• January 1, 2008
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

No Rest for the Wiki

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There's an old saying: Once is an incident, twice is a coincidence -- and three times is a trend. After speaking at the Sales 2.0 conference in San Francisco, and after fielding numerous calls from new and established players in the CRM space, I am left pondering what a couple of dozen events all at one time is. What is it that everyone wants to tell me about? Wikis for sales. Wikis are not really new. I first was introduced to the concept in 1995: Ward Cunningham's initial writings on the topic described a wiki
as the simplest online database that could possibly work. Techies have been playing with the concept for a dozen years now, end users have been using the technology to build skunk-works data-sharing applications for several years -- and now the gold rush seems to be coming to the CRM world. For the wiki purists: Yes, I know that some of what I'm about to say bends the rules of pure wiki-ism. However, the sales effectiveness and technology vendors I talked to used phrases like We created a wiki for sales information and We wikied the information for sales interchangeably. So we're not going to bother with whether wiki should only be a noun, or whether it can also be a verb. What's important is why the wiki needs to be part of CRM. My biggest historical pet peeve about CRM has always been this: The information that salespeople really need is often not accessible. The first problem occurs when the information does not exist -- at least not in a computerized format. Think of how much you know about your business. Now think about how much of that you've actually written down anywhere. There's a huge disconnect. Why don't we write more of it down? Because there is no easy way to do it, synthesize it, share it, and update it. The second problem is that, even in the cases where the data does exist, one can't easily find it. Lots of companies have taken all the information ever created for salespeople and dumped the sum of it into their CRM systems; endless numbers of hundred-page manuals, hours of audio or video clips from sales- or product-training sessions, countless Excel and PowerPoint files full of charts and slides, and so on. But all that valuable material is essentially unusable. It's like going into the Library of Congress without the benefit of the Dewey Decimal System: Information is there -- somewhere, everywhere -- but the path to the specific pieces of insight I need right now is not. Enter wiki-ization! In the numerous solutions I've reviewed recently, the move to wiki-ize sales information is catching fire. In sales training we see CanDoGo, SPI's SalesWiki, and The TAS Group's TASpedia, to name just a few. In sales knowledge management we see Kadient (formerly Pragmatech Software), OutStart's SellingEdge.com, Salesforce.com's Koral -- even Oracle's offering an integrated wiki. In most of the demos I've seen of these systems, what struck me were two realizations: Finally I can find stuff! and Finally I can add new, unstructured stuff! This is good news for sales, sales ops, sales training, and sales management. But let me temper my enthusiasm. As soon as a new buzzword starts to catch people's attention, every vendor -- striving to appear current -- uses the hot phrase in the messaging about its product. Some of the solutions I reviewed really are taking data management to the next level, but others, as the saying goes, are merely putting lipstick on a pig. Even with all due caution, I highly encourage CRM tech teams and users to evaluate these new advances in sales intelligence management, because the right ones will fundamentally change how your CRM system is used and valued by your sales teams. 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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