Why knowledge sharing is the greatest untapped opportunity for sales teams
Let me tell you about the worst sales experience of my life.
Last year, I had a meeting booked with a senior VP at Cisco—a pretty exciting opportunity. About 15 minutes before, I went into Salesforce to prepare for the meeting. By this time, it was nearly 5pm in California, so the sales teams in New York and Paris had already gone home.
I looked at the opportunity and had a sudden sinking feeling. I don’t understand anything. I couldn’t get any valuable information out of the platform to help me in my conversation, so I had to wing it.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go great. I struggled to elaborate on the use cases. I didn’t ask the right questions. If I had known more, I could have asked to be in touch with someone who could better evaluate if we were a good fit. I knew I wasn’t able to make the most out of this unique opportunity and I left feeling frustrated—all the while thinking, “Why am I spending half a million dollars on our sales stack every year when I can’t even get simple information about our current deals in progress?”
I’m not the only one struggling. According to Lattice Engines, 42 percent of sales reps do not feel like they have enough information before making a call. If there’s anything nearly ten years as a CEO and sales leader have taught me, the same culprit is behind most sales failures: poor knowledge sharing.
But this challenge also provides a massive opportunity. As we move into an increasingly remote world, the solution for floundering sales teams is to make better use of your team’s biggest resource—their knowledge. Here’s how.
In this post, we’ll explore the challenge of knowledge sharing facing sales teams today, where informal and formal knowledge-sharing strategies have fallen short, and what forward-thinking teams can do to save time, improve morale, and sell better.
Knowledge sharing is sales’ biggest struggle—but also its biggest opportunity
Today, employees own most of a company’s intel. Every salesperson learns important things on a daily basis. If they don’t share it, and then leave the company, the company loses a lot of value. As in, billions of dollars worth of value. According to IDC, Fortune 500 companies lose $31.5 billion annually by failing to share knowledge.
Here are just a few excruciating (but unfortunately, probably familiar) examples to help illustrate exactly what that number means:
- A new AE who’s just gotten her territory wastes the better part of a week trying to learn the stories behind her new accounts, struggling to get up to speed from sparse CRM notes and unresponsive reps who have either moved on to new roles or are no longer with the company.
- At a large multinational with multiple sales teams, salespeople from different teams sit side by side but don’t trade notes. One person gets an objection about a competitor, fumbles it, and learns what not to say. But they never tell the folks on the other team , so one of that team’s reps ends up fumbling the same thing. And so does the next person.
- After weeks of effort, an SDR finally books a great meeting with a prospect provided by the marketing department. She hands it off to the AE, but he’s busy and just skims the CRM notes—then makes the call and ends up disqualifying the lead. Now the SDR and head of marketing are upset because the AE didn’t see the potential of the deal and missed the value the SDR had previously established.
In individual companies, however, it’s hard to measure exactly how many deals are lost due to a lack of information. Most companies don’t have a field set up in Salesforce to say, “I lost the deal because I didn’t have enough info” (though perhaps they should create one). Instead, salespeople are more likely to attribute losing a deal that could have been saved with better communication to the wrong timing, lack of budget, or competition.
Because of this lack of visibility into the issue, most salespeople don’t recognize the value of what they know. Yet they still seem to sense that something is wrong: Recall that nearly half of salespeople reported that they didn’t feel equipped with the right information before making a call.
42 percent of sales reps do not feel like they have enough information before making a call.
– Lattice Engines
For those who do recognize the value of their knowledge, it can be too overwhelming to share—they don’t know how, where, or when to share it with their colleagues. One of the biggest barriers is salespeople not knowing who to share their knowledge with. They might not realize who else is struggling with the same issue and feel hesitant to blast the entire sales team. Or, they might feel embarrassed to share what went wrong, which is often the most important information to disseminate through a team.
These are the exact problems that we at EasyMovie have been trying to solve. And over the course of this journey, we’ve discovered that the first step to reclaiming your team’s knowledge is to understand where traditional knowledge-sharing practices have gone awry. Only then, can you learn how to make them better. Let’s get into it.
The value of your office isn’t the square footage—it’s the knowledge per square foot
Failure to share knowledge has always been a problem in sales, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the remote transformation that’s followed, it’s become much more acute. That’s because in-person office spaces have acted as a band-aid on the problem.
In an office location, knowledge sharing happens organically. Salespeople hear about their colleagues’ triumphs and failures firsthand. They can tap their fellow reps on the shoulder to ask for advice. The reason having your sales team in the office can be highly efficient is primarily because they can absorb so many stories, and learn from them.
But most of the time, this kind of knowledge sharing is very informal and random. What stories a given salesperson hears depends a lot on who they interact with on a daily basis and whether they happen to be in the right place at the right time to hear a colleague recount the backstory behind a deal. Additionally, this knowledge isn’t stored anywhere—so when people change roles, the knowledge leaves with them. This all means that salespeople are wasting a lot of their time doing research to track down information that already exists, they just don’t know where it is. According to research by Sirius Decisions, about 70 percent of B2B content goes unused.
70 percent of B2B content goes unused.
– Sirius Decisions
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of even this imperfect form of knowledge exchange is uncertain. According to research by Growmotely, 61 percent of professionals want to continue working remotely post-pandemic and many companies, especially in tech, have already responded by moving to a more flexible model of work.
In a remote work setup, salespeople’s abilities to organically share knowledge is severely limited. Zoom meetings crowd their schedules but those meetings (in addition to the ubiquitous Zoom fatigue they cause) are all focused on a very specific problem or agenda. This means they leave much less room for the natural exchange of knowledge. Sure, salespeople will still vent in private messages to their friends. But the ability to connect the right knowledge with the people who need it is, effectively, zero.
Top-down training falls short of the reality on the ground
You might think the solution to capturing and disseminating this knowledge is to formalize it into a training program or learning management system (LMS). But LMS isn’t the most effective either—here’s why.
In general, the way sales learning happens is that reps in the field give feedback to their managers and it works its way up to the top of the company. Then, a learning department tries to structure this knowledge and push it back down to the rest of the company. But in the meantime, things move so fast that by the time the information makes its way back down to the sales team, it’s outdated.
This is exactly the phenomenon that U.S. General Stanley McChrystal identified in his book Team of Teams. While fighting Al-Qaeda, he realized his army needed to make decisions faster to outmaneuver the terrorists. So, he pushed decision-making powers down the ranks, with the thought that his subordinates would make worse decisions than him, but the speed advantage would be worth it. Much to his surprise, he found the quality of decisions actually went up—the people on the ground had a better idea of what was going on than he did, so could choose an even better course of action. Instead of sacrificing quality for speed, they actually gained both.
The same thing happens with sales. Because things move so fast, people learn best from direct contact with their coworkers—hearing their stories, understanding what’s already been tried, and being able to ask questions. The best educators for salespeople are their fellow salespeople—not the learning department. In fact, a Harvard Business Review study found randomly pairing salespeople to share knowledge in a weekly guided meeting resulted in a 24 percent increase in sales productivity—and even more so when team members were paired with a top performer.
Pairing salespeople for a weekly knowledge-sharing meeting led to a 24 percent increase in sales productivity.
– Harvard Business review
And while initiatives like these can certainly be helpful, how much more useful would it be to have that knowledge in the moment, exactly when you needed it? (Not when you’re retroactively recounting your experiences to your partner.) What if everyone could get a peek into that top performer’s thought process, not just the person who had the good fortune to get paired up with them?
Which brings us to the crux of the issue: How do you collect and structure your sales team’s knowledge so it’s findable and actionable, on demand?
Turn your CRM into a knowledge base
Salespeople spend all day in their CRM, getting up to speed on new accounts, updating deal progress, and adding notes. But like I shared in my opening anecdote, Salesforce and other tools like it don’t do a good job of contextualizing deals—at least in their current form. Try it right now: Log into your CRM, pick a random deal, and tell me what you find. Are you able to quickly glean the information you’d need to make a successful sales call? I’m guessing the answer is no.
After my failed sales call with Cisco, I couldn’t get this out of my head. How could we ensure salespeople had all the right information for a deal, exactly where they needed it? What would need to change for the CRM to become a source of easy-to-find and actionable knowledge?
Using video to capture and disseminate knowledge has long been a part of our mission at EasyMovie—we started as an internal communications tool back in 2013—but as video capabilities evolved, we focused more on external video, empowering sales teams to communicate better with prospects through video messages. What if we could combine these two objectives and empower sales reps to sell better through peer-to-peer knowledge sharing? After all, our sales team was already used to sending videos to prospects all day long—how hard would it be for them to record videos for each other?
By now, I’m sure we’re all aware of just how impactful video can be in a sales context. It gets prospects’ attention, it’s more enjoyable for them to consume, and it also helps them retain information better. Research by Insivia shows that viewers retain 95 percent of a message when they watch a video, compared to just 10 percent when they read a text.
Why would internal knowledge sharing be any different?
So we started experimenting. In addition to the prospecting, meeting recap, and proposal videos our sales team was already sending to prospects, we started having the team record internal videos to ease the handoff between team members, update their manager on deal progress, and share deal win/loss analysis. We hosted all of these videos in Salesforce so that anyone looking at the account would very quickly and easily have access to a video archive of the deal’s progress, from consideration to implementation.
What an EasyMovie sales video cadence looks like, with respect to both internal and external communication
Almost immediately, we started to see the value. Now, when an EasyMovie AE or Sales Manager asks, “Where are we with so-and-so’s account?”, they can go right into our Salesforce instance and spend five minutes watching one or two short videos to get the information they need. The information is right there, where and when they need it.
Build a peer-to-peer learning library
Not everything a salesperson needs to know is related to a specific deal, however. We also found there were other pockets of more general sales knowledge we wanted to surface. That’s why, in addition to formalizing internal video updates in our sales process, we also created a peer-to-peer learning library in our Salesforce instance.
Instead of outsourcing our team’s knowledge to a learning department, we’ve tapped our top performers to record short videos sharing their tips and best practices on topics like:
- How to send an effective prospecting “video voicemail”
- How to handle common objections
- Tips for reviving an account that’s gone dark
This all ensures we can capture, organize, and share our knowledge in a way that’s efficient and, honestly, makes our team happier. They’re free to seek out the information they need, when they need it.
Templates make it possible
Having your salespeople record videos might sound all well and good in practice, but we still haven’t solved part of the knowledge sharing puzzle: Even if salespeople know where and when to share their knowledge, they might still struggle with how. Especially for those who haven’t recorded themselves on camera before, the idea of scripting, filming, and editing a video from start to finish can be overwhelming—not to mention a lot of extra work.
You might be surprised to know that our salespeople aren’t born video savants—in fact, many of them have no prior video or communications training. But they do have something up their sleeve to make the whole process much easier: video templates.
Video templates are step-by-step guides embedded right into the EasyMovie platform. It prompts you step by step, so the rep’s only responsibility is answering the questions it poses. You only have to record one answer at a time and, at the end, the tool automatically stitches all your shots together into a coherent narrative.
For instance, at the beginning of a deal-win video template, EasyMovie will prompt the user to smile, introduce themselves, and tease what’s unique about the deal they’ll be talking about. It even provides suggested phrasing: “Hi, I’m Erica, and today I’m going to tell you how I unlocked two contracts with one client, ABC Company. Let’s get into it!” After they film this short segment, the tool guides them on to the next section, with new prompt questions and example wording they can follow. When they’re finished, the tool edits the individual shots together into a cohesive narrative—automatically including company-branded title cards and background music.
We really think templates are a game changer for video. You shift from having people feeling camera shy or not being sure what to talk about, to enabling your team to capture their knowledge very clearly and communicate it in a way others can easily digest.
Reduce time-wasting meetings
In addition to reducing poor knowledge transfer and time wasted on unnecessary research, using videos in your CRM also has the benefit of reducing time-wasting meetings. How many meetings start with someone saying “Can you get me up to speed on this?”—instead of making decisions, you end up getting bogged down in sharing knowledge.
Since implementing videos into our CRM system, we’ve noticed huge changes in this area. Instead of spending 80 percent of our meeting getting up to speed and 20 percent making decisions, the ratio is now flipped: We now spend the majority of our meeting on decisions and only very minimal time getting up to speed. When you’re all starting with the same information, you can take action much faster.
Ahead of their 1:1s with sales reps, our managers can check their team members’ handoff or deal progress videos to see how their work is coming along and flag any elements worth talking through.
We’ve also found this strategy helpful for busy sales leaders and executives: A two-minute asynchronous update video can often provide more structured information than a 30-minute synchronous meeting because in a meeting, the conversation always gets sidetracked.
What it all comes down to is sharing key information before the meeting, so you can make your meetings more about making decisions—and video is one of the most effective ways of doing that.
Get more value out of your sales team
People are one of your most expensive assets—so you better make sure their time and energy is well spent. Currently, salespeople are wasting too much time in meetings and tracking down information that should be easily accessible to them—and worse, losing deals because of missed information.
Imagine what your sales team could accomplish if you gave them access to all the information they needed, right when they needed it. That’s the exciting promise of turning your CRM into a video knowledge hub.
Since we started using internal videos in our Salesforce instance:
- AEs and SDRs went from using 80 percent of their meetings with managers to get up to speed, to spending 80 percent of their meetings on decision-making and brainstorming
- New hire ramp time dropped from 6 months to 4 months
- Handoffs between AEs and CSMs have become 2x more efficient
- Client onboarding time takes half as long as before
- Anecdotally, our teams feel much more aligned and happy
For my own part, I recently had to give a last-minute presentation to the board on three deals that had recently closed. Once again, it was too late to reach our Sales VPs in Paris and New York to get the correct info. But this time it was no sweat—all of the information, complete with deal-win videos, was already in Salesforce. Previously, I would have needed at least a day’s worth of going back and forth with the VPs and AEs to pull the report together. Thanks to the videos I had access to, I was able to put the presentation together myself in 30 minutes.
It went off without a hitch.