This article is a deeper consideration of some of the questions and answers raised in my article, Marketing and Sales Content — Differences that Matter.
A category of sales content I highlighted is Sales Knowledge and Performance Support. Outside of onboarding, periodic training, and informal sharing, this is an area that is largely left up to individuals.
When this is the case, sales organizations lose an important sales performance lever — a continuous, collaborative learning and performance support program.
Sales (enablement) leaders should foster a culture of learning, which is different than a culture of training.
“Knowledge which is related but not identical to information, is exploding at the same rate as information. Doubling every two years. Even though our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially fast.
And as mathematicians will tell you, the widening gap between two exponential curves is itself an exponential curve. That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance, and it is growing exponentially.” Kevin Kelly
Outdated or immature knowledge sharing and learning practices keep you off the exponential curve. You are on the bottom, slow, incrementally rising line. That gap is your business risk gap.
Think about your knowledge in terms of:
- What you know, remember and can use
- What you know about, but can’t remember to use
- What you don’t know, but can discover to use
- What you don’t know you don’t know and can’t discover — “dark knowledge”
(“Dark” is a euphorism for ignorance — there is knowledge out there we don’t know about.)
Each level of this list is a very small fraction of the next level down. To perform optimally, most of the knowledge we need and use to perform well shouldn’t come from our memory.
The knowledge we need to live and perform well must be documented in a way that is quickly and easily retrievable the instant it is needed. Think account numbers, passwords, important dates, but almost everything else.
It is unrealistic to assume that all the knowledge needed to sell effectively today, especially for a complex, solution or value sale, can be remembered, instantly recalled and used effectively.
When I speak with sales reps about their onboarding and training experiences, it sounds like the objectives are primarily installation of knowledge into retrievable memory.
You might investigate your training objectives to see they aren’t too focused on putting information into memory. Training can be more effective and efficient when it focuses on orientation and awareness — to know about — along with knowing where and how to find required information.
This is not to discount training, in memory knowledge, or practice sessions. The point is to get the balance right. It’s also to get the sales performance support content right. This means reviewing the mindset, approach, and execution realities of what you’re currently doing.
The Job of Sales Content
This is where “content” comes in. Content that supports execution of important sales tasks is called sales performance support. This is an example of why we define “content” as “information (the contentS), packaged in a format, for a purpose.”
For all the time, money and effort your organization puts into sales playbooks and training, how much of the important ideas are in the form of sales performance support content. How quickly and easily can it be retrieved and used the instant people need it, but can’t remember it?
When I ask sales people about content that supports information review, remediation and just-in-time retrieval — I mostly get blank stares.
To make this work, content that delivers knowledge and sales performance support needs to be created on purpose, by design. Content designed and created for training should be good training content. It usually won’t be good performance support content. It will however be good source for this kind of content.
If you don’t know, or haven’t documented the difference between training and sales performance support content, that’s a good place to start.
While marketing resources might be a production partner for this effort, you can’t expect them to provide this content for you, without well-defined frameworks, standards, and other criteria.
A Learning Culture for Sales
A learning culture is based on a mindset of mastery, curiosity, and professionalism.
This must be fostered. It has to be part of sales strategy and programs. This starts with training that focuses on the right mindset, principles and practices.
Without the right mindset, prescriptions like those made here won’t make much difference. So too when sales management doesn’t constantly reinforce the principles and practices required for a culture of learning.
An indicator of an opportunity for improvement is training that focuses primarily on product information and specific sales techniques.
Product information and sales techniques are examples of learning that takes a longer “time on topic.” Context is required to fully understand this knowledge. It is quickly forgotten if not immediately applied and practiced. Seldom is this the reality.
Training is an event. Learning must be a continuous process. This means a better approach is to incorporate learning and sales performance support into daily activities and systems.
Sales Performance Support
“Structure drives behavior is an old but important saying. Content provides structure as well as contents that support and inform the right behaviors.” Jim Burns
This is the purpose of sales performance support.
A knowledge architecture defines the domain of important knowledge topics. In addition to focusing learning priorities, it facilitates collaborative, distributed, and shared learning practices. It identifies topics for which new ideas and content should be curated and documented. Think of the principle, “common language, common process.”
Sales performance support elements document important, often complex ideas that are harvested from training and sales playbook initiatives. They must be organized and packaged for primary intended purposes. Examples include:
- Sales game plan and priority activities checklist
- Ideal customer profile checklist to aid targeting and qualification
- Checklists for customer problems, impact areas, message points, questions for customers, answers to customer questions, etc
- Product knowledge checklist
- Clear definition of sales terms used
- Competition checklists
- Pretty much everything needed to perform sales tasks, that isn’t easily remembered — or shouldn’t be.
Learning must be practiced. Improvement requires feedback and review. This often requires an outside perspective, a coach.
A knowledge architecture provides the coaching framework. Sales performance support content is an essential tool for coaching, as well as learning that occurs within that activity.
Both make sales coaching more effective and efficient. Time that might be spent “teaching” is freed by referring people to the right remediation content assets. (Ideally, these assets also link back to source training assets.)
Leverage comes from shared, collaborative learning. A little effort by many people can acquire and document significant new ideas and content. This requires open communication and documentation in real time, of new information and learning points. Technology to support this activity are ubiquitous and not expensive.
This theory is pretty well understood. Breakdown occurs in execution. This is why learning, knowledge acquisition and sharing, as well as sales performance support, must be part of the sales culture. It must be in the sales “program.” It must be embedded into daily sales activities and systems.