As a manager of the SAP Community Network, my relationship to the Sales and Marketing organizations within SAP is very close. While marketing understands the value proposition of online communities, values such as customer support cost reductions, lead generation, brand awareness, go-to-market campaigns, and etc., the sales organization is often left scratching its head. At a very basic level, online communities almost by definition provide a solution to the demands of a Marketing organization (i.e. grow the brand).

Sales, however, has a different story. The sales organization is rewarded for selling. Period. Sales reps are generally held accountable for deals closed and revenue targets on a quarterly and annual basis. In this case, online communities do not provide a solution.

Well, perhaps that is not entirely true. I know that online communities can play a significant role in the solution. The challenges the Sales organization have are a general misunderstanding of online communities, lack of business practices to allow for outside-in influence, and lack of tools necessary to make sense of the complex information and relationships that exist.

At the surface, these problems seem to be fundamental and easy to solve. Any IT person would simply offer to implement a Jive community system to provide the tools necessary. Community managers could provide extensive hands-on training to sales reps. Sales executives could change their reward structure to motivate their sales reps to be more active in online communities. But at the end of the day, the sales rep still will not use the online communities. Why? Because online communities as they are today do not help sales reps close more deals.

About a year and a half ago I was on a team that explored this problem in detail. The key objective was to deliver real value to the sales organization. We conducted a series of interviews with various sales reps across multiple geographies to discover how they work, the challenges they face, and specific problems with current practices and information systems. The key findings were very enlightening.

  1. Sales reps only spend about 20% of their time at a desk. The rest is spent traveling and in front of customers. They specifically expressed the need for better mobile-enabled solutions; traditional desktop applications will not work. They also expressed the need for real-time access to information. Because they are travelling and visiting with customers, timely access to information is often critical in order to successfully close deals.
  2. Sales reps primarily look for two things within the organization: topic experts and answers to questions. While sales reps have broad understanding of the products and solutions that they sell and can help customers throughout the buying decision, they may lack in-depth, technical knowledge to address all of the questions a customer may have. Additionally, sales reps often want to have topic experts participate in customer visits. Therefore, access to the right topic experts within the company is essential.

This summarizes nice and neatly into two use cases and one constraint: deliver a set of mobile applications that enables sales reps to find experts and get answers to questions. Given the complexity of the topic, I am only going to present the first use case: finding experts. Getting answers to questions and organizational learning from Q&A will be addressed on a future blog.

Finding Experts

How do we find experts within an organization? To answer this we must first understand what is an expert. Traditional community managers will say that the number of contributions to a topic space defines experts. Others might refer to a person’s working experience within a company. While these seem to be reasonable answers, they are not complete. The need from the sales organization is to find an expert who can address a customer’s problem in person, on the phone, or via email. We all have bright, intelligent people within our organizations, but not all of them can fulfill this need. So, clearly, there is more to expertise than a person’s contribution on a specific topic.

We conducted some research on defining an expert, and we were surprised to find quite a bit of work on this topic, including a Wall Street Journal article, “Who Knows What.” The first thing that became apparent was the realizations that there is no absolute expert, and that there are numerous dimensions that qualify the level of expertise. From our research we identified the following variables used to identify experts within our organization:

  • Trustworthiness: This is a measure of a person’s connectedness within a social network. Connecting with individuals is an expression of trust. For example, connecting or following people on a website is an explicit connection. Comments or likes on a blog or forum post are implicit relationships. This data is used to compute a person’s connectedness, which in turn infers the level of trustworthiness.
  • Extent of Knowledge: exhibited by the quantity of content contributed by a person on a given topic relative to the rest of the community population.
  • Communications Skills: a composite measure of grammatical correctness of all published content and total number of internal and external speaking engagements.
  • Willingness to Help: a composite measure of the total number of contributions, including posts, comments, and ratings, and the organizational closeness of the expert to the person seeking an expert.
  • Experience: a measure of the total time of postings and projects on a given topic.
  • Currency of Knowledge: a measure of the most recent postings on a given topic.
  • Awareness of Other Resources: a composite measure of connectedness within and outside of the organization and the number of systems / communities to which a person contributes content and participates as a member.

These seven dimensions are each calculated by topic relative to the total community population, and a final expert score can is computed based on a weighting of these variables. This in turn becomes a topic expert matrix and is updated continuously.

Data sources feeding all of this include numerous internal and external systems, such as CRM, HR, address book, project DB, community platforms, blogs, forums, wikis, sales management DBs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and etc. See figure 1 below.

SAP Talk Data Sources

The end-user application is a mobile application tailored to finding people. All expert dimensions are filterable by the sales rep. For example, if extent of knowledge is more important than communications skills, the rep could select the level of importance. Additional filters include geography and language spoken.


Finding the right person within the organization is a tough challenge. Leveraging community connections and interactions, a series of expertise dimensions can be measured and computed. Providing access to this information via a mobile device helps enable sales reps to find the right person within the organization to help close deals. In a future blog, I’ll discuss intelligent Q&A routing and learning.


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