Monday, March 25, 2013

The Future of Sales Enablement is (or should be) Social


According to ASTD, U.S. businesses spend $15 billion per year on sales training and that many sales people find the training ineffective or less than useful (Salopek, 2009). This is a staggering number all by itself, but when you combine it with the fact that people do not find sales training very effective, it has to scare the heck out of business leaders who are trying like crazy to grow their businesses.

Because of the large amount spent on sales training each year, there is great value in solving the problem of improving the effectiveness of sales enablement efforts in organizations. This very problem is what is driving my dissertation research project. My goal is to discover ways to improve the effectiveness of sales enablement in organizations.

In a 2012 article in the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Lassk, Ingram, Kraus, & Di Mascio suggest that the future of sales training must be individualized, jointly determined, voluntary, tailored to fit mutual needs and offered in various modes. The authors (2012) suggest that the use of technology should be a big part of the future of sales training and should be explored more fully in future research. In fact, the article points out that future research should explore different types of technology delivery methods, including social, that could help improve sales training effectiveness.

So the question is how can social technology play a role in improving sales performance in organizations? I believe there are four ways that social enterprise technology can help improve sales enablement in organizations.

More Self-Directed

In most cases, sales professionals know what they need in order to be more effective and each sales person likely has unique needs. Although there will always be a need for a need to training people on company sales processes, sales techniques, product and customer knowledge, sales people should have more say in the training they receive in terms of content and method. Cron and his co-authors (2005) sales training programs should be more individualized, jointly determined, voluntary, tailored to fit mutual needs and offered in various modes (p. 124). Enterprise social networks are well-suited to support this goal.

On an enterprise social network, sales people can share links to product specs, RFP language, articles on competitors, clients, and industry trends all in an effort to share and find current knowledge that will be useful in their job performance today.

Delivering Content at Lower Cost

Lassk et al (2012) write that technology can provide the sales organization with improved delivery options that distribute high-quality content at lower cost. By using enterprise social networks, content does not have to be limited to what is delivered in a formal training class. Conversations between sales people on an enterprise social network become content in the exchanges of ideas, solutions, stories of success and failures. Content also can come from outside sources that sales people find on the normal course of seeking information to help in their sales efforts. This content can be links to industry reports and articles in trade magazines. Content is now dynamically generated and can evolve continuously with the needs of sales people. These conversations can also be used for coaching or mentoring meetings on enterprise social networks when the sales person and mentor/coach are a distance apart (Rosenheck, 2010). More content that can be referred to later.

None of this content needed to be developed by full-time employees, which is expensive. The content is created in the normal course of conducting business, which is why it is high-quality content, developed at a relatively low cost.

Finding Expertise

Another way enterprise social networks can improve sales enablement is that social participation allows sales people to find expertise throughout the organization. No sales person can know everything, but they can and should be able to find people who do. Sales people can use enterprise social networks to seek the aid of sales engineers, marketing insight, answers to customer service questions, and effective sales techniques used by other sales people on their deals.

Sustainability

All training professionals (the good ones, anyway) spend a lot of time thinking about how the knowledge learned in training will transfer to performance on the job. In a traditional model of formal training, there is little follow-up or reinforcement of training content after a training session is complete, which begs the question, "How do we really know people are applying what they learned in that training class?"

Enterprise social networks can be used to sustain learning through ongoing facilitated discussions. Sales professionals can ask follow up questions, share stories of success and failure, and even hold fellow attendees to a recent training class accountable to applying techniques learned in that class. These conversations can be facilitated by the trainer, a sales coach, or a sales manager until peers take over and facilitate their own conversations.

Conclusion 

As much money is spent on sales training, a certain focus on ensuring that training sticks should be a concern for most organizations. Taking the recommendations of Lassk, Ingram, Kraus & Di Mascio (2012) that future research is needed to find our how social technology can be used to improve sales enablement, my research is designed to find out how enterprise social networks can be used to improve sales results.

What stories do you have of sales enablement success on enterprise social networks? Share your stories in the comments below.

References

Cron, William L., Greg W. Marshall, Jagdip Singh, Rosann L. Spiro, and Harish Sujan (2005), “Salesperson Selection, Training and Development: Trends, Implications and Research Opportunities,” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 25, 2 (Spring), 123–136.

Lassk, F. G., Ingram, T. N., Kraus, F., & Di Mascio, R. (2012). The future of sales training: Challenges and related research questions. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 32(1), 141-154.

Salopek, Jennifer J. (2009), “The Power of the Pyramid,” Training & Development, 63 (May), 70–75.

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