Navigator Thought Leadership

The Power of One – Part 3

When CE21 set out to build a NextGen Membership Management platform we knew engaging with association professionals would be essential to developing a great AMS. It was important to learn about the common issues they face and identify their organizations’ current and future needs. To do this we recruited a very select group of association leaders to comprise our Advisory Board (affectionately known as Team Six). Their insights were essential to building a strong foundation for our new system.

As we began recruiting the eventual members of Team Six, it was important to get the right mix of professional experiences in the board’s make-up. Included in the group is Willis Turner, CAE CME CSE, President and CEO of the Sales and Marketing Executives, International, Inc. (SMEI). Turner has long been regarded as an association technologist with a reputation of never shying away from embracing the “bleeding” edge of technology. He is a true risk taker in the flesh.

Founded in 1935, SMEI is the only global sales and marketing professional association. With more than 57,000 members in over 40 countries, identifying and accessing the right technology for an association with such a diverse make-up, is nothing less than mission critical.

When recently asked about his well-earned reputation as a bleeding-edge technologist Turner responded with a chuckle.

“Bleeding edge might be a really good metaphor because when you’re on the bleeding edge you suffer some cuts,” Turner remarked, “and they’re not just paper cuts. It’s an exciting place to be because you really can experience the best of the best.  I think what really led me to the CE21 Lighthouse project was people, it wasn’t technology. Although I like to think of myself as being on the cutting edge of technology, I think I rely more on people than I do technology. Technology makes a great slave, and a poor master, and so I want to always keep that perspective and know that I need to be able to depend on people not technology.”

An important ingredient in the collaboration between the members of Team 6 and the CE21 team was trust. For several of the advisory team and CE21 staff, it wasn’t the first opportunity for them to work together.

“What really brought me to CE21 and attracted me to the Lighthouse project was that I knew some of the CE21 team and members of Team Six,” Turner remarked. “Some of them had been a constant for me going back 16 years. So, when I was asked to take a look at Lighthouse, I wasn’t really that skeptical because I thought if the team believed in (CE21 President & CEO) John Davis and his dream then it’s probably good for me to consider.”

“I’m a marketer before I’m an association executive or even a technologist,” he added.  “So, I look at this from the perspective of the member experience. The user interface. The customer facing side of all of this.  That’s what needs to work for me. We can get really taken up with the bells and whistles but if it’s not easy to use and the interface is not intuitive to the member, then we’re not taking them in a forward direction.”

Throughout his time leading SMEI Turner has had to deal with the frustration of trying to efficiently complete SMEI’s daily business from within a closed system.

“We previously worked with a vendor with a closed system that wasn’t really (search engine optimization) SEO friendly,” Turner said. “The content management system was locked down and it was almost impossible to work with. In fact, when we did an SEO audit on our site all the red flags were raised. When we wanted to make the switch from in-person learning to an LMS/online learning model, that AMS vendor had added an LMS that was more of a patch than an integrated system. It wasn’t a seamless experience. There wasn’t single sign-on, and it was a very frustrating experience – for the back end staff and even more so for the member.”

“When we saw this opportunity to work with CE21 as they began building an AMS integrated with an LMS into the same foundation,” Turner concluded, “it just made a lot of sense. It really looked like the perfect opportunity for us and so that’s what brought us on board. What keeps us on board is the people. Once again, the CE21 team is so important to us, and I think of them as an extension of our very small staff as we work to run a large organization. It really does make a big difference.”

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Rick Rutherford