicating her well-oiled machine, but now I have a toolkit that helps me provide a framework for dinner: a project plan.

I think about phases of dinner preparation: meal planning, grocery shopping, food prep, cooking and eating.  For me, meal planning is like scoping and requirements gathering would be during a project, I think about who is coming and their dietary needs, the season, the weather, and how much time we have to prepare.  I think well in advance about what I want to make and get buy-in from the rest of the project team (whoever is staying in our apartment at the time), get what is needed at  the store and do all of the vegetable prep.

Shopping and food prep is the design phase, sometimes the plan changes when something at the store catches the eye, changing the elements of the meal.  Food prep is the early stages of execution, making sure each piece is ready for cooking.  Determining what should be done when is the same as in a project, if I start with the goals, the skills we want to have at the end of a course, I work backwards to determine what pieces are the foundation, and what other aspects are dependent on that foundation.

Just as you must sauté the onions and garlic first in many dishes, so too do you need to prepare students with a basic understanding of the core skills they need to be successful in a role. If you jump into later stage skills first, they won’t stick (and your onions won’t brown). If you blow a fuse, you might be making salad instead of soup: as things change you must adjust.  A last-minute guest with a bean allergy might cause you to make major changes. Finally, after we sit down, eat (which never takes as long as the preparation) and everyone is done enjoying, I think about what I liked, what I would do again and what I would change for next time.

For some people, like my mom, project planning and management is intuitive, for others (like me!), it takes a bit more structure to get the same result. Either way, the ingredients are the same.

Thanks Mom – You were my first project management teacher.

We Don't Need No Stinking Badges. Or do we?

BadgesCertification. A knot builds in your stomach. Test taking, once a thing of the past, is back in your life.

Whether you are going through a messaging or technology certification for your employer or partner, certification can still produce a level of anxiety and definitely hours of extra work. Certification can also help us grow our careers:  keeping technology certifications current can increase the wage we can ask from future employers.

The truth is, those of us who build and administer certifications don’t like them either. They are seen as a necessary evil, like the prick before a blood draw, that keeps workforce messaging and implementation skills at a certain level.

You may think certification is only for big companies… and you are a startup! Think certification isn’t for you?

Ask yourself and your team:

    • Do we want our team to deliver the same message?
    • Do we want to ensure a certain level of competence in implementation?
    • What do we need to have our stamp of approval on outside of the organization?

So, how can you set your team up for success? There are ways to make certifications more effective and enriching for your team. Here’s how:

1) Measurement transparency

Tell employees how they will be assessed. Don’t make it a surprise. We share the exact categories and score rubric that are used during certification when we send out the initial materials.  If they know what you consider successful, they can make sure to prepare comprehensively and can’t say, “I didn’t know.”

2) Test on reasonable amounts of content

We recommend between 2-4 certifications per year. Estimate the time it will take to prepare for the certification based on the information that the audience already has. Understand the 3-5 things you want them to be able to say or do after certification is complete. Do you have extraneous content you are asking them to learn that isn’t key to what you are trying to accomplish? How else can they learn that content?

3) Learn from peers

The best certifications we’ve designed and administered allow team members to learn from each other. Whether you have a team in a room or a web meeting, letting each participant see a few examples and provide feedback let’s them take great tactics from their teammates and learn from stumbles collectively.

4) Trumpet success

People like rewards. For internal certifications, give badges through tools like, create certificates and give prizes to top performers. For partners, create certificates, logos they can put on their website, and highlight certified partners on your own site. Some companies even issue press releases for newly certified partners.