In 1940, H.G. Wells wrote, "An immense and ever-increasing wealth of knowledge is scattered about the world today – knowledge that would probably suffice to solve all the mighty difficulties of our age – but it is dispersed and unorganized. We need a sort of mental clearinghouse for the mind: a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared."
According to recent research from IDC Sales Advisory Service, salespeople spend seven hours or more a week looking for information to help them prepare for a sales call.
While many top sales executives would like to create an information database that contains all the information salespeople need in order to satisfy customers' requirements, sharing best sales practices can become the most powerful knowledge management tool in any sales organization. A few years ago, Rank Xerox collected the best sales knowledge from its divisions in Europe and the Middle East. Team members began to study the top-performing selling systems across the region. A year after they imported the new methods and strategies, they realized breakthrough results. Norway increased sales by 152 percent, Holland by 300 percent, and Switzerland by 328 percent.
To focus their sales teams on knowledge management, sales leaders must ask these key questions:
- How intelligent is our sales organization in the eyes of our customers?
- How can we share our best sales practices among all salespeople?
- How can we facilitate access to experts within the company?
- How can we motivate people to share their knowledge and expertise?
- What is the cost of re-creating knowledge that already exists?
- What is the cost of mistakes that existing knowledge could have prevented?
- How much longer can we afford the cost of ignorance?
To build a productive and profitable knowledge-management system, experts in the field recommend three steps.
1. Communicate your expectations. John F. Kennedy's vision to send a man to the moon seeded the knowledge base that led to space travel.
2. Appraise sales-knowledge management technology (aka sales enablement) tools, such as Microsoft SharePoint, SAVO, or Qvidian.
3. Create incentives for better knowledge management. At Hewlett-Packard corporate trainers and educators were offered 500 airline miles for contributing to the trainer's trading post, a computerized training library.
Good leaders encourage sharing of information and discourage information hoarding, or mistrust of outside intelligence. Effective knowledge management requires a shift in power. Peter Drucker explained it this way: "Knowledge is power, which is why people who had it in the past often tried to make a secret of it. Today, power comes from transmitting information to make it productive, not from hiding it."