Knowledge Management For Sales Organizations Should Focus On Your Sales Reps

Co-founder and CEO of Copilot, a voice-activated knowledge management system for sales reps. My expertise is in communication technology.

On June 1, 2009, Air France 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. One of the admittedly many causes for this tragic incident was the “glass cockpit” effect: The pilots, flummoxed by the many different warnings they were being given by their cockpit systems, became disoriented and unsure about how to handle the situation. The Airbus A330’s state-of-the-art cockpit technology may have wowed Air France executives and fleet purchasers, but it failed to address the needs of its end users — the pilots — when it mattered most.

Cases of software being built primarily with decision makers/buyers in mind, with little care for the end user’s needs is one that can be found across several domains. Knowledge management for sales is no exception. This article describes steps that forward-thinking sales leaders should consider when upgrading their knowledge management so they aren’t left with approaches or solutions that look good on paper but do not work for their reps on the front line.

Capturing, Distributing And Effectively Using Knowledge

First, a little history. Knowledge management (KM) has traditionally been defined as “the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.”

Let’s consider one of several popular frameworks on KM: the SECI framework. SECI distinguishes between two kinds of knowledge: implicit and explicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge refers to knowledge that is not or cannot be written down, also known as “tribal knowledge.” Explicit knowledge refers to knowledge that is recorded somewhere. This includes wikis, documents, playbooks, cue cards, customer relationship management (CRM) software, etc. SECI then goes on to describe the process of knowledge creation and dissemination as an iterative four-step process:

Socialization: Individuals take implicit knowledge and derive unique new insights through communication and discussion with peers.

Externalization: These new insights are recorded/documented somewhere.

Combination: Knowledge from different sources and different individuals in an organization are combined, generating new insights.

Internalization: The explicit knowledge is internalized by the individuals of an organization.

Good KM Approaches Make Content Accessible To Sales Reps Within Their Workflow

Most knowledge management approaches today focus exclusively on capturing knowledge. In other words, they are focused exclusively on the “E” of SECI: externalization, or documentation of knowledge. But the mere documentation of knowledge is useless if it is not distributed and cannot be effectively used by your sales reps in their communications with customers and prospects.

Does that happen today? If you are a sales leader, or if you work in sales enablement, product marketing or revenue operations, think about the last time you compiled a sales framework, created competitive battle cards or built product information sheets. You probably recorded those insights in PDFs, Google Drive, SharePoint or some other specialized content management system (CMS).

Ask yourself three questions about this content:

1. “Was this content designed to be easily accessible to my frontline sales reps?”

2. “Is this content delivered to my frontline sales reps as a natural part of their workflow (as opposed to an additional task or action they have to perform)?”

3. “Is this content useful and usable by my frontline sales reps when they are conversing with prospective customers?”

I know from experience the answers to each of these questions for a vast majority of organizations is a resounding no.

Sales leaders spend millions of dollars each year training their reps to achieve effective two-way communication with their prospects. Any sales-oriented technology that you onboard at your company should serve this goal. Bottom line: If your KM approach is not designed for easy delivery to reps within their workflow — and if it requires them to perform additional steps to access the content — it is worthless.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?