Today, more B2B customers rely on the Internet and social media – as opposed to relationships with salespeople – to learn about products and services and make buying decisions. To remain relevant and engage more effectively with customers and prospects in this challenging sales environment, reps must combine their efforts and openly share best practices and market intelligence.

But this isn’t easy in the typical sales organization where salespeople tend to view their colleagues as part of “the competition.” In addition, effective and timely communication also can be a challenge because reps can be geographically dispersed. One way sales leaders are overcoming these potential roadblocks to the overall success of their sales teams is by implementing “social learning” capabilities.

Social learning is technology built around the collaborative principles of social networks. By using Web 2.0 tools, reps can engage with each other in real-time, wherever they’re located, to exchange knowledge and accelerate learning across the organization. With the right platform, sales leaders can more efficiently train, manage, mentor and coach their salespeople, improving their capacity to win.

Enhancing the success of top performers

Successful salespeople can perceive people’s feelings and persuade them to say “yes.” They also have the self-confidence to handle rejection and learn from and positively apply criticism. Sales leaders can turn their most promising reps into top performers by building on these natural abilities and teaching fundamentals such as product knowledge, market and industry awareness and advanced selling skills. However, these sales leaders often lack the time and resources to help every rep
cultivate the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed.

There is a strong connection between coaching and a closed sale: according to the B2B Sales Index from SEC Solutions, top-performing sales teams are more likely to spend time strategizing with their managers, finding innovative ways to overcome customer objections, and tackling obstacles that may prevent a deal from closing.

By using a social learning platform, sales leaders can provide the continuous coaching their top performers need to excel, while helping to facilitate the sharing of these best practices throughout the entire sales organization.

Knowledge sharing through social

Learning also gives middle and lower performing reps the resources – and motivation – to up their game. When seasoned salespeople are able to share, in real-time, details on successful sales pitches through customer win reports, less experienced reps are able to gain valuable insight into the sale, from end-to-end. This insight can then be applied in the field for a greater level
of future success. If everyone on the sales team could become a top performer, revenue would increase exponentially.

Helping reps connect with valuable insight and experience

According to the 2010 annual research by CSO Insights on average, 84 percent of sales training content is lost after 90 days. A social learning platform helps prevent information from slipping away by serving as a central repository for the sales organization’s collective knowledge. Such a platform also expands the “classroom” learning experience for reps by providing functionality that promotes real-time team interaction and supports individual research – such as discussion lists, comment ratings, keyword tagging, bookmarking and expert searches. Also, the collective research and sales collateral an organization creates over time can
serve as a function of formal Web-based or in-class learning – further incentivizing sales teams to share knowledge and collaborate as a single, well-informed team.

By utilizing a social learning platform, junior salespeople can access the wisdom of more seasoned and successful colleagues. Mid-career middle performers can connect to the insight they need to match the efforts of higher-performing colleagues; as a result, younger hires can move more quickly into the middle and upper ranks and increase sales and profits. Top performers, meanwhile, can find the exact answers they need to solve problems, identify opportunities and close deals by connecting with other contacts in the organization or the extended enterprise. Additionally, all salespeople – regardless of seniority – can benefit from the latest innovative features a social learning platform delivers, such as recording video-based sales pitches; the sharing of competitive intelligence to better sell to customers by type; and the real-time discussion of contract details.

Reinforcing sales training initiatives to increase pipeline potential

Additionally, social learning makes it easier for reps to get more from the sales training experience so they’re more likely to apply what they learn effectively in the field. Salespeople who participate in training courses are prompted to ask follow-up questions and share feedback in real-time. Instructors can set up virtual office hours to help reinforce lessons and answer questions from its sales team.

Reps can also build on their training by tapping into the knowledge of instructors, colleagues and managers throughout the entire sales organization to answer the types of questions that can make all the difference in whether they’ll be prepared to close a deal. These questions include “What have been our recent successes in selling this type of product to a customer in this particular industry?” and “Who closed on this particular deal and what techniques did they apply for success?”

By bringing the functionality of social networks into the sales process, sales leaders can create a winning environment – particularly for star players. Most top performers already rely on technologies such as CRM and mobile devices to help fill the pipeline and close more deals faster. The ability to tap the collective knowledge of the entire sales organization through a social learning platform can amplify their efforts. For widely dispersed and global sales teams, social learning may be the only practical way for reps to connect with the right information, from the right people, at the right time, to win.

Author: David Koehn is director of product strategy at Saba, a provider of People Cloud Applications — helping to create transformation at work.