Improving Sales Enablement with Enterprise Social Networks

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Editor’s note: Today we have the pleasure of presenting a new Zyncro Blog author: Bill Cushard (@billcush). He is an authorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning programs that leverage blended and social learning methods. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.

According to the American Society for Training and Development (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. This statistic should drive business leaders crazy because it forces them to ask what they are getting from such a large investment. And this number is just in the United States. Imagine what that number would be if one includes businesses around the globe. 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.

The question is, “How can organizations improve sales enablement efforts, in order to get the most out of the large investment they are making in preparing the sales force to grow their businesses?” According to research, I believe there is promise in the use of enterprise social networks (ESN).

Research is Pointing Towards ESNs

In a 2012 article in the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, it is suggested that the future of sales training must be individualized, jointly determined, voluntary, tailored to fit mutual needs and offered in various modes. Accordingly, the authors advise that future research should explore different types of technology delivery methods, including social, which could help improve sales training effectiveness.

Enterprise social networks seem to satisfy this need, which is why I am conducting a research project for my dissertation to test Etienne Wenger’s (1998) social theory of learning. I am seeking to find out whether there is a relationship between participation of newly hired sales people on an enterprise social network and sales results. In other words, if newly hired sales people participate in peer-to-peer, social learning activities on an enterprise social network, will their sales results improve? According to a social theory of learning, it should.

A Social Theory of Learning: How People Learn

One key element of a social theory of learning considers that people learn through a back-and-forth duality between participation and reification. Participation refers to taking part in communication, activities, or events and applies both to individuals and groups. Reification refers to the process of solidifying the experience of participation in the form of resources. In other words, learning occurs when there is participation in conversation and available resources about a specific topic.  

Where Enterprise Social Networks Come In

Enterprise social networks are designed perfectly with the need for participation and reification in mind. Think about it. On an enterprise social network, people can continually participate in conversations and those conversations can contain links to resources and those conversations themselves become resources (reified conversations) that others can access.

So, if sales enablement is an on-going process of equiping a sales force and learning occurs through an ongoing process of participation and reification, then enterprise social networks should be a foundational platform to get the most out of an organization’s sales enablement efforts.

But how, you ask?

There are many ways enterprise social networks can be leveraged to support sales enablement. Here are three ways to start:

1. Find Experts: It is not always easy to find the right person with the right expertise in medium to large sized companies. This is especially a problem in companies with offices around the world. With an enterprise social network, people can find expertise from people they have never met and from people around the world.

2. Ask Questions: We all get stuck on a problem from time-to-time. It could be in a sales meeting, a technical support call, or on a big project with new stakeholders. Sometimes, we do not have the answers we need. On an enterprise social network, we can ask a question. Sure, it is easy to ask questions from people who sit near you, but how do you ask questions of people who work in different offices? And how do you ask questions from people you don’t even know?  An enterprise social network empowers people to ask questions of anyone in the organization.

3. Sharing Resources and Stories of Success and Failure: If I read an article about a major change to an industry that my company sells to, I can post that link to everyone in my sales organization so that the team is aware. To make my post even more valuable, I can add some commentary to set the context for why I think it is important. This commentary can spark a conversation from others and a discussion can occur that may impact a broader group of sales people.  Furthermore, I can share a recent success I had trying a new sales technique that might benefit the team. Someone else may comment on my story about how that same technique did not work for them. Others can ask further questions and decide for themselves whether the technique would work for them and how they could apply it to their situation. This is a scenario that no training can keep up with.

Sales Enablement Is Not Just About Sales Training

Sales enablement is not just about sales training. In fact, Forrester defines sales enablement as an ongoing process that equips client-facing employees to have valuable conversations with clients and prospective clients. Yes, training is vital, and so is a systematic sales process. But in order to foster and sustain an ongoing process that equips your sales force, an enterprise social network must become a foundational infrastructure in sales enablement efforts. As much as organizations spend on sales enablement, efforts to equip the sales force in a sustainable way should be a top priority.

How do you use enterprise social networks to sustain your sales enablement efforts? Share your stories in the comments below. The sales force of Telefónica Latin America use Zyncro. This is our best example :-)