You know as I look at the title of the last SalesCraft meeting, “The Power of Collaboration in Sales Enablement”, I think I missed the mark somehow. The overall idea is sound – the greater the level of collaboration amongst your sales teams and experts, the better these teams will perform, right? It makes sense, but I have to ask, “Is this a real problem, or one that has been manufactured?”
I feel pretty confident that if we were to test the average sales teams collaboration skills against the skills of the general population, the sales team would outperform the rest every time. Salespeople are natural collaborators and contrary to commonly held stereotypes are highly team-oriented. The bottom line is – any sales rep who can’t identify and align the resources s/he needs to close a deal doesn’t need more technology, s/he needs to be fired!
Collaboration happens in every company, every day in organic, informal, creative ways that generate real results. Much like selling, it is the human element of collaboration where the magic happens. So, why all the recent buzz around collaboration?
Many companies are exploring taking what has long been an informal “soft” skill and formalizing or at least facilitating it. Everyone knows that people are connecting, communicating and perhaps even collaborating in different ways due to social media and online tools. Complete strangers have found me as a result of this blog and connections based on shared interests have been formed. And we can all sense that the careers of the kids graduating from college in this decade will be impacted by being “connected” to everyone they ever met. It’s difficult to predict the outcome, but it will be fascinating to watch. In the meantime there is a natural desire to figure out how to leverage “social” in ways that will generate an advantage for our business.
At our July 2011 SalesCraft meeting we were fortunate to have Matt Tucker, co-founder and CTO of Jive Software along with Viviana Faga, who led the discussion. Here are just a few of the highlights discussed on the topic of collaboration:
Integration of Internal & External Information – Asking our sellers to navigate between intranets and extranets to find the information they need is fast becoming a dated approach. While previously necessary due to security needs and the limits of technology, an integrated approach represents a significant step forward.
Acceleration of New Hire Ramp – Jive is a company that “drinks its own champagne”, leveraging their technology for their own sellers. A best practice used at Jive is to recommend five people for new hires to “follow” upon joining the organization to get their network off to the right start.
Specialty Sales Teams Have Unique Needs – Jive’s experience has shown that technical sellers in particular have a higher propensity to adopt collaboration tools. These folks are naturally more inclined to communicate through their keyboard and share knowledge at a greater level of detail.
Replacing Volume with Value – Matt Tucker stated, “If social creates more noise than email, we’ve failed.” This is really a call to action for all sales enablers. Quality must be a priority over quantity in all forms of sales enablement, whether we’re talking about communications, content or training. Excellence does matter and we must treat our salespeople’s time as a rare and precious commodity. Noise is not an option.
The Rapid Pace of Change – Collaboration is also a potential answer to a selling environment that has become far more complex. Today, buyers have more information; decision-making authority often resides with a committee rather than an individual; and the pace of business is faster than ever. This requires sales teams to not only deliver on a quarterly number, but to manage more information and resources than ever before. So if collaboration has the potential to level the playing field between buyers and sellers, it becomes a compelling solution.
A Tainted Environment? – But of course there’s a little more to it. Collaboration has inherently positive associations and yet collaboration facilitated by technology and delivered from “corporate” is reminiscent of something else. Remember when CRM – which is account management facilitated by technology and delivered from corporate – was going to solve all of our problems? We need to acknowledge there’s some baggage created by CRM or more accurately by the way we’ve implemented CRM. For a decade or more we’ve been delivering technology and telling the field that it’s going to make their lives better, while using it to micromanage too many aspects of their job. We have taught our sales teams not to trust us when it comes to technology initiatives coming from corporate.
Without Trust, There is No Collaboration – To realize the benefits from collaboration tools like those provided by Jive, we’re going to have to reestablish trust with our sales teams and deliver an experience that is truly positive. That means resisting the urge to use collaborative tools to micro-manage and second-guess our sellers. Collaboration tools can be used to coach and mentor sellers. Data can be collected that ties collaboration to productivity. But the information provided by the technology must be used positively or salespeople will not adopt it and collaboration will go underground again. And with that, your collaboration initiative will fail.
Looked at more broadly, the technologies that truly enable the sales team must reverse the damage done in the past. One could make the argument that if we’d had a more balanced approach to truly enabling our sales teams all along, much of the mistrust generated over the past decade could have been avoided. An emphasis on delivering technology that serves the needs of both the organization and the sales team is needed to reestablish trust. Or an even better way to put it – deliver only technology that serves the needs of the sales team knowing that the benefits will extend to the entire organization.
An Inverse Model for Rollout & Training – Consider a different approach for the rollout and training of collaboration tools. Focus less on training the user base on how the technology works and more on teaching managers how to leverage the technology to support their teams. If management uses collaborative tools positively, the sales teams will follow suit.
I also recommend that you pilot collaboration technology with early adopter groups and generate some “pull” from the sales team. Your work is far easier if the sales team is asking for the technology.
Don’t Over-Rotate on “Social” – The word “social” has become ubiquitous. Collaboration and social can sometimes be intertwined and that may be one of the most powerful aspects of the solution offered by Jive. Taking the vast array of information available externally and allowing that information to be prioritized and integrated into internally generated communications and materials is something to get excited about!
At the same time, “social” is not fully understood by all and tends to mean different things to different people. Be sure that you evaluate your company’s’ needs and readiness for collaboration tools without getting caught up in the buzz on “social”. Social as a concept does not represent a strong value proposition. Social as a path to leveling the playing field between buyers and sellers is another story.
So if you’re looking to empower your sellers, collaborative and social selling technologies should be on your list, but be prepared to take extra time reset expectations and create an environment of trust. Flipping the on switch is not going to generate big results. Technology will allow us to do things that were never possible before, but we need to take ownership of how we integrate the technology into the sales culture and set it up to succeed if we truly expect it to be transformational.