Microsoft’s Glenton Davis brings action-packed field enablement to life
Sometimes it takes a superhero to get the job done. Glenton Davis, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft Security, didn’t have a superhero handy to help salespeople understand their products better, so he led the creation of a whole league of crime-fighting heroes.
As a new product marketing manager at Microsoft, Davis had a problem that is all too common. He was responsible for making sure that sellers went out into the field knowing their product — in this case, Microsoft cybersecurity solutions — forward and backward.
What he discovered in getting to know his sales teams was that they had a wide range of understanding of both cybersecurity and Microsoft’s value proposition, due to the rapid growth of Microsoft’s security business and subsequent field expansion. Regardless, it was Davis’ job to provide the sales force with the knowledge they needed.
Traditionally, efforts to educate and motivate sellers consist of 50-slide PowerPoint decks presented at 8 a.m. webinars. But traditional isn’t Davis’ style. Davis wanted a way to “demystify cybersecurity to give sellers the tools to live it every day,” he said.
Davis was on a business trip when he came up with the idea of creating a comic book to help his sellers understand their products better.
“I don't have a security background,” he said. “So, I was struggling with understanding how our products work together. Our security products, many of them are best in class on their own, but the real value comes when they work together.”
That’s when the idea struck him: “Security products are kind of like the Justice League. On their own, they're great but subject to kryptonite. Together, though, kryptonite might get canceled out in order to generate something greater than the sum of its parts.”
And with the blessing of his manager, Davis set out to create a league of cybersecurity superheroes, The Unsung. They are on the front lines of enterprises every day, fighting the cyber bad guys who are constantly trying to breach their defenses.
“I give a lot of credit to my boss. He could have stopped me right there, because who has ever built a digital comic book in order to explain cybersecurity? It hadn't happened, at least at Microsoft,” Davis said.
Saving the world
Davis teamed up with Sappington, the premier enterprise technology marketing firm, to produce the project, with expertise from Ghost Atomic Pictures, a creative agency that had previously worked with Stan Lee. They also brought in an illustrator who had worked with Stan Lee, DC Comics, and Marvel.
“Glenton was interested in pushing the boundaries — and open to giving us creative freedom to explore,” said Tim Goggin, founder and CEO of Sappington, which has worked with Davis since the beginning of his tenure at Microsoft.
Goggin attributes Davis’ unique perspective to his nontraditional path. Rather than being steeped in technology, Davis comes from a law and business background — and has made a successful second career as a professional musician.
Davis, the Sappington team, and a director from Ghost Atomic started with a visit to a comics exhibition at Seattle’s MoPOP museum of pop culture. Then they all met in a conference room in the tallest building in Seattle, with a panoramic view of the city, and got to work.
At first, the team didn’t talk about cybersecurity at all, Davis said.
“We talked about story arcs, character development in comics. We talked about the shapes in comics, how parallelograms imply order, rhomboids imply chaos, the thickness of lines, what they mean to tension.”
Erik Wirsing, Sappington’s chief content officer, said the ideas they generated at that first meeting helped to write the entire script.
“We didn't know who our hero or our antagonist was going to be. That's where we came up with the idea that IT is the hero here. They’re protecting their companies every day, and nobody knows about it. That's like Clark Kent. He goes into his office and writes his stories in the Daily Planet, and he has his glasses on, but no one knows he's actually saving the world.”
The process of creating the comic was collaborative and iterative throughout.
“We would tape all of our storyboards up and go storyboard by storyboard and talk about the importance of storytelling. We were helping guide and shape the story with Glenton. That ended up being a really successful activity. It was awesome because there were very few limitations in terms of the creativity,” Goggin said.
Davis also wanted to make sure that his approach to seller learning was justified in a more objective way, researching academic studies showing that visual storytelling — including both text and purposeful illustration — has been proven effective for helping people retain information.
“We found that Wharton uses this stuff. Oxford uses this for medicine, for medical students, for quantum physics, explaining these deep concepts,” Davis said.
Viewers reading the comic complete a quiz at the end to show what they have learned and are offered a trove of content to help them learn more.
“We sought to make the audience feel like they are the hero: ‘We're now arming you to go forth on your journey to sell and tell your story confidently.’ It tied a bow around the story at the end to say, ‘This isn't just the end of the comic. We're anointing you to move forward,’” Wirsing said.
Winning the day
While the creative team’s process focused on bringing an engaging story to life, the ultimate goal was to capture the attention of sellers and help them better understand their products.
Released in October of 2018, The Unsung quickly reached unheard-of engagement levels for field enablement materials. Microsoft uses a metric called “coverage” to indicate the use and engagement of tools among its sellers. The Unsung received nearly four times the coverage that online training videos get on average.
The comic also proved to be inspiring. One Microsoft sales team in the Netherlands hosted an Unsung-themed event — complete with colorful hoodies like the ones the superheroes wear in the comic — that resulted in a big sales boost. Another team created Unsung frisbees featuring pictures of the superheroes.
For Davis, though, the most important success metric of the project is helping sellers get the knowledge they need.
“I would get comments like, ‘Oh, Glenton, having read that, I'm not so afraid of security anymore. It's not that hard.’ You just said you were interested in cybersecurity, so I demystified it for you. That, to me, is the most important thing to do if you are operating in a human-first, empathic way to help someone understand,” he said.
The story continues
Davis was able to bring The Unsung to life using both his analytic and creative sides, Goggin said.
“It's his unique background that he brings to the table. He scrutinized this problem, which was that the field wasn't prepared to have strong conversations about security. With the perspective of an attorney, he was creating his formal logic and argument. He had problem statements, and he did the research that he could use to defend his arguments,” he said.
“You could say his lawyer instincts identified the problem, and his creative instincts solved the problem,” Wirsing added.
Wirsing believes that Davis was instrumental in the project’s success.
“He's so confident in what he's doing, and he has a lot of great energy. He went out on the road with this thing. Part of his courage is not that he just put it out. He actually had to go up and present it in front of people who could've been resistant to it,” Wirsing said.
Like any good franchise, The Unsung universe lives on. Sappington recently finished an Unsung spinoff for another group within Microsoft looking to educate their salespeople in the same way.
And there will be more to come, as a superhero’s job is never done.
Learn more about the unique journey of Microsoft's Glenton Davis.