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 >>>]

Social Selling

The ‘Roles’ of Sales Knowledge Management, Part 2

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

[Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Sales Knowledge Management. Read part 1]

SKM and the Sales Manager

Sales Management is responsible for annual, quarterly and monthly metrics, account, sales, revenue, and profitability goals—not to mention the day-to-day activities of reporting reps in the field. Management must balance internal sales operating expenditures against customer development, bookings, and revenue goals. These metrics must be reported upward along with those of other management teams so that important historical and strategic conversations can take place. For Management to focus on sales effectiveness—territory and account planning, resource alignment, call and opportunity activity, forecast reliability, and all the unknowns—they must have the support of well-equipped reps. Management must feel confident their reps know the methodologies inside and out, that they can access playbooks of best practices, and that they have the tools they need to execute. What Management needs is more and faster. More productive reps. New reps productive faster. More flow and more accuracy of deal data. Faster interactions and faster cycles. More cross-sell opportunities. Faster penetration into new leads and new markets. More innovative ways to leverage tools and technology to support reps and prospects—from cold call to close. More agility. Faster to all the unknowns.

SKM and the Alliance Partner

The enterprise’s partner relationships increase the value of its solutions through complementary technology, solution integration, and extended global sales, services and support reach. Partners are strategic to growth strategy. Trusted partners work closely with internal staff at all levels to drive additional market opportunities, augment the breadth of its solution offerings, and contribute domain expertise across the customer lifecycle. Partners grow the brand. They deserve full support. What a valued partner needs is a solid support infrastructure that clearly delineates consistent positioning, while allowing for the variations in access and message necessitated by the unique nature of each relationship. Portals are a viable answer—consistently branded, yet customized, and reflecting the laser-focused attention the company brings to bear on its customers. The approach removes the barriers between content producers and consumers while enabling technology-assisted security, flexibility, and process.

SKM and the Customer

An organization’s customers come from multiple industries, multiple organizational levels, and multiple walks of life. They are responsible for ensuring they have quality products at the right price and time to increase revenues, decrease expenditures, and manage risk for their companies. Customers evaluate solution offerings, negotiate contracts, measure performance, and often develop partnerships and working relationships with strategic vendors. Customers must deal with the internal financial, strategic, and political aspects of any complex buy. They must often show due diligence in the bidding process, and will play vendors against each other, fighting smoke with smoke. Placing hurdles along the path—more calls, more meetings, and always more demands for information—helps to winnow out weak vendor players and shape the game as decision time draws near. What a Customer needs is a vendor who is responsive and professional. A vendor who shows up not just on time, but early—not just in a jacket, but with a tie ready just in case. A vendor who is as consistently responsive and professional in print as in person. The vendor who beats timelines for formal deliverables AND is quick with additional information they need AND knows the Customer well enough to proactively feed information before it’s needed AND does all these things while maintaining consistent messaging in a professional package—that vendor is a trusted partner.

SKM and the New Sales Person

A company birthed through acquisition and nourished through attrition and organic growth is a company reshaping the traditional definition of “new” employee. At the same time as it hires, promotes, and transitions sales staff, it increasingly demands the cross-pollination of talent and experience to promote sales spanning multiple product groups. New staff must ramp quickly and ramp repeatedly. The opportunity cost of this ramp-up process can be very high in terms of company revenue performance. This lost revenue in conjunction with the cost of hiring, training and compensating a new sales person can have a huge negative effect on the company’s bottom line. Regardless of their specific role in the process—field sales, business consulting, marketing or sales support—all new staff must know not only what they’re selling, but how, and to whom. In the sprint to show value, the best intentions of a comprehensive education are thwarted by the reality of productivity-now expectations: a demo next week, a C-level meeting tomorrow, an RFP today. What a new sales person needs is the benefit of a proven sales playbook for the company’s solutions and market segments, and access to the best selling content to present polished, accurate and consistent deliverables. Reducing the distance from CRM coaching to the optimal sales message—from days to minutes, from phone tag to a mouse click—is a critical component of an effective employee learning program. If new team members have the resources they need to be successful, the likelihood of turnover is reduced, which in turn helps reduce the scale of the ramp-up challenge.