Chasing the MVP Dream

Written by Paul Ginsberg

2nd February 2021

This one’s all about the MVP program, and it’s written primarily for those that aspire to be selected as an MVP for the class of 2021, but I think there’s lessons for everyone chasing their next goal. Be ready for an authentic (honest) journey as I walk you through my perspective on this, with the benefit of 10 years of experience of knowingly, and unknowlingly, looking on. It was first published on YeurLeadin.

It’s worth noting that it was very theraputic to write this and get my thoughts out on “paper”!

 

Who knows an MVP?

But first let’s clear one myth up: who knows what an MVP is?

Salesforce’s Communities Team, which run the program, list some common characteristics including experitise, leadership and generosity, but you probably know what an MVP is “In your bones”. Most other people? Nah, rather less likely. Even in the top tier general consultancies.

This is how it works in practice for the majority, I reckon, coming at it with the acknowledged bias of a Salesforce Admin. Other routes also exist!

Pyramid representing the community engagement hierachy

 

  • A regular (end) user of Salesforce may be aware of who their nearest Power User is. This is the person they go to and ask questions about how to do things on Salesforce;
  • That Power User will know who their Salesforce Admin is (ok, you might even skip Power User in the smallest companies);
  • The Admin will be reading some blogs on the internet and may be thinking about attending a Community Group;
  • But only a few of them actually will. These are the Community Group (and Salesforce Saturday) attendees;
  • After a while of attending, then participating and finally volunteering, some will step up and become Community Group Leaders;
  • And a precious few of these will give of themselves so much that they both get nominated and accepted at MVPs

 

At each “participation” level, people are very busy with their own work and personal concerns. Most won’t have the bandwidth to care much about the next level, even if they are aware that it exists.

So, then, who knows who or what an MVP is? Not so many people. Even fewer have met one in real life to see what they’re like as humans. Out of over 150,000 customers bear in mind there are only around 200 MVPs (2020 figures).

So your hiring manager at any company, big or small… nope, they are likely to have no clue what an MVP is at all, and therefore they won’t appreciate it’s worth. And that translates directly to salary.

Which brings me to the next stage on our trip.

 

Is being a MVP financially rewarding?

Credit: Giphy

I consulted far and wide (this means long boozy evenings after Community Group meetings or other Salesforce-related events; though obviously not this year) with MVP friends. My booze of choice is Heineken 0.0 or lemonade, for what it’s worth.

In a nutshell. You have to be kidding. The joke goes “Don’t ask what Salesforce can do for you, ask what you can do for Salesforce.” If you get selected as MVP and want to maintain that status you are expected to spend unpaid time volunteering such as speaking at conferences, participating in research activities and doing presentations for a variety of groups. You may even have to sign an agreement to this effect.

BUT hold on. You’re reading this article. Aren’t you doing that sort of thing anyway?

YES!

And that’s the point. I’ve long since been comfortable with the fact that I volunteer for Salesforce. I am volunteering my time for a company that aims to be improving the world and measures how they rate against their core values… or I could be a fanboi of any other commercial product. I get to meet great and inspiring people en route. Am I sold? For now, this deal works for me.

So, no, being an MVP is not financially rewarding because you’ll be at the top of the game, networking and ensuring you’re up to date anyway. The employment doors will be open because of that, not because you’re an MVP. 

Is it emotionally rewarding? Here I have to speculate, but put it this way: I’ve not heard any MVPs complain – actually that’s wrong. They do complain, but only because they want to do even more for the Salesforce ecosystem!

 

It is a competition

Credit: Giphy

Just to be clear, MVPs have a stated criteria. MVPs and Community Group Leaders are encouraged to talk about the program. So it’s fine to aim to achieve it, although counterbalanced by arrogance being a distinct turn-off for most in the community.

With all the above acknowledged, kudos to Salesforce’s marketing and their selection of existing MVPs. It creates something rare and well regarded, to aspire to. But what they don’t tell you are the odds of winning. They’re looooong.

A friend put it this way: when the ecosystem was small, if you ran a well functioning user group, there was already a good chance of getting MVP status. If you were active in just one more channel such as regular blogging, tweeting, running a community conference, that vastly increased the likelihood of you achieving that goal. 

However, people are (sometimes) wise. Everyone else started to realise this too and the competition heated up. The bar was raised and suddenly doing one thing wasn’t nearly enough. I’m wondering, now, whether the distance between “ticking the boxes” and actually getting MVP status is more like the gap between getting all the certificates in the CTA pyramid (“yay! ooh, I’m only about 20% there”) and passing that final interview panel (the other 80% of the work).

 

You didn’t get it!

Credit: Giphy

Fast forward.

So you’ve put a huge amount of work in and you start to get strange emails from friends. Just weird things from people who you chat to, suddenly, simultaneously, asking how you are. And it’s March. And perhaps there’s even some random comments on Slack/Twitter. And then a friend confirms that they’ve been renewed as MVP for another year. But, however much you check all your email accounts and spam folders, they’re empty.

Here’s what happens. You’re lined up to do some public speaking about the Salesforce Community (because that’s the sort of thing you do anyway) and the MVPs are announced that very morning. You’re not included. Do you:

  1. Break down in tears, unable to form a coherent sentence?
  2. Pretend not to care and bottle it up?
  3. Go into radio silence for at least two days?
  4. Something else?

I’ve seen and heard of all of the above. My 2020 speciality was #1 which wasn’t convenient; I ended up sidestepping a presentation I was meant to give. But here’s the thing: life continued. My parents still don’t know what Salesforce is.

I got annoyed but decided to continue what I was doing anyway, because – actually – it’s not about the MVP title. For me – and again this is just my perspective – it’s about impact. I wanted the title and privileges so I could do more. All that not getting an MVP title means that my finite time has been used in other capacities and – on consideration – I don’t regret a moment of it. I’m very happy and proud of my lot. It has also helped to prevent me burning out.

 

Improvements

Time brings perspective. As mentioned, I broke down in tears. Perhaps the pain would have felt a little less if I knew the following, which is really the crux of why I am writing this piece.

In 2019 there were around 250 MVPs, a number that had grown steadily over the years.

For the class of 2020, despite the growing ecosystem, this number was reduced by 50 to 200. That included new MVPs as well as those remaining. Salesforce made a conscious decision to tighten up the criteria (as well as existing people deciding to retire from the program).

The nomination form changed. Rather than bland statements saying how super someone was, the nominations now had to include specific tangible proof of what was done and the impact on the nominator. Salesforce has matured, and the previous system has been updated with something more rigorous.

This continues, this year (for the class of 2021), I spotted that the wording was “first and foremost… expertise”. I’m fairly sure that community contribution/evangalism (my speciality) was previously an equal factor.

Realistically the Communities Team have upgraded their process and decided to focus somewhere. Ultimately it’s their choice what makes an MVP. If you disagree with it, that’s fine, but you’ll need to get your validation elsewhere. But you need to understand that the process is thorough, mistakes can still happen, space is finite (#logistics!) and ultimately it does come down to perception as not everything is comparable.

 

Sidenote: So what is the process?

Just in case you wondered, this is my understanding of the process.

  1. Nominations close.
  2. The Communities Team literally have to wade through thousands of nominations – from the annoying, where everyone is copying and pasting the same text to nominate someone (no, however well meaning, that’s likely to push you to the back of the queue), to the single nominations. All are considered.
  3. They then read through all the applications and seek feedback from local Salesforce teams and existing MVPs. This isn’t the final say otherwise that would risk an old boys network-style bias (who you know, rather than what you’ve done, and what you know).
  4. The Communities Team then measure what’s tangible against their listed objectives: how’s your Trailheads and certifications, check your blogs and other public activities  (e.g. twitter).
  5. Do some sort of sense check (e.g. has the nominee been doing this consistently for a long time or is there a spike in activity around the time that nominations open), and make their decision.

…which all goes to explain why last year it took three months to process and vet the potential candidates.

 

Life after not getting an MVP

Credit: Giphy

If, like me, you didn’t get MVP status and you were hoping for it, give Salesforce’s Communities Team a call. Literally. You can have a discussion with the Communities Team (most often it’s by email but sometimes it’s by phone) and I can confirm that they’ll have an open and honest dialogue with you about why your candidature was considered and you didn’t make the grade. Their email address for initial contact is trailblazercommunity@salesforce.com.

I followed that route and one takeaway I got is that if you’re from a culture that values togetherness and don’t approve of standing out – yep, Netherlands, I’m looking at you 😍 – the challenge is greater. The MVP nomination system favours self-promotion. That said, if you’re doing lots of things, then you can self-nominate; it’s a valid way forward, even if it feels uncomfortable. Perhaps you’ll be highlighting items that the Communities Team wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. That said, you will have to ditch imposter syndrome and some modesty. This also avoids the need to ask friends to nominate you; that’s the sort of popularity test that emphasises the wrong skills (in my opinion).

After that conversation, you can then decide if it’s worth your time and effort for next year, or clear up any potential misunderstandings. Given the (deliberate) timing of this article, I recommend waiting until the class of 2021 is announced. Hopefully there’s no need! 🤞

Personally, I now empathise far more with the Communities Team: they can’t see everything – they can only work on the information they receive. They also have to balance out different cultural aspects (e.g. don’t host your personal blog on your company website, if you want to avoid any perception of conflicts of interest!); they have to decide whether the work you’ve been nominated for is integral to that person, or just because they are paid to do it. Oh, and then they have to work out what to do with awkward personalities that are very blunt, but occasionally helpful (just an example, you understand 😉). Where do you draw the line? Vetting the nominations is not a job I envy as no one is “perfect” (what does that mean anyway?); we’re all human.

 

Summary

Perhaps my greatest achievement/tip is to be proud of who you are and the contribution you make. External approval is great but look inwards too; take pride in yourself and what you are doing, and the impact you have.

 

YeurLeadin shares best practice and inspiration for Salesforce Community Leaders. Whether you’re on the organising team of a Community Group, Salesforce Saturday, Community Conference, or a Product Champion; or you’re otherwise deeply involved in the community, the aim is that we can all learn from each other. Have some ephinanies you wish to share? Let us know!

Like what we do? Join our mailing list or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date; contact us if you have suggestions or offers!

You May Also Like…

3 minute insights

3 minute insights

Elements.Cloud has recently released an Inspiring Excellence app. Described as "TikTok meets Trailhead", I was invited...

0 Comments