How to use a social intranet to unite a sales team

Setting up a structure in an intranet can be a tricky business. Many organisations follow the organisation tree and decide to structure sites, folders, etc based on the established hierarchy of the company. Others let it grow organically. In most cases the results of the former approach is that it turns into a data coffin because the only people who think along the lines of the org chart is the HR department. The latter approach, while encouraging adoption, just turns into a mess where no-one can find anything. Instead of being a functioning society of information it turns into little pockets of activity which no-one outside of the people using it a) know even exists b) would know where to go if it did exist.

Building a social intranet is therefore presumably even harder. On the one hand we have to create something which makes sense to allow people to work without being too prescriptive about the overall structure of the parts. Equally, we must realise that while it’s great to have an intranet site where we can all put stuff and find it later, the real value is in discovering stuff we didn’t know which is useful to us. If we focus our efforts in making something which our immediate co-workers think is cool, then we’re back to the pockets of activity scenario again.

Putting together a useful social intranet should address job functions rather than the organisation chart. Building a structure where the sales folks across the whole company, not just the sales people in your region can co-operate and share makes much more sense for the following reasons:

  • It will encourage the discovery of information not known to the local team. Each part of the organisation has its own information about stuff. Share it with like-minded individuals and you’re building organisational intelligence.
  • The sales teams will work more cohesively as an overall entity rather than competing racers in a relay race. Instead of handing out a prize to the best performing sales team at the Christmas Party, how about awarding the entire sales team a prize for sales growth? By having a structure where that team comes together fully, better performance is achieved.
  • There’s no single point of failure. Centralising information and intelligence rather than locking it away means that it’s available to all, rather than just that team.

So, given that you’re prepared to have a go at a cross-functional approach rather than an org-tree approach, how do you go about setting it up?

Firstly I’d encourage the creation of a community for the function, e.g. the Sales Community. Make each member of the Sales Team, wherever they are in the country, continent or planet a member. Provide some sort of profiling solution (such as that provided in IBM Connections) where everyone can see everyone else’s details. Include phone numbers, photos, email addresses and get some background information together either through tags or through a short bio. You’d be surprised at the delight a “random act of data kindness” can generate when you discover that you have something in common with someone across the organisation.

Next you need to seed the community. You need to identify sponsors across the functional group who are prepared to be the cheerleaders for the community. Pick people who are

a) enthusiastic about the concept and

b) will be known to the vast majority of people who will take part.

There’s little point in appointing the intern who’s hot on Facebook but not known outside of his immediate colleagues to advocate on the use of the system because he carries little kudos or respect (in a professional sense).

With a good size group – somewhere between 3 and 10 people depending on your organisation – get them together either physically or via an IBM Sametime web conference or similar. Explain to them the benefits to be gained from having a social intranet and set some short term highly-achievable goals for everyone to deliver on. For example, get them to post a blog entry each about what’s going on in their area and pose a question at the end of the entry which encourages comments to be made. Award a prize to the best comment the following week.

This is all about getting the social wheel spinning. Think about a party you’ve attended where the music has been playing but no-one is dancing. Once someone is brave enough to step out there and start making shapes it’s not long until the dancefloor is full. A social intranet is the same. It needs to be seeded and interaction needs to be sought.

Next start changing work practices. Broadcast your area’s news in the community so that the other folks hear about what’s happening. This becomes a very useful intelligence tool as the more information you can post, the more relevant it is likely to be to the other people. Suddenly you’ll discover that people you may never have met have had the same issues you’ve had and you’ll discover how they sorted it. This comes not by asking questions, but relating stories, describing experiences and seeking feedback.

Start making the Community the place where you put files your team are working on. Stop sending emails with file attachments. Instead use the Community as a place where your proposals, quotations, specifications, blueprints and other information gather. Tag these with the customer’s name, the product, whatever makes sense. I encourage you to make these public (within the community) so that any member can see them. This might be a big leap of faith but nothing drives process improvement better. If you discover a neat way that another region is doing a proposal, table, approach, diagram, anything, then it’s your duty to improve your own. Incorporate their ideas as you can be sure they’re getting something out of what you share. The result? A better proposal and possibly more success for everyone.

If you don’t have a dedicated CRM system, consider getting your sales team to blog about the meetings they have had with customers. Tag the entries with the customer’s name, the products, anything that’s relevant. Share the information and connections will be made.

Lastly, in your sales Community, use the Wiki to distill your knowledge. Product information, useful links, anything that helps you do your job will be of enormous value to your colleagues. That interesting presentation that you gave – prepare for it to be cannibalised and reused time after time by your co-workers.

In some organisations of course, such a co-operative sharing approach might be right against the corporate grain. Considering different sales teams as soldiers on the same side fighting the same battle rather than competing armies might seem like a utopian dream. With a little enthusiasm, a bit of perspiration and above all continuing effort over a reasonable period of time you will find that the social intranet quickly becomes indispensible and the approach you’ve taken for one community becomes your blueprint for wider rollout across the organisation.


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