by Todd Youngblood
I don’t know enough. Not enough about my customers & prospects, or their customers, prospects, suppliers, partners and competitors. I don’t know enough about the objectives, strategies, requirements, problems or people of any of those groups. I don’t even know enough about how my own products and services – either alone or combined with other products and services – can address the issues of my customers and prospects. Eeesssssshhhhh…
(Guess what? You’re in the same boat!)
Hey, I’m not trying to be a jerk here. All of us really do have huge and growing gaps in our knowledge base. And it’s not because we’re too lazy or not smart enough to keep up with the latest developments. The fact of the matter is, everything around us is moving, growing and changing at a relentlessly increasing rate.
One example of this phenomenon is the number of years it took for 25% of the US population to begin using a new technology.
- 46 years – Electricity
- 35 years – Telephone
- 31 years – Radio
- 26 years – Television
- 16 years – PC
- 13 years – Cell Phone
- 7 years – The Internet
Many other examples of increasingly rapid rates of change abound. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the 41 additional data sets listed here. The point is, if we are to continue to serve our customers effectively, we need to deliver and apply knowledge at a rate faster than they can accomplish on their own.
Successful sales professionals, managers and executives have always known that the standard training provided by their companies was not sufficient to achieve excellence. Back in the olden days (circa 1998) an extra investment of 4 or 5 hours a week reading business books, relevant publications, and newspapers, attending 5 to 10 days worth of seminars per year and talking shop with colleagues in other industries once or twice a week was enough to set yourself apart from the crowd.
Sorry, boys and girls, but that won’t cut it anymore. And let’s face it, what percent of our peer group was expending that much extra effort anyway? 5%? 10%? Hmmmmm… maybe the approach described above was obsolete and insufficient even in the 90s!
What’s needed is a different approach to the creation and dissemination of the knowledge required to sell more efficiently and effectively. Here’s an approach:
* Formally identify a Sales Knowledge Activist for every 10 or so people in your organization
* Implement, promote and celebrate a culture of Creative Abrasion
Notice I didn’t say “appoint” a Sales Knowledge Activist. Some individuals have a natural talent and thirst for acquiring new relevant knowledge. Maybe it’s a high-ranking executive or maybe it’s a rookie, or maybe it’s some middle of the pack journeyman performer. You will find it surprisingly easy to “identify” your activists though. Just make it known that you’re looking and they’ll volunteer. Then make it official. Announce it. Promote it. Let it be known that the activists are constantly on the prowl not only for new knowledge, but also for new ways to acquire and use it. Reward them appropriately when it becomes obvious they are valued.
The part sounded easy didn’t it? Look around for a few Sales Knowledge Activists, then sit back and watch the knowledge creation occur! Sorry, it ain’t that easy. That’s where the Creative Abrasion comes in. Everybody must participate. Set that expectation. Provide multiple mechanisms and tools; some that enable and some that force new ideas to scrape and grind against other new ideas as well as the status quo. All the scraping and grinding will kill the bad new ideas and polish up the good ones.
A Sales Excellence Council is an excellent (in my opinion, mandatory) Creative Abrasion vehicle. Naturally, I’d like for you to use YPS to facilitate your SEC, but feel free to give it a whirl on your own. Follow the link to learn more, then you make the call.
Web 2.0 tools also provide excellent (in my opinion, mandatory) Creative Abrasion functionality. If you do nothing else, implement an internal sales wiki. One of the editing guidelines for Wikipedia, the world’s largest wiki, illustrates extraordinarily well why I make this recommendation. “If you are not prepared to have your work thoroughly scrutinized, analyzed and criticized, or if your ego is easily damaged, then Wikipedia is probably not the place for you.” That sure sounds like a place where ideas and concepts can get honed and moved toward perfection.
Encourage folks to read and write blogs, produce and listen to podcasts and actively participate in business-oriented social networks like LinkedIn. These things ought to be called “Creative Abrasion Tools for the Sales Knowledge Activist” instead of Web 2.0! Each one makes you think, challenge, refine and develop your personal knowledge base.
Knowledge really is power. The more you have, the more you sell. How will you keep up?