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What We've Got Here Is Failure to Collaborate
If networking systems are underused, don't blame the technology
For the rest of the June 2015 issue of CRM magazine please click here

When sales collaboration/networking systems such as Chatter, Jam, Jive, Yammer, and the like started to emerge, my initial reaction was "Finally salespeople will be able to tap into the knowledge of their enterprise to more effectively engage and service their customers!" Conceptually, these platforms sounded great, as they promised to not just help salespeople share knowledge and insights with each other, but collaborate with those in other functional areas as well.

As part of CSO Insights' 2015 Sales Performance Optimization survey of 1,000 firms worldwide, we found that 37 percent of those organizations had implemented a sales collaboration/networking system. We then asked those study participants to assess the impact these applications were having on sales performance. The chart on this page summarizes their responses.

The first time I saw this chart, my reaction was "Really?" Nearly two-thirds of companies are reporting minimal, if any, improvement in sales performance. With win rates of forecast deals hovering at a lackluster 45.9 percent, it is clear that salespeople are encountering a lot of challenges when it comes to closing deals today. You would assume that collaborating with their peers and other subject matter experts (SMEs) within their company would be of high value. So why are only a third of companies seeing a noticeable or significant result?

One might be tempted to blame the technology, but in benchmarking sales collaboration/networking initiatives, we generally found that the systems get solid marks for ease of implementation, user interface, the ability to share files and data and access SMEs, customer support, etc. So where is the disconnect occurring? The point of failure is user adoption. After initial enthusiasm at the prospect of optimizing collaboration, usage wanes to only a few die-hard users, and the tool becomes an afterthought for the rest of the sales force.

So what can you do to avoid these self-inflicted wounds? First, put some structure around the initiative. The main purpose needs to be making business collaboration easier and effective. This means you don't use the system to let colleagues know your son's or daughter's class is having a bake sale. Users need to know the system is the source for information and insights they need to do their jobs.

Second, provide motivation. Making system usage mandatory will only generate resistance. When you explain to SMEs that answering a question or providing guidance once in the sales collaboration system will help them avoid 50 phone calls a month from different reps all looking for the same thing, you start to get their buy-in. We found one technology reseller firm that implemented a gamification approach that rewarded people for creating, leveraging, and enhancing insights. Its adoption rate was 90-plus percent.

Third, provide great training. Ensure that users know how to set up notifications so they're alerted to only the things they are really interested in. Make sure they are clear on how to search for answers, share insights, give feedback to those creating knowledge, etc. As people have successes using the system, share those with the rest of the team so they can understand the value of the solution.

The fact of life is that sales today is challenging, and becoming more so all the time. If your company is among the two-thirds of firms that are underutilizing this CRM technology, commit to doing something about it. To be successful going forward, we are going to have to find ways to collaborate more effectively, or be at a severe disadvantage to competitors that can.

Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at jim.dickie@csoinsights.com.

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