Social Selling

The ‘Roles’ of Sales Knowledge Management, Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series The ‘Roles’ of Sales Knowledge Management

Today many company’s are making significant efforts toward sales effectiveness—goals are clearly communicated, the methodology is defined, recruiting and ongoing education of reps is stronger than ever, support teams are in place for lead generation and incubation—and they’re rolling out more robust tools for opportunity management, forecasting, and collaboration. The enterprise is readying itself to sell better and sell more. Right people, right process, right technology will make it happen. The next great challenge (and the focus of this series) is harnessing knowledge: Where is it? Who has it? How do I get it? How do I package and deliver it to my customer?

[Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Sales Knowledge Management. Read part 2 >>>]

A Definition of Sales Knowledge Management

Sales Knowledge Management (SKM) is a systematic approach to collecting, synthesizing, and sharing critical corporate, market, and product insights throughout the sales team, and broadening the availability of that knowledge into multiple contexts—from sales letters and e-mail to proposals to online customer portals. With enhanced access to knowledge and easy-to-use assembly tools, reps can spend less time finding answers and creating materials—and spend more time selling. Maintaining the knowledge infrastructure of a large organization cuts across disciplines and roles. What’s your role?

SKM and the Marketer

Marketing is in the unique and often unenviable position of creating something from nothing: from market requirements and product messaging, to positioning and market launch plans, to awareness programs and campaigns, to lead generation, to corporate presentations and collateral, to vertical and competitive analysis. Marketing must sow all these fields at once so Sales may reap. As content creators, Marketing’s pain comes from the packaging, distribution, and storage of the information they labor to define and discover. Information tends to wander—from white paper to RFP, from collateral to presentation slide, from print to web, from Product Management to Marketing to Sales to Product Management and back to Marketing. And a change to one version dilutes all the others. The portal-as-clearinghouse model for materials protects only those materials. Not the content. Not the brand. What Marketing needs is improved flow through that intersection of product, seller, media, analyst, and marketplace. That means spending less time playing traffic cop and more time laying roads, building overpasses, and posting signs. There’s got to be a shorter commute between customer success story and leveraged case study—between competitive intel and a response with traction in the field. Technology evaluations, analyst surveys, and landscape RFI’s can actually share the road with customer-specific proposal activity—why fight traffic every time? And if we could zap the entire interchange with a radar gun, we could continually gauge in real-time the cruising speed of every asset traveling through it.

SKM and the Sales Rep

During the course of any business day, Account Executives must seek out and qualify leads for new business, manage existing relationships to increase repeat business, define solutions to fit industry market trends and unique customer needs, stay educated on product offerings, deals and promotions, negotiate contracts, take orders, and keep management happy and informed. Finding, capturing, and retaining business is top priority. When an Account Executive needs to get information to a customer, there’s precious little time to scrounge for it and get it to them in the requested format—let alone to make it “pretty” and up to brand standards. What a rep needs is a single version of the truth: one stop that’s easily searched and fully-stocked with the latest and greatest information ready to be dropped into the right template and customized to the prospect. If that template already has the right information in it from the start, that’s even better. And if all this work can be done between meetings or at the airport, that’s better still. And what if there were a secure spot on the Internet for the customer to access these materials and conversations?

SKM and the Sales Engineer

In their consultative and technical capacities, PreSales Consultants must juggle responsibilities, often across multiple opportunities, and at multiple stages in the sales cycle. Consultants work closely with reps to understand customer requirements, translate those requirements into product features, advise on deal strategy, prepare and deliver demonstrations, and stay informed regarding both the products they support and those they integrate and cross-sell into. Part engineer, part salesperson, Consultants must counter resistance and skepticism with poised delivery and obedient software. Responding to RFP’s, building presentations, creating solution overviews and leave-behinds—these are part of the job. But what if you’re back-to-back in two different cities in two days, configuring demo environments in hotel rooms, and conceptualizing for both the CFO and the Shop Supervisor at the same time? What a BSC needs is content in a usable format, written at multiple levels of detail for multiple purposes, and ready to be dropped into a questionnaire or a slide deck. At the same time that content needs to be available wholesale—in a single coherent document—ready to be nipped and tucked into a compelling customized walkthrough of the software. And that document needs an attractive cover and the right customer name throughout.

SKM and the Proposal Manager

Proposal Managers are responsible for all aspects of proposal development—including schedules, inputs, reviews, strategy, conflict-resolution, production, delivery, metrics, and process leadership. They are the unsung heroes of competitive bids. When consolidated from silos into a single group, a Proposal Services team is charged with marrying disparate processes, tools, and approaches in addition to innovating into new areas of overall sales value creation—all while maintaining a quality level of service in the face of an expanding proposal workload. With a growing sales force, increased demands on and from distributed cross-functional proposal teams, and continuous proposal volume increases, project management alone has become the overwhelming dominator of time and energy. This comes more and more at the expense of tools evolution and knowledge management. There’s no time to share critical corporate knowledge among Proposal Managers, let alone open up knowledge capabilities to the greater salesforce. What a Proposal Manager needs is a little oxygen: just enough freed bandwidth to focus on the interdependent web of document and content standards, repositories and access, and growth trajectories for the proposals function—which will in turn lead to expanded product offerings, improved strategic credibility, and demonstrable impact on win rates. If the ideal complex sale preempts an RFP, all the more reason to leverage the skills and knowledge assets of a Proposal Manager to produce the critical communications the rep can use to build trust.

SKM and the Subject Matter Expert

Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are individuals possessing authoritative levels of access and expertise within an organization. While they may not report through Sales, the information they own is often critical to advancing an opportunity through the next gate, or a new sales person toward productivity. A SME might be a software engineer, a helpdesk support analyst, a finance or HR professional, or a representative of the legal team. SME’s understand that Sales needs access to the information they possess, but they primarily want to be left alone to do their own jobs. Repeated calls for last year’s revenue numbers, regional support headcount, or the official position on supporting prior releases—these redundant requests waste SME and Sales bandwidth, and steal scarce cycles the SME needs to perform the job they were hired to do. What a Subject Matter Expert needs is a liaison between the back-office and the tip of the spear—a process for contributing content to the Sales body of knowledge, and a schedule for updating it based on that content’s periodic likelihood for change. Such a system would eliminate redundant information requests, and free up the SME to perform a business function—all while minimizing the risk of perpetrating stale information in the field.

[Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Sales Knowledge Management. Read part 2 >>>]

Series NavigationThe ‘Roles’ of Sales Knowledge Management, Part 2 >>

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