The knowledge manager, seeking to lead the change to a Knowledge Management culture in their own organisation, needs to be a bit of a salesman/saleswoman. And as a sales person, you need to learn how to sell.
As a KM sales rep, you are asking people to pay attention to something (knowledge) which previously has been ignored. You are asking them to reprioritise, you are "selling" the need to do something different.
How then can we sell? What are the selling skills that a Knowledge manager needs?
The classic film "the Wolf of Wall Street" is all about selling. It tells the story of an unscrupulous stockbroker who makes a fortune in New York through a combination of outrageous selling techniques and fraud. One of the themes of the film is "sell me this pen".
In one scene the stockbroker is testing the selling skills of his team. "Sell me this pen" he says, handing them an ordinary ball-point.
One by one they make the same mistake. "This is a great pen" they say; "easy to use, convenient, cheap ....". "I don't want it" he replies.
Eventually one of his friends gives the right answer. "Write your name down for me" he says. And of course, the stockbroker needs a pen to do this, and he has just given his pen away! He needs to do something (write his name) but can't. The pen seller can satisfy the need, remove the "pain point".
What the friend had done, was to create the need for a pen. If someone does not think they need a pen, they are not in the market to buy one, no matter how much you talk it up. The same is true for Knowledge Management - if the person talking to you does not think they need Knowledge Management, they won't buy it, no matter how much you talk it up.
Taking it further
The "sell me this pen" question used to come up in interviews for sales staff in the 80s and 90s, and there are some sophisticated ways to answer this question. The text below comes from the Senator Club and is is a suggested "best way" to answer the question. This involves finding out how the customer uses the product, establishing the importance of the product, selling something wider than the product (such as status, or reassurance), and then asking for the buy.
CEO: Do me a favor, sell me this pen.
Salesperson: When was the last time you used a pen?
CEO: This morning.
Salesperson: Do you remember what kind of pen that was?
Salesperson: Do you remember why you were using it to write?
CEO: Signing a few new customer contracts.
Salesperson: Well I’d say that’s the best use for a pen (we have a subtle laugh). Wouldn’t you say signing those new customer contracts is an important event for the business? (nods head) Then shouldn’t it be treated like one?
What I mean by that is, here you are signing new customer contracts, an important and memorable event. All while using a very unmemorable pen. We grew up, our entire lives, using cheap BIC pens because they get the job done for grocery lists and directions. But we never gave it much thought to learn what’s best for more important events.
This is the pen for more important events. This is the tool you use to get deals done. Think of it as a symbol for taking your company to the next level. Because when you begin using the right tool, you are in a more productive state of mind, and you begin to sign more new customer contracts.
Actually. You know what? Just this week I shipped ten new boxes of these pens to Donald Trump's office. Unfortunately, this is my last pen today (reach across to hand pen back to CEO). So, I suggest you get this one.
Try it out. If you’re not happy with it, I will personally come back next week to pick it up. And it won’t cost you a dime. What do you say?
The Knowledge Management equivalent
So let's try the same conversation in KM terms, again finding out how the customers organisation uses the product (or uses Knowledge, in this case), establishing the importance of the knowledge, selling something wider than KM (such as success or reassurance), and then asking for the buy.
CEO: Sell knowledge management to me
KMer: When do your people use knowledge?
CEO: Every day, when making decisions.
KMer: Tell me about some of the important decisions, where knowledge is critical
CEO: Umm, maybe the bidding process. The bid teams need knowledge of how to craft a bid, how to price it, and how to set the margin so that we win the work and also bring in a good income stream.
KMer: I can see that bidding knowledge would be absolutely vital. If we had a situation where every bid team had complete access to the knowledge they needed, how much more business do you think we could win?
CEO: I don't know, but the next two bids are billion-dollar bids which are crucial to the company future.
KMer: And how certain are you that your bidding group are currently handling this vital billion-dollar knowledge in a rigorous, systematic managed way?
CEO: To be honest, I could not tell you.
KMer: That bidding knowledge is potentially a billion dollar asset for the organisation. If the bid teams have the knowledge, we win those bids. If they don't, we lose. And if something is as valuable as that, then as CEO you deserve to be reassured that this asset - this knowledge - is being properly managed, because the future of the company may depend on it.
There are things we can do to manage that knowledge better, and to make it available to key staff such as the bid teams, who make the decisions on which the future of the company depends. This is what we call Knowledge Management, and this approach is used by many of the Fortune 500s who need the reassurance that their critical knowledge is well managed.
I am not asking you to buy Knowledge Management, I am asking you to try it out; perhaps in the bidding area, or perhaps another part of the business where knowledge is critical to success. If you’re not happy with it, then we progress no further. If it works, and helps deliver value, then we take it further. What do you say?
If you are a knowledge manager responsible for KM implementation, then learn how to sell. See if you can become the Wolf of KM Street! Don't start by extolling the virtues of KM, or the ROI you might expect; start by finding how much your customer values knowledge and where their knowledge hotspots are, and then sell into that need. Find that "something wider" that coul can sell.
Contact us if you need any help in building your argument.