Are private social networks becoming entrenched in Enterprise 2.0 businesses with sophisticated sales forces? "We're not there yet," states Jennifer King, Director of Sales, Central Region for SAS Canada, the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. SAS is one of many software companies involved in complex solution selling. "Our sales teams are knowledgeable with many years of experience," states King. "They are just getting their feet wet when it comes to understanding public social networks."

SAS in many ways is an Enterprise 2.0 business. But it is still getting its head around the tools of social networking. King states, "We have invested in a lot of communication tools including email, bulletin boards, internal chat, blogs, and SharePoint for document sharing. But we have yet to embrace social networking internally."

At Avnet, an international distributor of electronics, computing and storage products, and a company that is embracing Enterprise 2.0, Charlie Babb, Vice President of Sales and Marketing states, "the answer to every single sales challenge we face already exists somewhere in our company." Babb recognizes that mining that information is critical to sales success. He asks, "How do we go get it? How do we synthesize it? How do we improve it? How to we get it out to the field? How do we update it?"

SAS and Avnet have been using technology to support sales for many years. They along with many other companies have embraced today's CRMs, software tools that are great at capturing lead demographics and tracking sales cycles. Knowledge sharing tends to be vertical, that is, sales managers can see what is occurring through report roll ups usually to some kind of dashboard. But CRMs are inherently clumsy when it comes to cross-fertilizing knowledge from one member of a sales team to another.

When Social Networks Interact with Sales DNA

Think about the social networking experience on a public platform like Facebook. Information can be shared in many conversations whether you create a discussion, post something to your wall, or respond to someone else's posting, view a friend's video, write your own blog or comment on a friend's blog. Now translate this functionality into a sales department. Are sales people willing to be a friend to others? When I entered sales 37 years ago it was clear to me right from the start that I was in competition with every other sales person in my company. This competition was company fostered. Rewards were never given for sharing. Every year the best of us survived the "cut" to continue selling. The worst of us got "pink slipped." Knowledge sharing was not in our sales DNA. But every sales manager wants answers to the questions that Charlie Babb posed, and one way of fulfilling that goal is through the deployment of a private social network.

Two years ago I was approached by a company here in Canada that had 400 locations coast-to-coast, a central office in Winnipeg, and regional offices in all 10 provinces and the 3 territories. The sales force was 4,000 strong. Imagine creating a network for knowledge sharing and cross-fertilization of ideas for such a distributed army of individuals, many of them working from home offices with their only connection electronic using the phone and Internet.

I sat down with the VP of sales and asked him what were the challenges within his organization. One was harvesting the knowledge that existed within the staff. Another was spreading the knowledge wealth. A third was retaining staff. The company had web resources, email and other means of electronic communications but they didn't have a social network. The company had a tradition of rewarding peak performers, not just for sales success but also for attaining levels of certification based on taking company-sponsored programs.

This is the perfect scenario for deploying a private social network framework with all of its communication attributes. Enable Consultants, a Toronto-based software developer, encounters many of these types of companies. Faith Exeter, President, remarks, "Organizations need a way to harvest collective wisdom that is friendly, informative, engaging and fun, and serves to meet revenue and other business objectives." Enable builds many different types of private social networks, each meeting particular industry or market niche requirements. "We find when we talk to marketing people, who tend to be younger and digital natives, they immediately grasp the value inherent in implementing social networks inside the firewall."

However, Exeter goes on to state, "getting sales departments to buy-in takes considerably greater effort largely because they tend to rely on past experience as their model. And experienced sales people tend to be digital immigrants, not as savvy or accustomed to social networking and its uses."

In an Enable sales social network every sales person has a profile, a personal calendar, a bulletin board for receiving short messages, a blog, a place to store documents, a place to upload videos and pictures, chat, and receive and send email. Every sales person can be partnered with a team. Interaction is encouraged and rewarded through a point system with points given for online participation and group interaction. Knowledgeable sales people acts as content experts and through sharing information with knowledge seekers receive rewards.

Sales 2.0: The Rise of Social Capital

The adoption of social networking in sales organizations has recently been given a new name, S2.0 or Sales 2.0. The implementation of a private sales social network changes communication. Company sales knowledge gets quickly disbursed. When a knowledgeable sales person answers a question the information is not only read by the person asking the question but is captured for all letting other sales people view the results or enter key search words to see the answer and other answers of similar relevance.

In a sales social network answers can come from unlikely sources. Employees who may be quiet in a meeting may feel empowered when in a virtual space, sharing knowledge that is uniquely held. These are the hidden gems within your organization that a social networking application can mine.

Insights from known knowledge workers can be flagged by the application with automatic system alerts going company wide whenever they post something new. Instructional videos can be posted online, accessible anytime, anywhere. Sales departments can build best practices wikis, or industry-specific documentation shareable company-wide. The knowledge shared internally can be made available to externally, giving selected customers and prospects access to important information to help them make buying decisions. Postings can go mobile as well making any cell phone a knowledge resource.

For companies who have sales teams that are multi-generational, facilitating communications using the media that is most comfortable represents a real challenge. Baby Boomers get email. Digital natives, those in their 20s and early 30s, use instant messaging, texting and social networks. For young workers email is communication for old people. Social networking and all its many communication tools is where it's at.

In the Miller Heiman report, "Megatrends That Will Impact The Way We Manage Sales Organizations," it states:

"today's young social networkers are tomorrow's salespeople. Having grown up with social networking, they're likely to continue relying on this way of communicating and collaborating throughout their careers."

The report refers to the collective value that social networking provides as "social capital," almost as important to an organization as intellectual capital. They conclude, "Organizations with rich social capital enjoy access to venture capital and financing, improved organizational learning, the power of word-of-mouth marketing, the ability to create strategic alliances, and the resources to defend against hostile takeovers."