by Michael Idinopulos
on April 15, 2015

Why Social Sharing is the Best Way to Train Your Reps

When I was just a young buck, a junior McKinsey consultant, I had a conversation with Lowell Bryan that changed the way I think about enabling a sales team with insights.

Lowell was and is a McKinsey legend, famous for his big, sprawling, game-changing ideas. (He wrote a book called “Race for the World.” It’s hard to get much bigger than that.)

The amazing thing about Lowell is that not only were his ideas big, they were almost always right. (We used to joke that Lowell only had two kinds of ideas—the ones that were true and the ones that would take another ten years to become true.)

The day that I was chatting with him, Lowell was writing a big new article for McKinsey Quarterly. I told him that I thought our clients would be excited to read it.

“I’m not writing it for them,” he said.

Huh? Did I hear that right?

“Lowell, who are you writing for if not for clients?” I asked earnestly.

“I’m writing for my colleagues, the other McKinsey partners.”

“Isn’t that a lot of work? You’ve got all sorts of ways to reach McKinsey partners. Why don’t you write an email? Or speak at internal conferences?”

“Because my colleagues only pay attention to what I say when they know their clients are going to ask them about it.”

The Fruitless Search for Sales Insights

Take a look at Sirius Decisions’ list of top Sales issues for 2014:

1) Rep ability to connect offerings to business issues (71%)
2) Reps spend too much time on non-selling activities (65%)
3) Inability to manage today’s more educated buyer (35%)
4) Lack of useful/relevant content from marketing (32%)
5) Reps lack the necessary selling skills (29%)
6) Reps lack the required knowledge (24%)

What’s striking about this list is that most or all of these issues come down to the inability of reps deliver insights to their customers. Either the reps don’t have the insights (1, 3, 4, 5, 6) or they spend too much time looking for them (2).

The irony is that sales organizations try like hell to drill sales knowledge and insights into the heads of their reps. They build sales portals and stock them with collateral. They send email newsletters.

The effort is there, but the insights aren’t getting through. Why not?

Sales reps don’t bother to read the content sent their way. The reps will probably tell you that they’re too busy calling on customers, or that they can’t find the content, or that it isn’t worth their time.

I have a different explanation.

Absorbing and integrating new insights is hard. It’s almost impossible in a vacuum. The problem with traditional sales portals and internal trainings is that they lack customer context. There’s no dialogue with an interested and engaged buyer.

Live dialogue with real customers is what makes insights come alive. The pull from the marketplace. Rubber meeting the road. That’s when a rep finds out whether an insight really has legs, whether it resonates. It forces a rep to think on her feet, and integrate new ideas into her patter.

Without that pull from the marketplace, absorbing new insights is like eating your vegetables. You know it’s good for you, but you don’t really do it unless you’re forced to.

Social Sharing as Sales Enablement

Which brings us back to my conversation with Lowell.

What Lowell recognized—what he was telling a younger version of me back in the day—is that the best way to get your own team to think about new insights is to take those insights straight to their customers.

That’s why I love social sharing.

With a tool like PeopleLinx, salespeople are alerted when there’s new content to share on social media. But it’s not like a traditional sales portal, where the sales rep is the consumer. In social sharing, the sales rep is invited to participate in an act of social sharing directly with buyers.

That makes it a whole lot more interesting to the reps. To quote Lowell, they read it because they know their customers may ask them about it.

There are a lot of “employee advocacy” tools on the market today that facilitate employee re-sharing of company content. I’m not wild about those tools, because employees in most job functions are just sharing for the sake of sharing. They don’t have any reason to read or think about the content they’re sharing. They’re just a pass-through, lending their personal social real estate to corporate marketing.

When you’re talking about Sales (and other customer- or client-facing roles), the dynamic is very different.

The Sirius Decisions data shows that the ability to deliver insight to customers is one of the most important skills—the most important skill, I would argue—that a sales rep brings to the marketplace. Curated social sharing allows sales reps to deliver those insights, because they will share the content with clients, which gives them a context to read it and think about it themselves. That leads to better conversations with their customers when they talk on the phone and when they meet face-to-face.

This isn’t just theory. It’s borne out by our own experience at PeopleLinx.

Since we launched our social sharing capability, PeopleLinx has received tons feedback from sales reps letting us know how much they like PeopleLinx’s tool. For all the reps who like the sharing aspect, an equal number tell us they get a lot out of reading the articles themselves.

In other words, Lowell was right.

It only took me 15 years to see it.

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