Mary Tafuri is the Chief Sales Enablement Officer and VP – IBM Cloud & Cognitive SW at IBM.  

Mary gave us much to consider: Humble leadership, something to consider about the enablement career path, and a focus on creating truly transformative models leveraging a lot of design thinking principles.

A simply summary of the principles?

Create a collaborative working relationship both across the customer facing teams you support but also throughout, and even outside, of your business.

The rewards for the Enablement leader that follows this model?

1️⃣ Learning so as to provide the right value back to the teams you are supporting.

2️⃣ Support from those you are supporting in terms of buy-in, crowd-sourcing of content and education.

3️⃣ The opportunity to keep growing your career to higher levels of the organization.

Audio Transcript

Mary Tafuri
I can hear you fine. Thanks for inviting me today.

The Collaborator
Oh, no, thank you for coming. So I, this is fun for me because I have a very Italian family. tell everybody where where are you from?

Mary Tafuri
Originally, I’m from the south of Italy. So it’s the EU on the booth size, shape of eatery. So that’s what I originally came from long journey because I’ve been working in different places in Italy. And then I landed here in the US. So 12 years ago, now I’m a US citizen, I can vote. And nobody can kick me out.

The Collaborator
That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming on, though. Tom. If you don’t mind? Could you tell everybody listening in a bit about you know, your day job? What do you do? Where do you work all of that?

Mary Tafuri
Yeah. I’m the chief sales enablement officer, or just the Vice President, and IBM. And I’m responsible for running enablement for the entire cloud and cognitive software, which is a quite large portion of our portfolio. The whole, you know, cloud portion of public cloud, the cloud did an ai ai application, which is, what’s an IoT? What’s in media, the weather, the Starling a security? Yes. Hold on me something. But um, yeah, with my team, we are responsible for the skills readiness of all the routes that we have been in this part of the portfolio. And which is a large part. And like I said, so we go all the way from, you know, the brand, the sales rep, plus portfolio reps, architects, technical sellers, client, success managers, all these flavors.

Unknown Speaker
How many

Mary Tafuri
know what scope?

The Collaborator
How many people? Do you roughly how many people do you support?

Unknown Speaker
Roughly?

Mary Tafuri
It’s over 10,000, I would say,

The Collaborator
Do you support roughly 10,000 people? And how many people are in enablement? under you, you know, working for you?

Mary Tafuri
Well, it’s a it’s a weird question to answer, I believe in a federated model. So there are people that work full time and enablement. And people that work part time in enablement, I believe that today, we can not do a good job be close enough to the field. And relevant to them. Just the width of the mighty tiny enablement team, but roughly, I think we have in between the global and 70 people live in part time, and ya know, it’s it’s a good day, between part time to time, sometimes it’s even larger. For example, now we started the planning, session support, which is our six kickoff and enablement main deliverable for the year, we typically do this at the beginning of the year. And when we do so, it’s a big ecosystem that we unleash. So we engage the offering management team. And what do I say is some reps and some managers from the various roles HR, come see in so it’s a huge task force, but everybody’s really excited to, to come and join forces to deliver this bigger mission. So I, you know, it’s all on holistic view of who reports to you or who does the work,

The Collaborator
I believe, no, I love that though. And I love the fact that you said that enablement goes beyond just the people that work for

Unknown Speaker
you. Oh, yeah. What do

The Collaborator
you what do you mean by that? Because I agree with that. But what what does that mean to you, Mary?

Mary Tafuri
So I love this question. First of all, I know, when, when I started this job, almost three years ago, now, I didn’t have an enablement background. And in fact, I was surprised to even being truly considered for this job. I had a very different point of view of what enablement should be, because I look at that from the end user standpoint, which is the student, I’m a student, oh, you know, every day of my life, so enablement should be you know, about stimulating curiosity shouldn’t be about forcing people to do one certain number of training phase so instructor led or in the classroom, so I was excited about the opportunity to really modernize a lot and and I’m very proud of what we would need and to modernize. And I will talk a little bit more, you know, peeling the onion on what modernizing enablement really means. It requires you to have an open mind first of all, look outside look at who is doing enablement in a more progressive way, not an old school, it’s a kind of approach and an embrace, embrace it. Be flexible, make sure you have in the team people that can be a Jilin embracing changes, you believe them in how you want to disrupt this kind of space. And the impact that disrupting this space can generate in terms of productivity and impact to the bottom line. So the dollar figures that you know, your company, ultimately it’s measured against. So I’ve been very excited to look at how much we can shake. enablement and how powerful is for example, peer learning, I started to have a lot of people that came from the field that to do enablement. So not people like me, not people with an enablement background, but people with experience because I strongly believe experiential learning, right? You cannot learn how to run a bike reading books, you just need to try, try and

The Collaborator
try and fall down and get up again. Exactly, exactly. No, I

Unknown Speaker
love

Mary Tafuri
and I started to look at, okay, what do I have in my past experience that I can leverage in this new role. And I started to tap into gamification, which I used in my previous job. I was in charge of the IBM innovation centers and working with developers and, and business partners. So we did a lot of gamification to, you know, partner with them, and stimulate learning and co creation. With hackathons. And all this new way of engaging in the outside world, I say, outside of the blue walls, the blue walls, or the IBM wall,

The Collaborator
both an engineer at the beginning of my career. So I’m very familiar with what you’re talking about. I worked for IBM, long ago, because I was originally an employee and Lotus development. Oh, yeah, you three, and IBM bought us. So I wasn’t IBM, or myself for two years, I think it was,

Mary Tafuri
but you were more on the yellow words,

Unknown Speaker
it was more

Mary Tafuri
which eventually became blue or green, yellow, blue, you know? That’s funny, though. So yeah, now gamification will produce a lot of gamification. And like anytime you introduce something new, people are not always that open to embrace new things, because human beings are reluctant to change naturallyspeaking. But if you are persistent in what you want to do, and I strongly believed on it, and my team as well, we created the right digital platform, which is called game on a two to infuse gamification, all we do, which means that accelerate learning, for example, so we have some new sales plays, and we want to focus on fast learning what is included into this sales plays in terms of value for clients. So we’re going to find the experience we give bluepoints bluepoints are coins that you can look on so that you can use in a catalog of things that you can buy an IBM which are cool things I mean, you can buy watches product purses, vacation for to dinner for to call the spinning. So you can very, very very rich catalog of awards that you can buy with the blue points, but you can get Wi Fi other things you can gamify for example, crowdsourcing content. Earlier, you were asking me about, you know, the my vision of enablement. And I think that today’s enablement should be founded, rooted on crowdsourcing. So how can we motivate the settlers who are very busy everyday in selling even today, when they cannot travel, they still have to sell every day, every day, to share assets that they have. There is no good sales enablement person that can create high value assets if they don’t engage with the clients if they don’t face all the challenges that the clients are putting on the face

The Collaborator
to face to face, the sellers do. So that’s a great point. So how do you get them to share to crowdsource what they’re doing back back to the organization then Mary?

Mary Tafuri
That’s a that’s an interesting question. I will share with you the truth. Initially, I was naive, I thought, okay, I’ll give a lot of blueprints and that will be enough to show them Oh, all the cool Things that you can purchase, you know what the blueprints. But the ha moment was when we started to create a leaderboard. And and we open that up for, you know, transparency. And we started to see that john was earning more points and then Mary or maybe eventually was earning more because I was competing with you sellers are fundamentally very competitive. And that was what unleashed the let’s say the engagement and also some visibility from the top leadership of, of course contributed when people were, you know, congratulating on on the public website, john or Mary for what we were doing and somebody else watching say I want to be the next one publicly recognized I want to go up in the leaderboard. So that kind of next step in the communication of who was contributing more to the various challenges, I think was unleashing the participation. So we had way more now we have thousands of participants. Now they are looking at the website, what is the next challenge? They don’t wait for me to tell them what we are working on. It’s amazing, actually, you know, how things can it’s a snowball effect? Yes.

The Collaborator
Exactly, exactly. How do you I mean, how do they actually share content? Do they, they go to the website that you have set up and says, hey, it’s a competition to share the most content? And they simply upload it? Or how do they collect it? So you’re getting a lot of junk? A lot of terrible stuff that way? How do you do it? So you actually get good stuff too?

Mary Tafuri
Good question. So we drink our own champagne, or we eat our own dog food, depending on how you look at it.

Unknown Speaker
caviar

Mary Tafuri
was to sell a weed on game on rounds on our IBM public cloud platform, so everyone can access to it, and can pass them in the in the mid game on platform, the the assets, some games are open for everyone to see some other stuff, only the people that submit and the owner of the game or the challenge can see what is submitted up front, then, of course, when the game is closed, and the winners are published, also the acids are published. But most importantly, you declare what is the level of quality and the criteria that people that want to participate will have to comply. And that’s what it what is making sure that we don’t have junk enough to say, as far as I can recall, we really never had any junk submitted because people, you know, have pride in what they share. And if it’s not good that they don’t submit.

The Collaborator
And I think that’s something that all of us need to remember, um, sellers. Most sellers really care a lot about what they’re doing. And they’re not going to post junk. So for a lot of times, I hear executives say to me, Well, how are we going to prevent that? How are we going to, you know, protect the system. The reality is you don’t need to most of the time, people don’t want to embarrass themselves by posting job

Mary Tafuri
tool. And but you know, it is a lot about cultural shifts that you want to infuse in an organization. For me coming from a developer ecosystem, like I was mentioning earlier, and seeing how in those communities, sharing is the norm. Right, you care about peer programming, helping others sharing and GitHub or whatever other digital platform in the sales environment. The DNA of people is so competitive. So coin operated, that sharing is not the first thing that they think of. But I believe the future of selling is more collaborative than ever. So the more sellers share and collaborate, the more they can see and return of investment, or what they do. So the point, john, is how can we accelerate that experience so that they see the benefits for them of sharing. And part is done with the gamification part is done. And my opinion when you do like we’re doing now the suits enablement kick off, like I was mentioning the game on? Well, in the design thinking I’m a big believer of design, thinking. We engage them since they want so we have some people that we select from all the geographies and say, This is for you. The first step Before you, why don’t you give input to us? So all of the sudden, in multiple ways you are changing the culture in the organization. So

The Collaborator
building the kickoff, they’re participating and building. Yeah.

Mary Tafuri
Yes, absolutely. And in any program, we do other programs that last all year long, like a new program we launched last year coach for success, it’s only for managers, we created an advisory board of managers that basically are our sounding board and can submit requirements for us. So this is, I always say I’m serving you. So that’s how we we can release a service that resonate to them. And you know, it’s valuable for them. And also another element of that leveraging to kind of change the culture is also the skills in IBM we have, for each role. Five level of skill to go from one to five, where one is very low, and five is walking on water kind of thing. So being recognized as a thought leader,

Unknown Speaker
so you’re all fives, you have all fives, we wish Yes.

The Collaborator
But like, what’s a skill that goes one to five,

Mary Tafuri
any any skill of the sellers, for example, how to you help the client in CO creation or how you advise client in innovation, or, or or demo the modernization of their application, or how to get insight from data, right, because this is what we do in IBM, how to leverage their data in a secure and open way modernize their application, innovate and found, that’s the core of what we do. So you can do this in many different level up to level five, like I mentioned, so we change some, what you have to do to earn the level five, so that level four and level five has to give back to the community. So it becomes an essential part of your graduation, not just, you know, be better at what you do, but make sure that others can can be helped by from your experience and your assets. So it is formerly part of your advancing in your career, so to speak.

The Collaborator
I love that Mary, how do I how do you judge when people move from one skill level to another? Is it simply casting giving back as part of the upper levels? But how else do you judge that,

Mary Tafuri
um, it is on each level as well. First of all, we have what we call a learning roadmap. So So for each of the role, and the part of the portfolio you sit in on, there is a learning roadmap for you. So if you are a level two sales rep on data and AI, you need to get to level three, because everyone is asked to step up constantly. And it’s a year long, you know, journey of constantly investing on skills, actually, I have to say in the last couple of years, we’ve been investing tremendously on on learning, releasing learning assets, and creating a space where people can learn. Now we have Friday you for example, in the cloud and cognitive software, people are encouraged on Friday. It’s a symbolic, of course can be another day. But Friday, is what we are kind of fostering, you can learn anything you want, that can make you better. Yes, we release a lot of content, but people are free to really learn on Coursera or any other, you know, platform outside. But back to your question. Every every level of skills is very well defined. What does it mean? For example, your level two, it means that you can peach, that thing, whatever is an application, you can explain what the puck the puck for data is. Yeah, level three means that you can demo it you can without any help from anybody, you can do a demo in front of a client, even if you’re a seller, because we want sellers to to do a demo level four becomes like you can do a whiteboarding about that solution. And you can put in the context of the client environment, that solution so you instantiate and put in, you know in action, you can not talk to others in IBM about that solution. And so you’re considered already an influencer, so to speak, at least internally when you are level four. Like I said, You need to give back to the communities that you have to show that you publish the number of assets that others are using. And you’re still in the internal sphere, level five, you expand that being recognized as a thought leader, externally. So if john is a level five, I can Google john and i can find all the assets. And john is publishing all the blogs, on LinkedIn, all the interviews that he does, if he’s posting any asset, and them on GitHub, and so on, and so forth. So it is a digital footprint that you have the speaks for you. Of course, we are an IBM, don’t forget about, you know, our nobody we are we have an inference model that can check your digital footprint internally and externally. So it gives me back as a result, your level of skill. But, you know, we know we have there is bias in AI. And so we combine that or we complement that whatever the tool, the machine learning tool that we use, gives us with what the person self assessment is, and what the manager also says about that person. So it’s the triangulation of these three elements that ultimately determine your level of skill.

The Collaborator
I love so much of what you’re talking about there, Mary, because you’re, you’re not only incentivizing individuals to get better, not only at understanding how to talk about their products, but how to actually talk about it in the context of customer problems. But you’re also building a collaborative organization in the process, and driving continuous learning. And everything you just said, took you maybe 10 minutes or five minutes. But it’s I can’t imagine the amount of work that’s gone into it so far. How do you how do you feel like you’re doing against where you want to get to? Is there is do you have a vision for what’s next?

Unknown Speaker
Oh, yeah, yeah, I’m

Mary Tafuri
constantly I’m a visionary. One of the things that I love the most. Sometimes I joke with my brother, Sam, I’m so I had it on my head of myself, and I look around.

Mary Tafuri
But seriously speaking, I believe that innovation is important. And you will need to create space for innovation, which means in any team that I’m managed in all the roles they played in IBM, and then talk about my career, but I did quite a few things before landing where I did now what I am now, but I always try to carve a space for incubation. So some people, everyone is welcome, of course to experiment, but some are more than others. I want them to be creative and try. That’s how we created a bot For example, to do a compelling reason to act objection handling competition more in general and this mod that he will think how can I sell us a bot? Yes, it’s 60% it’s 60% up compared to last year. And the bot like any bot, the more you use it, the more the bot becomes intelligent and even top leadership is using it, you know, to see the challenge of the body to see how the body is responding and we’re using what’s an assistant for that. So again, it’s drinking our own champagne. But that’s the key I think to be nowadays. And to be relevant I go back to the beginning of our conversation you need to constantly look at how you can bring fresh air and how you can innovate in in what you’re doing How can you for example now that we have this big kickoff for next year that we will be doing thousands of people all digital and every year Everyone is waiting for fast start because we can get all in person and it’s the moment of you know learning a lot that speed the sweating crazy in terms of how much you know you do very very very long days. But also a lot of opportunity to network and learn from each other and personnel will be all digital How can we create similar experience? And so we are you know engineering now how can we create a space where people can do cooking classes if they love cooking or or painting if they love so what are what are the interests that people have outside of just learning the data and AI or learning the cloud platform or coding or what is in the curriculum of the activities that we do because you you know we are all humans and and we like to do different things.

The Collaborator
Sometimes people forget that marry though.

Unknown Speaker
We don’t forget it.

The Collaborator
Cooking though because cooking is the most simple

Mary Tafuri
Yeah, I’m Italian. So for me is my sweet spot. I like to eat the good. But seriously speaking, I think it is important to, to find what drives people energy up.

Unknown Speaker
Yes, yeah and,

Mary Tafuri
and how you can create an opportunity for people to, to engage in, you know in small groups and and feel energized fueled by this parallel element wrapping around your experience of skills activation that you know we for sure we will do. But I think it’s essential that we take care of them mindfulness, for example, I’m big on mindfulness, then if you practice mindfulness,

The Collaborator
I do you do most of the time, my mind, so I need to take that some time to

Unknown Speaker
get back in exactly. Because,

Mary Tafuri
oh, when I started many years ago, in my previous job when I was traveling so much, and that was in a different part of the world, and my body didn’t know when to sleep, where most of the time I was just not sleeping, and I had said, I cannot take pills, just sleep. Well, that’s gonna do them. And so I learned that mindfulness can help reset your body to not just relax, but to some degree, reset yourself and feel more confident, feel more positive, feeling more mindful of what you have around you. And that’s how I started many years ago. And now I discovered how mindfulness is not as impactful for sellers, there are statistics that speak about sellers of practice mindfulness, are more productive, because they are more empathic. That’s the I don’t know, you know, if you had other conversation with other leaders about empathy and emotional intelligence, in sales, that’s something that we started to emphasize more and more this year. Especially because COVID is bringing up a necessity. Yeah. But it’s fascinating. I love the all the emotional intelligence thread, that the empathy, the compassion, and what that means like, can you be a high performer in sales, if you practice this skill?

The Collaborator
I think a lot of people, you always have the stereotype of the salesperson. That’s a real, to be blunt, jackass, doesn’t care about anybody. And and that might have been true. It’s still true in cases, but it’s less true now than it’s ever been before. You actually have to care about your customers and about what they’re getting for value. It’s good for the business, it’s good for you personally, and it’s good for the customer, you have to care about that. I’ll tell you this. And and, and I’ll also suggest, I’d love to have you come back and talk about this in more detail. Because it’s such an important issue for me. years ago, I discovered about myself that I have panic attacks. And I say I discovered it because I didn’t until I turned 40. And not because I turned 40 I just woke up and and it was a mess. So I started practicing, you know, yoga and mindfulness and all of that, and what a tremendous set of benefits. It’s all brought forth. So I applaud you for for raising that to

Mary Tafuri
that sounds interesting, if you think, Woody, what would that the traits of a modern salary, always one of my let’s say revolutionary activities within IBM is how we can get from, you know, over one on the scale. So the five traits of a modern seller and that’s what I started about, and that a couple of years ago, and one of those is that empathic listener. And to explain the importance of that I said, if we have two years and a mouth, there is a reason and learning how to to listen is so important. It’s so important to even identify more opportunities and opportunities all we need to then you know, progress deals and close more business. Our our chairman, Arvind Krishna, he says you need to listen four times not more like the ratio once you talk, and I’ve been always reflecting on how important that is and how we can it’s not enough that you say it’s important to listen versus talking. We need to give some method or practice to the seller to learn Okay, how do I do that? Because I’m not using to it. So the way we did it is through design thinking actually.

Unknown Speaker
Oh, interesting.

Mary Tafuri
Yeah, yeah. And design thinking can be, is actually very, very impactful for selling. Imagine, you know, you set everything around the personas that you have, you know, in this in the center of your attention. And you look at what are their needs? What are the challenges? And and you ask open question to the client, because you want to learn the client, whoever is in the design thinking in this case, is the client. So the all the techniques behind the initial stage of the design thinking is helping the person to reframe the problem? Yeah. And then reframing the problem, you open up the aperture of the opportunities. So easy, it was enough to have some sellers practicing design thinking initially, with the help of design thinking, experts, and then the now majority of our sellers can can run design thinking by themselves without any help from anybody to see that actually, they can close the conversation with way more opportunities that they had before or they can anticipate to learn because when you listen, you can discover areas that you didn’t know. And that is the beauty of applying design thinking. I was in Boston, I think two years ago for a mini MBA. And one of the professors said something that I repeat all the times I can so I want to repeat today. He said innovation doesn’t happen only in the labs. It happens on the street every day. And the problem provocative thinking there is how many sellers think of themselves as innovators. So reflect on that. So you want your seller to think big of themselves. I’m an innovator, I’m a trusted adviser for the client, in this world of transformation. What that does it mean? How can I help the client to innovate? Think of yourself are four powerful way

The Collaborator
of thinking about it, Mary, because at the end of the day, if you keep asking why and keep seeking to understand and discover, to your point, the problems you’ll uncover, and the ways in which you can truly help that customer are going to become both larger and more apparent. So just brilliant. I want to be sensitive to your time. And I want to ask, I want to take you down a pathway that everybody’s asking me about you, you have the chief sales enablement officer role, you run a team of 70 ish people. How do people how should people think about their careers, to guide themselves thoughtfully from you know, my first sales enablement role, and move up the career ladder to one day where whether they’re ever have a title chief or simply managing a team or whatever? How should people grow their careers in a mindful way?

Unknown Speaker
So

Mary Tafuri
you may not like what I’m gonna say, but I have to say, because it’s what I believe them. Yes, I don’t think that sets enablement is a career by itself. I think it’s ideation. Please, I

Unknown Speaker
want you to be honest.

Mary Tafuri
So that’s, that’s why and when I started this up in this role, I looked at people that I had in the team and how many directly came from the field, either from technical sales or from sales roles. And I started to refresh. And right now, it’s probably a least at least 80%, if not more, came from from fields kind of role, either channel or in any any direct work with, with the clients. I think it’s a moment where you for one year or two, you can rotate into this role. You can bring all the experience come including, let’s say even none. What is not working directly on your skin. Yeah, and so the direct experience, bring it in, strategize how to solve it, and then go back to the field or to any other career. in general. Even in my previous jobs. I’ve been always advocating for rotations. For example, people that are in development should go in customer support and vice versa. Offering management should go into the sales because you need to hear different personas. Acting around your skills and bringing your point of view for the overall accelerated economy of the organization where you belong. So for me career means you come in you possibly advanced. Personally, I got so much visibility out of the role that I have that I couldn’t even imagine, before I work with all general managers in our organization. They value what we do, they challenge us, but it’s okay. It’s a tremendous the focus and skill that we have in our skill set, we have an IBM is so so high that it’s really an important role. And the people in my team are all very excited of what we do. very innovative themselves, they come up with ideas, they see they know how much you know, I value new ideas, even even people that push back, and I actually, I welcome that kind of open conversation, which means also conflict, sometimes not just agreement all the times I actually don’t like when there is too much agreement around because means that somebody is not thinking through all all aspects.

The Collaborator
Agreed. Agreed. So, you know, that’s really interesting. Mary, I think people want to hear that there is a 30 year career path in enablement. And and in your opinion, you’re saying no, I tend to agree with you, um, maybe not to the same level. In my career, I’ve been an engineer, I’ve done sales, I’ve done marketing, I’ve run support. So I’ve done many different things, mostly because I’m a horrible human being, and people just want me to keep going to the next thing. But it’s given me such tremendous perspective on the entirety of the markets, the business in general, and so on and so forth, that it’s hard to replace that. Um, let me ask you this, because I’ve taken up so much of your time already, and that you’re so generous with it. And I really do appreciate it. Mary, is there anything that we that we didn’t talk about the like, jeez, john, I wish we had at least talked about this.

Mary Tafuri
Um, I think we talked about the main things that I probably we didn’t elaborate much on the importance of collaboration across organization. But I, I think that that’s another very important element, especially for us in our very large organization. But honestly, it’s not just with the collaboration within I spend time with you. And today, I had another external call earlier, because I think in you know, in sharing experiences, there is such a powerful way of learning. So we didn’t talk much about that. But when we think of learning, let’s have an open mind about the it’s like when you are a mentor, and you think that because you are the mentor, you are the one giving know, each time I have mentorship session with people I mentor, I learned a lot from them, too. So it’s always keeping that humble approach to what you do, which doesn’t mean weakness, mean strength, because you know, what you don’t know. So you want to learn from others. I love that Mary,

The Collaborator
I do this five to seven times a week, with people across the industry, I learned so much from it, that I am forever grateful that people like you will actually take some time out of your day and share. So I am going to ask you to come back down the road after your after your virtual escale.

The Collaborator
Because we would all love to learn from that. And and I may may try to make enforce a little Italian guilt on you and say Come

Unknown Speaker
Come talk to me about

The Collaborator
Medicaid.

Unknown Speaker
I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll find something else to talk about.

Mary Tafuri
Okay, I’m up to the challenge for sure.

Unknown Speaker
Very much. I will tell you

The Collaborator
that a lot of people do great comments and throughout the conversation and Sonia Cobb dish. Oh. He said My boss is rocking it today. Way to go Mary.

Unknown Speaker
I know the funny thing is that I didn’t say to anyone. Secret is now the secret is married. Okay. Okay, you take