Customers have more knowledge and control over the selling process than ever before driving this new Age of the Customer. To win business in this environment, customers expect salespeople to be prepared. If they are not, customers will move on to the next competitor. The only way for salespeople to be fully prepared is to move to a collaborative enterprise team selling model. Salespeople have to become the spearhead of a virtual enterprise team that collaborates in a rapid fashion with more in-depth knowledge than their competitors. Innovative sales organizations will further collaborate beyond the internal walls of the enterprise to customers and partners to align selling and buying processes. The key enabling technology for this level of team selling is social collaboration.  

In 2009, Salesforce introduced the first social collaboration technology for customer relationship management apps, Chatter. As a then research analyst I could see the power of social collaboration; but also saw the inhibitors many companies dealt with to be successful. It was different time just 7 years ago, many companies were still concerned about their employees spending too much time on Facebook, and there were 23 million less than the current 53 million millennials (source:Pew Research)  in the workforce who spearheaded the social revolution in our culture and in many cases for their employers.  

Since joining Salesforce in March 2016, I have seen first hand the exponential impact social collaboration has had on salesforce’s revenue growth engine. The adoption, culture and commitment to social collaboration enables every Salesforce employee in some way to become a virtual member of the sales organization.  It is one of the secret sauces that has enabled Salesforce to scale their business at the rate they have over the years.   It is proof that when a sales organization commits itself, social collaboration represents one of most impactful initiatives a sales organization can undertake to build a significant competitive advantage.

Social Collaboration enables Sales Organizations to:

  • Minimize Administrative Workload

  • Build a Collaborative Sales Culture 

  • Improve Win/Loss Ratio by Team Selling

  • Increase External Stakeholder Advocacy

1) Minimizes Administrative Workload

When a salesperson comes to a new company there are many new administrative processes such as getting their corporate credit card, learning how to book travel, signing up for health insurance that slow ramp up time to doing what they were hired for which is to sell.  When you consider it takes a new salesperson about 6 months to generate impactful revenue, anything that can shorten this time will lead directly to the top line.   At Salesforce, social collaboration had a huge impact on my own on boarding process. Let's start with the administrative issues. I immediately joined Chatter Groups: New Hires, and Road Warriors.  The New Hires Chatter group consisted of as one would expect of new hires to Salesforce. Here I could get a response to any question I had either by experts or other new hires who have gone through the same issue.  The lesson here is: why have salespeople spinning their wheels on trivial questions, when others have the answers.  The Road Warriors Chatter group was perfect for me to post questions on travel and expense management related issues, and learn from others certain benefits Salesforce had pre-negotiated with travel providers.  Both of these groups are just two of the many examples that would be must have for any sales organization.  Less time salespeople are hunting down administrative issues, the more time spent selling.

2) Build a Collaborative Sales Culture

One of the key tipping points on whether social collaboration will work with a company is if the proper culture is in place to support it.  In my experience in talking to 100s of companies as an analyst, the average age of of the sales organization was a key indicator of acceptance of social collaboration.  The reason: millennials don’t like email and are completely comfortable with leveraging social technology.  However, this does not mean a more age diverse or older sales organizations will not be successful; it means that to be successful a sales organization needs to embed social collaboration as part of their training processes. As part of my Salesforce experience I was embedded in multiple training sales boot camps.  I was both an active participant and monitor capturing feedback that I would deliver to our sales enablement team. What was obvious to me from the start was how social collaboration, in our case Chatter, was the primary communication channel for the overall training experience.  For example, workshops Salesforce conducted were posted on Chatter to get group feedback, attendees could interact with product marketing managers and fellow classmates to explore further insight into important product concepts presented in the training.  What Salesforce was doing unbeknownst to the students was not only training product concepts but more importantly forming a culture of social collaboration. This culture will enable to them to accelerate sales cycles by sharing, learning and fostering best practices as they move throughout their selling career at salesforce.

3)  Improve Win/Loss Ratio by Team Selling

How many times does a salesperson go into a sales meeting and have a customer raise an objection or ask a question about a competitor or product. Often the salesperson needs internal support from another employee to answer. Internal support could come from other salespeople who worked similar account situations, product marketing managers, or technical sales support personal.  Normally the first thing a salesperson does is send emails out to fellow employees to to get the answer.  In this model, the salesperson not only has to know who to email,  but copy a bunch of people on the email (can you say spam) who may be able to help. The email then gets forwarded, and replied to at some point.  Inboxes get filled, and the salesperson tries to figure out the answer, and then sends further emails for clarification. The point? Even if the answer is ultimately provided it takes too long, and the knowledge of the interaction is forever archived on some email server.  

The good news is there is an alternative scenario. Using social collaboration, the salesperson leaves the meeting and posts the customer question on their mobile phone to a social collaboration app. This post can be sent to as broad or private an audience the salesperson feels comfortable with sharing. Now rather than sifting through emails, the answer to the question is now created through comments by employees and captured for the next salesperson to leverage. Sharing knowledge about the customer provides the same level of understanding of not only this account but similar accounts eliminating the issue of having customer information locked in a salesperson’s head. This leads to faster decision making, quicker turnaround time between workgroups, anywhere access where the salesperson needs it, less emails, and more importantly leverage of the full employee knowledge base.  During my first week at Salesforce, I was able to positively impact many account situations all over the world simply be providing competitive or messaging advice in Chatter.  When you consider I am just one of thousands of employees at Salesforce who can participate on a virtual selling team it demonstrates that social collaboration clearly builds an unfair competitive advantage that only expands overtime

4)  Increase External Stakeholder Advocacy

The next evolution of sales social collaboration is to extend outside the enterprise to partners and customers.  In some respects, customer service organizations have been ahead of the game here, in using social tools to enable customers to get the answers to what they need when they need it in many cases amongst themselves.  In the sales world, we are clearly not there but one can see the vision of where we can get to. The underlying objective of social collaboration is to improve the customer or partner experience and the relationship between the brand and the sales process . If we think of our previous example, where the customer had a question to the salesperson, then the salesperson asked the organization to answer.   What if a customer was in a pre-sales collaborative group where they could ask the enterprise directly a question and get answers to those questions. This next generation view of social collaboration takes the partner or customer experience to a more of a community feel aligning selling and buying processes. Using Social Collaboration externally with partners and customers establishes a strong bond with both early in the sales process that will extend through their customer journey with a company and creating long term growth potential.  

Getting Started A Social Sales Culture

The Vice President of Sales needs to be a sponsor and set the tone for adoption by being an active participant in the social collaborative environment. Leveraging gaming principles will encourage and promote adoption and sustained participation. Most importantly, the content should educate, inspire and ignite action that adds value to stakeholders - customers, employees, partners and community.