Collaborating in Sales Force Enablement

In 2013 organizations will be less and less inclined to adopt collaboration as a confuse, not measurable, for its own sake initiative asking themselves instead where and how to connect it to where value gets generated: key business processes.

To many managers the only kind of understandable value is.. you guessed it right.. money and money is the realm of the Sales department. This notwithstanding sales reps haven’t recently been the central focus of conversation when it comes to collaboration, especially behind the firewall.

This lack of attention is anyway destined to vanish for a number of social, technological and market reasons:

  • The customer (even the B2B one) has gained control. A more informed, more demanding, more connected and empowered social customer is requiring an higher level of quality in the interaction with the organization.
  • The sales cycle has changed forever. Forums, reviews, communities and other online exchanges are seriously influencing the buying cycle at every stage by creating awareness, adding competitors to consideration, convincing stakeholders about the strengths of the product. Other customers and honest discussions are much more credible than marketing collaterals. This is especially true with complex and expensive deals where multiple internal stakeholders are in the game, decisions take months and their impact can accelerate or destroy the career of the involved managers.
  • From product to service. A single standard product is no longer enough. In a globally more fluid, transparent and competitive landscapes, customers are often looking to apparently softer aspects such as support, release cycles, reputation, integration, professional services, online communities and other services that can extend the effectiveness of the investment for years. Buying an ERP is not exactly like buying an mp3 player. Sales reps are required to be more competent not just about the product but also about the market and about the customers.
  • Sales no longer happen in a vacuum.  To address higher expectations, sales reps need real time help from marketing peers (competitive information, collaterals, updated documentations), R&D and product specialists (roadmaps, specific product features, ways to mitigate weaknesses, etc), customer service agents and professional services (does the customer have open tickets?, has the product brought value in the past?, have they met barriers in using it?, etc), customer intelligence (where is the market going?, what are clients expecting?) and any other employee potentially exposed to customers through the web.

In a Social Sales study, Accenture found enhancing team communications and improving access to information as the primary way to increase sales effectiveness and yet the best practice sharing across the sales force was also the area most in need of improvement. Even with 70% of respondents utilizing collaboration, knowledge circulation has seen scarce results mostly due to the remaining prevalence of outdated teamwork approches (telephone and e-mails) and “silo syndrome” preventing employees from working together across different departments:

On the contrary, the move from selling products to addressing complex customer’s issues requires non hierarchical organizational models and cross-unit collaborative behaviors:

Social improves sales force effectiveness, productivity and responsiveness at each phase of the cycle by:

  • Maximizing internal lead generation and account information sharing
  • Sharing insights between sales reps in problem solving and more accurate proposals preparation
  • Enabling agile teams and scaling expertise location to increase the quality of the solutions created
  • Letting sales reps systematically collect feedback from the market to influence both commercial strategy and marketing collaterals
  • Keeping the sales force constantly aligned with updates from the organization about new acquisitions, new features, new campaigns
  • Increasing win rates through shared customer intelligence, more visibility into the sales process, reuse of existing collaterals and a better fit with customer’s needs
  • Skyrocketing the sales rep engagement by building a common sense of identity and belonging
  • Streamlining communication and collaboration to spend more time with the customer
  • Accelerating innovation by allowing subject matter experts to brainstorm and easily share what they know
  • Extending the conversation behind corporate boundaries by including suppliers, partners and even customers

Together with other (mostly customer facing) CRM areas that received much more attention until now, sales force automation and enablement is getting under the spot as a short term opportunity to increase revenues. Nonetheless sales reps have always resisted efforts to push sharing knowledge on their accounts, deals, commercial strategies.

In order to be successful with collaborative sales enablement a few key points have to be kept in mind:

  • Personal value should come first. Sales people are extremely competitive and focused on their budgets and relative position in the organization. Adoption here is possible only by aligning the initiative to their goals
  • Formal buy-in is often required. Given their resistance to change when money is at play and the remaining importance of personal relationships with customers, social sales enablement is strongly facilitated by a significant amount of senior management proactive involvement and sponsorship
  • Integration is an accelerator. Embedding collaboration into CRM records preserves context, maintain all the information in one place and limits the need of switching between different applications to get work done
  • Economical incentives must be aligned. Nobody will share a single bit if this is not economically convenient. Reasoning about collaborative goals helps bringing down silos
  • Exposing lack of knowledge. Complex sells imply extensive expertise integration but sales reps don’t love letting everyone learn what they don’t know. Building trust across the sales force is a fundamental step in adopting collaboration

Even if barriers remain a number of examples show that collaborative sales enablement is not only possible but also very promising. Have you got any experience with it?

Emanuele Quintarelli

Social media enthusiast and Social Business Leader in EY. Research, reports and reflections about the introduction of web 2.0 inside the enterprise.

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