The way that organizations learn today is much different than twenty years ago. Back then, for example, managers learned by thumbing through business and trade magazines. Maybe they picked up an idea in from the Wall Street Journal. Occasionally they would go to seminars or read a book about a topic. Maybe they would read an academic article or attend a university lecture.
Today it seems it is all about the Internet. I do not only mean learning by just accessing articles or webcasts, often using a search engine, but also via e-mail and social networks with others external to their organization. What is the new trend in learning and in particular how organizations learn about enterprise performance management methodologies like strategy maps, scorecard measurements, customer profitability and value management, rolling financial forecasts, analytics, and business intelligence just to name a few?
In the past people might learn by reading or seeing content provided by suppliers and vendors, such as white papers. However they might view the vendor as having a self-serving agenda or bias toward the vendor’s own offerings. In seeking the opinion of someone they can trust, it has become increasingly convenient to communicate with someone external to one’s organization. This person may be someone working in a similar position elsewhere or a prior work colleague or university classmate. It is just so easy now to write an e-mail with a question and receive a reply – word of mouse.
The Internet keeps giving, and new learning by people can be viral as education circulates. In my domain of enterprise performance management I learn from subject matter experts or managers who have attempted to implement methodologies like an automated marketing campaign management system that targets sales prospects like a laser and increases the hit-rate.
Research is revealing that buyers are increasingly viewing suppliers as offering commodities with little difference. (A short webcast about this research is the webcast’s fifth bullet, Let the Seller Beware.) Of course there are differences in vendor products, but they can be hard to detect. Buyers are willing to interact with a supplier if the supplier can bring them ideas and innovation. For example, a supplier may demonstrate thought leadership by helping a buyer learn how the buyer may be able to better serve their own customers and stakeholders. But to validate if a supplier is reliable to purchase products or services from, buyers increasingly are using social networks. This may be done passively, like seeking 5-star reviews posted by others for a book or restaurant, or more overtly by communicating with someone you know (or may start getting to know) for their opinion.
The implication to sellers is they must increasingly demonstrate thought leadership and their subject matter experts need to be actively involved with the same social networks and communities that their potential buyers are participating in. Business is a contact sport. If you are not involved with contacts, then you are out of the loop.