Transcript: Adding Subject Matter Experts To Your Team and Nurturing Long-term Cross-Functional Relationships with Janet Dulsky

On this episode, I was joined by Janet Dulsky, Director, Retention Marketing at Adobe. Customer marketing teams have historically been on the smaller side, but as the role is gaining popularity, team sizes have been growing to match. I’m interested in how customer marketing leaders are structuring their teams and the thought processes behind that, which is why I was so excited to have Janet on for a second time. She talks about how she’s added SMEs or “Subject Matter Experts” to her team and how it’s been a game changer. She also shares actionable tips for building and maintaining cross-functional relationships, which is incredibly important for long-term career success. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Janet. 

Margot Leong: Janet, thank you so much for coming back on Beating The Drum. I’m really excited to have you back on. 

Janet Dulsky: Thank you, Margot. I am thrilled to join you again. 

Margot Leong: The first time you came on, we really did a nice sort of overview of a lot of the work that you’ve been doing around global retention marketing at Adobe, really thinking about yourself as the marketing arm for customer success. You shared with us your framework and a lot of pieces around behavior change and how that’s important for measuring impact. And so we thought it would be great to get you on for a Round 2, because there’s plenty more that we didn’t get to cover in that first episode. And now we can dive a little bit deeper and I know there’s some topics that we are really keen to get into for this time around.

So I’m just gonna jump into it. Your team has grown a ton in the past year. Talk to me a little bit about how that has impacted the work you guys are doing in retention.

Janet Dulsky: I’m super excited. My team has actually tripled in size versus last year which is a wonderful thing. However, rapid growth has also brought some challenges for us. I’ve seen challenges in onboarding all the new team members and we’ve had some challenges in just consistency in the adoption programs across our Adobe Experience Cloud solutions.

So for example, I noticed that while everyone in the team is using our adoption program framework, each is interpreting a little bit differently. You know, our adoption email nurtures for users of Marketo Engage don’t look like the email nurtures that we’re providing for users of analytics.

I consider each of my team a business owner, and they’re responsible for executing all adoption programs for their solution. Another impact I’ve seen though, as we’ve grown is, appropriately, their focus is on creating programs for the entire customer journey in all channels, but that is not leaving them enough bandwidth to continue to experiment with new ideas and innovate with their programs across all those channels, which is really important.

So to support both innovation and ensure consistency, I decided to create subject matter expert roles on the team. 

We’ve created these SME roles by channel. We have SMEs for email, in product, webinars and events, as well as by key operational areas. So localization, because we are a global team. Content, technology, but to your point, the work that each person is doing in their SME role is actually a part of their day-to-day work. It’s part of their written annual expectations.

 What I wanted to do is make sure that it wasn’t something extra to be worked on if you had extra time because you and I know none of us have extra time. And so what happens is it just doesn’t happen, right? It goes to the bottom of the list. So the expectation I have is that some portion of each SME’s day, week, or month is actually spent in honing their expertise in their area that they’re working on.

To kind of dive into the role a bit, there are four key responsibilities: learning, sharing, documenting, and leading. And learning means the SME is keeping tabs on what’s happening in the industry, right? Trends, best practices, they’re attending conferences, webinars, they’re reading blogs, et cetera, just learning and trying to stay on the cutting edge. 

Sharing is probably the heart of this role because it’s about making sure their teammates can take advantage of the learning they’ve done by the sharing out either in some sort of regular meetings on their topic and or providing learnings in our weekly team meetings.

The documentation piece is sort of a component, if you will, of the sharing, but it was important for us to realize that there was a place for all this learning and documentation so that anyone on the team could go to that place at any time and look at the insights, gather some of that information. So we do have an internal SharePoint site where the SMEs have folders and are documenting their learnings.

And then the final component of leading means that where appropriate our SMEs are actually formulating our team point of view based on their expertise and then ensuring that the rest of the team follows that same POV. And I think a great example of this is around localization. I don’t know about other organizations, but around Adobe, if you talk to folks, localization means very different things.

And some parts of the organization localizes their content in lots of different languages, some don’t at all. And that it was just very disparate. So our localization SME has spent several months now talking to internal Adobe partners, understanding the process of localization, understanding their points of view, but most importantly, actually interviewing our customers all over the world with the intent of understanding how they want to receive this adoption, whether they want it delivered in their native language, whether they have a preference to receive it in English, because that’s their working language. And he’s putting all of this together to develop a POV that our adoption team will then use as our approach to localization across all the solutions we support.

Margot Leong: The SME concept, was this something that you had heard about done at other teams or was it something that you sort of came up with on your own? 

Janet Dulsky: It was really something I kind of came up. I mean, the idea of having SMEs I know exists in say sort of our consulting service, where they’re certain SMEs based on the various different solutions. I don’t know of any other team that approaches it the way that I’ve thought this through, but it felt like it made sense for my team. 

Margot Leong: Looking at the structure of your retention team, where do the SMEs sit within that? 

Janet Dulsky: In essence, everybody on my team. So my team is broken out by solution. I have team members who are driving, and that’s why I talked about as business owners, because they’re driving all the adoption programming for a particular solution. Marketo Engage, Adobe Analytics, Workfront, et cetera. Each one of those people have taken on a SME role. So if you think about it, they’re both vertical within their solution and then horizontal across the team from a SME perspective.

So let’s just take an example. The person on my team who works on analytics, instead of presuming that person is going to be keeping tabs on industry best practices around email, in product, webinars and events, as well as know all the things they need to do for localization and be thinking about new technologies, which is a lot to put on somebody who’s also thinking about their analytics customer across their entire life cycle, what they need, what kind of programs need to be created, et cetera. What I’ve said to them is, okay, you still own all your programming across the entire life cycle, across the various different channels for analytics.

But the only thing that you need to think about is localization, not the only thing, but that’s going to be your area of expertise. So rather than try to spread yourself thin across sort of staying in front of all those various different key operational areas and channels, now you can really focus some portion of your time around really getting deep into localization.

Then what it does for your teammates is they also now don’t need to really think about localization because they’re actually thinking about some other thing more deeply. 

Margot Leong: And so anybody else within your team can turn to them for that expertise and assistance and vice versa for any of the other SMES on the team who are also owning a adoption programming for other solutions.

Janet Dulsky: That’s exactly right. You sort of ensure that somebody didn’t have to be expert in all those channels and all those key operational areas, in addition to all their work they’re doing around their solution. And so trying to parse it out so only one person had to have that expertise and then they shared it. The others could just grab onto it and say, great, that’s what I can do. 

Margot Leong: Maybe another side effect, a happy side effect is that your team probably feels some alleviation of pressure on them to not have to, in addition to like their role, as you said, I have to be an expert in all these other areas and what am I going to have time, for my life. 

Janet Dulsky: Right, exactly. 

Margot Leong: So I love that. It’s pretty cool that they also get to go deep on one area instead of just being a generalist across all these other areas because that actually is probably going to be very valuable for them moving forward in the career or applying this to other areas. So that’s quite interesting too. 

Janet Dulsky: Exactly. They’ve taken it way farther than I had ever imagined. And I love that. And I think a large part of that is they’re very engaged and to your point, takes pressure off trying to be expert across everything and allowing you to really go deeper and be expert in one area. They’ve really embraced it and that’s what I’ve been super excited about. 

Margot Leong: What are some examples of where they’ve taken it to?

Janet Dulsky: Sure. There was sort of two key benefits that aligned with the challenges I talked about upfront, where I had expected to see benefit. So that was in more consistency in our adoption programs across all the channels and solutions and then in driving innovation. And absolutely we’re seeing that, but it was very interesting, this other benefit that I think comes from the fact that my team really embraced the roles is that I’m seeing huge impact and benefit around onboarding as well as just the work they do.

So I’ll parse that out a little bit. From an onboarding new members perspective, that has become much more efficient and effective because so much more of the work that we do is being documented as part of the SM because it’s being documented, to be frank, it wasn’t the document before. We didn’t really have a great way to onboard new members to the team, but now that we’re documenting so much, it makes it so much easier for these new people to figure out what do I do when I have to launch my first email nurture program. Now I have information that I could take in that doesn’t require me sitting down with somebody else who’s been here for awhile and taking up a lot of their time to learn how to do that. So that’s been one unexpected, huge benefit, particularly as my team has grown. 

All of this, by the way, is total credit to my team because of the way they’ve embraced this role and taking things further, but the other element of it was how it’s actually impacting their current work, even for folks who are current team members, in terms of consistency and efficiency. And what’s happened is, and again, kudos to the woman on my team who is our Workfront SME for part of our technology piece of it. Workfront is one of Adobe’s technologies and the team has really embraced using Workfront, which if you’re not familiar with it is a kind of a way to create projects and checklists. And what we’re using it for is creating programs by channel. 

And so the team has created all these templates for all our programming. And now what happens is for a new team members, they’ve got that checklist, right? I’ve never done this before, but here’s what I do. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, et cetera.

But for our current team members, even if you’ve done that before there’s a lot of steps and you might forget something, even if you’ve done it five times before. And so these project templates are making it really easy for my team to be again, much more consistent, much more efficient, putting all great ideas in one place.

So one teammate might do a certain element on a email program that somebody else hadn’t thought about. But now it’s all in one place. So everybody gets to access all the best thoughts from the entire team. So this was something I honestly had never even imagined would come out of it, but it is really changing the way we work.

Margot Leong: You know, it reminds me of when I was leading a customer marketing team and we would, every few team meetings, try to set up things where it’s like, each of the people on the team has a certain project in terms of bringing back specific learnings to the team. So it’s like, okay, find all the best tips and tricks for Excel or something. You can focus on looking at maybe some of our competitors and like, how are they doing customer stories. You look at creative campaigns in this area, take some notes and then we can all share together. 

You know, it was only really very ad hoc. It never fully got off the ground as much as I would have liked it to. You’re taking a few steps further to basically operationalize all of that. I’ve not really heard about something like this before. I love it. 

Janet Dulsky: And I think your point’s a really interesting one, Margot, and I’m always big on sharing. And so in my weekly team meetings, that’s something to your point, like ad hoc, I would always invite people to share, but it is different and you’re right. I’ve kind of taken that ad hoc kind of approach and formalized it and operationalized it.

And it’s actually really in many ways helping me scale. Because the work we do is individual to a particular solution, so even though we have a framework that’s consistent and our channels are consistent, there are different use cases for our different solutions. So there’s a lot of deep learning that has to happen for my team members to be able to be successful. And that takes time. And this role structure is really helping me scale that and do that more effectively and more efficiently.

Margot Leong: Yeah. As much as we would all like to try to stay on top of what’s happening in the industry, with our normal roles, it’s just really hard to be able to do that. I think most teams would agree with that is that they actually rarely have the time to breathe. Once a year or twice a year, you have an offsite.

Janet Dulsky: Right. All this great brainstorming. You think, gosh, if I could only do more of this more often. 

Margot Leong: You feel revitalized because you’re like, oh, I’m getting inspired creatively by seeing what other people are doing. That’s so rarely happens. And the way that you’re approaching this, I think is really interesting. And I can bet that everybody on your team, with all the learning and the sharing and the documenting, they’re getting so much more knowledge about all those other areas than they probably would in any sort of previous team structure, it’s pretty amazing. 

Janet Dulsky: It’s been a fantastic experiment. All kudos to my team for just figuring it out and diving in and really taking it to the next level. I’m amazed. 

Margot Leong: You’ve got SMES by channels, right? So email, product, webinars or events, and then key functional areas. So like localization, content, branding, and technology. How did you choose who would do what? How did that get sorted 

Janet Dulsky: It was a bit of a combination of being what I called volun-told and also knowing where my team had experience to begin with as well as interest. So for example, the gentlemen who is our in product SME, he loves that channel. He is already super expert in the channel. And so it was a very natural thing for me to suggest that he be that SME, I did suggest, and I checked in with the team. I didn’t just say here’s what you will do but a lot of it was understanding their own backgrounds, their interest. It very nicely, generally aligned according to their interest and expertise.

Margot Leong: When did you sort of launch the SME role? How long has that been going on now? 

Janet Dulsky: About six months. So I started talking to the team about it back in December, really. And just at the beginning of this year, started to really take off and folks starting to work it into their daily work and figuring out how to best share, et cetera. So we’re just about six months into it. 

Margot Leong: So how do you think one of our listeners, if they’re interested in taking this on for their own team, any advice or thoughts on how they could implement something similar in the organization? Was there anything that you did to sort of operationalize the process or document what it means to be a SME?

Janet Dulsky: As I think about what I have done with this role structure, I think teams where you have multiple team members doing similar work are probably best suited because that way you can share the learning that could be used by all those team members, because they’re doing similar kinds of roles. 

I have sort of three pieces of advice that I think are really important to think about.

One touched on what you had mentioned, is really making it very clear what the role is and what it isn’t. We sat down as a team and created a SME charter, and that laid out the four key responsibilities I discussed earlier, as well as articulating what the SME would not do, because I think that’s just as important as what they will do.

So for example, we agreed the SME is not the only contributor to best practices and ideas in their area of expertise. Anybody else on the team can and should feel free to contribute. So even if I’m not the email SME, but I happen to receive an email, which I thought was really amazing and I wanted to share with the team, I should absolutely feel free to do that.

Another example of what the SME would not do that we decided as a team is even though a SME might have deep expertise in a channel, they are not responsible for launching all the adoption programs in that channel. So the person who’s the in product channel expert does not launch all in product programs. That ownership remains with the team member who owns that particular solution, so that these folks, then don’t become executors of all programming in a particular channel. 

The second piece of advice I have is really thinking about the roles and where appropriate spreading the work. So we have a couple SME roles and the two examples are email and webinars and events that are just big and meaty. And so what we’ve done is we’ve assigned two SMEs to those particular roles. So we have co-SMEs not to overwhelm any one particular person. 

And then the third piece of advice is, and this is so critical to the ability to leverage the goodness out of this role is really creating a consistent process and a place for the sharing because that’s the heart and soul of this. We have our SharePoint site with folders for all the documentation, and then we’ve built space into our weekly team meetings for sharing learnings as well as creating a cadence of very specific SME bimonthly meetings for deeper learning. So if bi monthly, the team wants to really dig in and ask questions and learn more about in product channel, we have a meeting where everyone can join in and ask questions and hear about all the latest, greatest, et cetera.

So I think those three pieces of advice hopefully will help somebody who might be interested in doing something similar on their team. 

Margot Leong: And Janet, by the way, how big is the whole retention team currently? 

Janet Dulsky: I’ve got 11 people on my team. 

Margot Leong: You mentioned that you guys share the learnings at the weekly team meetings and this is a question I’m starting to get more and more as people’s teams grow, but what else do you guys cover at your weekly team meetings? What does that agenda typically look like? 

Janet Dulsky: So the first piece of the agenda is this place for sharing. We call it power of your peers, and it’s literally call it an open mic time where anybody on the team who wants to share something from their SME expertise, maybe they’ve uncovered some new nuggets. They want to share this with a team. 

It could be somebody has a question about a project they’re working on and wanted to get some help from the team. It could be, Hey, I heard this from another team in the org, you might find it valuable. So just creating a regular space that happens each week for that kind of sharing.

Then we have a space for particular topics or projects. If one of the team is working on a project that I think it’s valuable for the rest of the team to hear more detail about, that we’ll create space for that. And the team will talk through that.

I sometimes have guest speakers. So a great example is next week, there’s a woman who’s running our Workfront instance for all of our experience cloud marketing team. And because my team has really started to use it, she wants to spend some time talking to the team about some of the best practices, some of the things that they’re thinking about. So I’ve carved time out of our team meetings to have her come and talk about that. 

It might be a topic that as a team we’re trying to work through. So one of the things that we have been working through for several months now is this SharePoint site we have. We set it up probably about 18 months ago or so, and it needed to be restructured because frankly I know for myself and many of the folks on the team are having a hard time finding things.

So we’ve spent time at each of our team meetings for the last several months just breaking that down, talking about what kind of structure do we want? Parsing out, Hey, you organize this portion. So it might be something like that. 

And then finally, I usually keep some portion of time at the end where I will share out information that I’m hearing from leadership or requests or asks I have just to make sure that the team knows, giving them context for the work they’re doing. 

Margot Leong: You mentioned some of the benefits of the SME program in the past six months. So more consistency in the adoption programs, more innovation, with the documentation, you’re onboarding new members of teams more easily. There’s a lot more consistency and efficiency. But I’m curious if it’s also had a noticeable impact on team culture as well. 

I wonder if it is allowing team members to almost get to know each other in ways that they may not have just naturally gotten to know each other before and also because you’re just sharing a lot more, they may feel more comfortable going to each other outside of those channels as well because of this channel that you’re creating for them, where everybody is just open to sharing with each other. Have you noticed any impact in terms of that? 

Janet Dulsky: I would say the team culture has always been very much oriented toward sharing and working together. But I think your point is a really good one, particularly with the influx of new folks on the team. Some of those folks didn’t know the folks on the team who had been around a little bit more or some of the other newer folks. And I think some of them were less comfortable reaching out. 

And part of that is because you’re a business owner and you own a particular solution, you tend to get really deep into that. And most of the time you’re working very closely with our product management team and our customer success team and you’re not actually working generally with your other teammates because they’re deep into that for their own solution. So you’re right. I have seen a lot more connection happening. 

I think we had that culture. We had a foundation to build from. I do think it has become more apparent and is breaking down silos, if you will, where people are reaching across the way, more often, because we now have that sort of operationalized. Oh, I know so-and-so Is that expert in email and I have this really big question. I’m just going to go to that person. Whereas they might’ve tried to figure that out on their own before. 

Margot Leong: Yeah. I love that. I think that this is a great takeaway for so many teams and in terms of structuring this, so many teams, everybody is genuinely friendly and they want to help. A lot of remote first companies or hybrid remote with the new people coming in. The connection is different, right? The time to get to know people, it feels different. Operationalizing this, you’re bringing this out into the open, making that part of the culture foundational in every single one of your meetings basically. And I think that is a big difference between intention of everybody is here to help versus being like, this is actually core. I can see so many benefits from that. 

Janet Dulsky: Thank you for articulating that way, Margot. I don’t know that I thought in those words about what I was doing, but you’ve articulated in a way I think was absolutely very real. Your questions shed a light on that work in a different way that I haven’t really thought about. I hadn’t really thought about the impact on culture, impact on the team, all of that, very real. I think you called out early on building confidence and expertise in branding for my individual team members and their own personal development. And I think that’s very real and that’s something I hope they can continue to leverage on my team at Adobe but certainly very valuable for them in their own careers.

Margot Leong: If you guys are recruiting or hiring in the future, I would a hundred percent use that to sell people. So many people come in asking, what about my personal development? This is a real structure that you put in place versus a lot of companies just pay lip service to it. This is baked into the team and I think that’s pretty massive. 

Let’s go into that next question. Customer marketing, retention, marketing, it’s hard to wrap your arms around it, I think, because you just have all these different channels, you have different solutions, different types of customers. That’s all one piece, but in order for all of that to jive and to work well, you have to partner with so many other teams within the organization. So there’s other teams that have to be core to that. 

And so a topic that I’m super interested in and something that’s core to customer marketing and advocacy is the ability to be able to influence other teams and to partner with them. Working cross-functionally well, there’s not really a good book on it, maybe like there’s not a ton of resources. It’s something that you probably just have to learn over time. So I’d love to help people speed up that process and learn from others. So I’d love to learn a bit more about your thoughts on building those cross-functional relationships, your experience there, any advice you have to share. 

Janet Dulsky: Margot, I think you nailed it. I literally can’t do my job nor can my team without working cross-functionally. I’m not sure I could literally even point to one thing we do, that we could do in a silo from start to finish all on our own. That’s actually what draws me to this kind of work because I love that. 

But what it does do to your point is it puts the ability to work cross-functionally effectively like front and center to be successful in these kinds of roles? Especially when I think about big projects that we do that are resulting in operational strategic changes are always extremely cross-functional.

As I think back on it, and these are going to sound really obvious, but the two critical components that are required to work successfully cross-functionally are one, you have to have a relationship, right? We are all human beings. We bring ourselves to the workplace and the end of the day, my interest in working with you, because generally that requires me doing something extra I might be working on, and I’d have to reprioritize my other work for the work that you’re requesting. All of that comes down to, I am more likely to do those things if we have a relationship and you’re not just a stranger. 

I think the second critical component is really creating the win-win. Most folks are willing to lean in and work on projects if they’re bought in. If they see the value, not only for where the project is going, but also for themselves personally. A good example, there is a super smart data science Experience Cloud analytics team that I’ve been engaging with for several years now and building a relationship with.

And during that time we’ve partnered on some small analysis projects that have been really interesting, but I would say over the last six months or more, our relationship has really evolved to a new level. And now we’re actually working on some large projects to build metrics for measuring my team’s adoption programs.

That’s the win for my team is to be able to measure the results of our adoption program, but there’s a very big win for this team is our ability to use their work creates proof points for their work. And rather than creating analysis for analysis sake, this allows them to say, look, we did this analysis and this team took it. And here’s what they did with it. Here’s how it changed the business. It changed the work they’re doing for our customers. So that is the beautiful win-win. We both have skin in the game and as a result, because we’ve been able to identify that win-win, we’ve really been able to take our working relationship to a very different level.

Margot Leong: You said that the relationship has evolved to a new level. Did that just have come naturally from working with them closely and that relationship was just hitting new points or was there something that you did intentionally to push that relationship forward? How did that come about? 

Janet Dulsky: I think it was a bit of both. It was a bit of having more time together where that team, and I understand why, spends a lot more time with our product team, working with them on pretty metrics and giving them the data that they need to make sure that the product is being evolved in the right way.

And frankly, I kind of pushed my way in because I thought what they did was really interesting and I could see the way it could apply to the work my team was doing. It took some time for them to understand that and believe me when I came knocking on the door and saying, Hey, I think we could use this. And they’re kind of like, who are you? And what do you do? 

So I think there was some natural progression of just getting to know us, getting to know our work, being able to start to see the connective tissue. And then very intentionally I’ve started more to have conversations about that win-win and really exploring what’s in it for them and helping show that and tie those connections and articulating, Hey, this helps us, but here’s how I could see it really helping you. And so I think the two together got us to this much better place. 

Margot Leong: You know, it’s one thing to get the entry in. And then how do you continue building on that over time? So are there more tactical things that you would recommend that people can do to continue to build these relationships? 

Janet Dulsky: Yeah, some things I think that are important for both building and maintaining. One, constantly talking to people. A large part of my role now at my level is about cross-functional relationships, building and maintaining those. So constantly talking to people is important. Always being curious about people’s roles and work. I’m a question asker but just really being curious, because that’s how I’ve uncovered some really interesting opportunities, having a conversation, asking people, Hey, that’s really interesting. Tell me more about that. I don’t quite understand what your work is, help me understand it. Those questions you’ll find will uncover opportunities that you might not otherwise have ever uncovered. 

Following relationship paths is another piece of it. And this is really networking. I mean, the bottom line is networking, but as you’re talking to somebody, and asking some of these questions and uncovering opportunities, asking the question, oh, who’s that, you know, is that somebody I should talk to, or do you know somebody who’s doing more of this that I could talk to and then just following that path, an intro from one person to the next. 

The other piece that I’ve learned is to be really clear about your ask when setting meetings up and that’s particularly important. I think for that initial reach out. We’re all really super busy. So being respectful and letting somebody know, Hey, I’m trying to understand. Here’s what I want to learn. Giving them context for the ask. I’m sure most of your listeners work in organizations where people, as you said, are happy to help. Do people want to talk? That’s the same at Adobe, but I think it’s really important to let them know exactly what you’re looking for.

And then I think truly part of maintaining is looking for ways to give back. So if you’re having a conversation with somebody, is there somebody that you could introduce them to, that could help them with a certain challenge or who might be able to connect them to somebody who is doing something similar. Relationships are about the give and the get. They go both ways. So I think it’s really important to make sure you’re thinking about what those things are. 

And then just finding ways to connect as people. We are social beings and we hopefully bring our whole selves to work. Most often I start my meetings talking about whether it’s the weather or what you’re doing for the weekend or a vacation, or how’s that dog, cat, fill in the blank pet, or just sharing things about yourself as a person. Then remembering those things so the next time you meet, you’re like, oh, Hey, how was that vacation you said you were going on. Those kinds of non-work connections build that relationship, which is is really super important for that kind of work.

If there was one thing that somebody wanted to do to start this process of is just think about one person in your organization who is doing work that has a connection to your own or is doing something that you think is interesting or you’ve heard about, and you’re curious about. Just reach out to them. 

Margot Leong: And would you frame it as, basically I would just love to sort of pick your brain and learn more about what you do and maybe this would help us even potentially better collaborate or uncover ways that my team could help you in the future. Would you frame it like that? 

Janet Dulsky: I would. I’m very transparent, but I think that can be very valuable. So yes, I heard you do X. I’m really curious what that is. I would love to understand more. Would you mind spending 15, 20 minutes with me to tell me a little bit more about that?

 Exactly. Creating cross-functional relationships come very naturally to me, as I said I’m very naturally curious. I love to hear what other people do. I ask lots of questions. 

Maintaining cross-functional relationships was something that I had to be very intentional about and intentionally practice that because it didn’t quite come as naturally. This is where the calendar is my best friend. I learned that I needed to, when I initiated a relationship that I thought should have some sort of regular cadence to it, I would ask for a sort of regular cadence of meetings of that person.

And then immediately calendarize that, whether that’s weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever it is. And then even if it isn’t a relationship where I’m envisioning some sort of regular cadence, what I will calendar for myself is just a reminder to reach out and touch base because we all get so busy. I would find that what would happen is those connections would fall to the bottom of your list, cause there’s always something that’s more urgent. 

Then the relationships would languish and if the relationships languish, it becomes more difficult when you have a need or you see a project you’d like to bring somebody into, if the relationship has been left to the side, you’re kind of starting from scratch again.

Margot Leong: You’re totally right. It’s so fascinating to me that if you’re in a organization, there’s so much value in maintaining those relationships. And as you said, like calendaring it, making the conscious effort to check in because you never know when you’re going to have to lean on that relationship again. I’ve been in so many situations and then all of a sudden it’s like, there’s this new thing that came out of left field. I need someone’s help. 

It’s actually really great because I was just chatting with that team like last week over something casual, and there’s so much less friction in reaching out. And like the friction can kill you over time the more that the gap increases. So yeah, I love this idea about the maintenance of those relationships. 

There’s things that you could probably do too, that maybe it doesn’t have to be as formal as a specific check-in, but there’s like little nudges that you can do that are sort of like entry points back into that relationship or having them to remember that you exist.

So for example, let’s say you are interacting with maybe a few people on their team. They’re helping you out with something. An easy way to get back on that person’s radar too, is just to send them an email and say, Hey these people on your team are helping me out. Wanted to give you a heads up that they’re doing super awesome work, something specific about each of those people. That person loves to get that kind of email about their team. Make them feel good and then they feel good about you. It’s so much easier to get back into it, the swing of things with someone like that.

So there’s little things that you can do to keep that relationship going, whether it’s, you know, I read this book and thought of you, or I remember this funny story or something like that, where it’s little nudges over time. It’s also just like building relationships with customers too. 

Janet Dulsky: Exactly. And I love what you said. That example is one that warms my heart because a, to your point, I love to receive those about my team. But not only is it doing good things for the relationship and letting that other manager know about the great work, but you’re doing great things for those people who are doing this too, right. And so that just fills so much goodness. 

Actually, my husband was talking about this. He actually has been making intentional time in his week, just for things for gratitude, like you just articulated. And I think that ties into this nicely too. It’s just somehow, some way, a connection point. I’m grateful for this. I thought of you when I heard this or saw this or I’m working with some of your team and here’s the great things they’re doing. People feel good about that. And then the next time you come knocking at their door, I don’t think you do it from a place of I’m expecting to get something, but you are building chits if you will, that when you go to call one of those in, people are more than happy to. 

Margot Leong: Yeah. You’re operationalizing the giving, and that people feel like you are giving them 10x value so that when you need to lean on them, there’s just no problem, because you’ve given them so much without asking for anything in return. And yeah, just operationalizing that piece, doing the gratitude practice.

And I think the thing too is that most people don’t do this. It’s very rare. 

Janet Dulsky: And it’s interesting. And I don’t think people don’t do it because they don’t want to. It’s part of this intentionality, right? Because you make choices every day, every hour about what you’re going to be working on. And if we’re not intentional and we don’t practice that, things are just like, oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow. I’ll get to that tomorrow and tomorrow never comes. That happens to me on a regular basis. 

Margot Leong: It’s one of those things that feels low urgency and so it is always at the bottom of the list, but it’s one of those things where if you operationalize it, it has super high impact, like the effects of those vibes that you’ve just said to someone, that can linger for many months and that’s really valuable. 

So that’s massive, but I’m gonna try and wrap this up. This was such a wonderful conversation. I think we covered a lot of really interesting stuff about the SME role, some really thoughtful ways of connecting with people internally, which is such a massive part of customer marketing and the work that we’re doing. Where can people connect with you if they’d like to chat more? 

Janet Dulsky: Thank you very much, Margot. I would love to hear from folks and have more conversations. I’ve already said I’m a very curious person. So please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I will happily start conversations around any of these topics or anything else that people have in mind.

Margot Leong: Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at Take care, everybody. 



Related Posts