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Selling in the Connected Workplace

While at SXSW last month, Altimeter Group’s Chris Silva and I sat down to talk about his latest research on the connected workplace.  His research, due out later this month, looks at changes in the workplace and how organizations are leveraging technologies to break down physical barriers and become more connected.

Silva conducted twenty in-depth interviews of organizations that are using collaborative and mobile technologies, and here’s the nugget: we’re not as far along as he expected.  Only about twenty percent of today’s businesses are moving full steam ahead and making significant workplace changes.  And when there is adoption, it starts with the entrepreneurs and the creatives.

Here’s a peek into our discussion as well as other findings:

Forrester’s Rob Koplowitz echoed some of Silva’s findings and highlighted similar adoption trends in his recent webinar on social business and collaboration success. He said technology adoption typically starts with sales and marketing departments.

The Song Remains the Same

My recent discussions have had a feeling of déjà vu, or me assuming the role of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day where he keeps reliving the same day.  The above trend is the same story that has played out several times throughout my career, except there’s no Andie MacDowell.  In 2001 when I worked at Motiva (now part of Oracle) we started using WebEx and then  Adoption followed the buddy path from sales to marketing, fueled by cross cubicle banter.

“Check it out!” said a colleague. “I can share my awesome sales deck with Pfizer via my desktop! No more emailing back and forth. Just connect and present.” For him, it was almost like being there; except he wasn’t. He was shouting over his cubicle next to me.  His excitement, while disturbing my work of the moment, was infectious. The technology helped him be smarter, faster, better at what he did.  Why? Speed and service meant cash in his pocket.  It was a short hop to see how these new technologies could help me with media and analyst calls.

Not surprisingly, the Sales team (looking for every advantage to close the deal) has always been among the earliest adopters. They gladly take on the risk because any gain could mean a bigger commission. And if it doesn’t work?  They move on.  Those technologies that bank the deals then go viral within the department. The “creatives” that Silva highlights soon follow because they by their nature embrace newness but are also driven by an equal sense of urgency: deadlines must be made, quality must be maintained. Finding the latest thing means advancing your career.  Getting there first merits additional kudos.

And so it went in 2001.  WebEx and Salesforce spread throughout our organization–first in sales then in marketing. Last on the uptake were finance and operations who went along kicking and screaming.   They’ve never been big risk takers and that’s precisely the point.  To move past “Go” you have to have to have an end goal in mind.  Gartner’s Anthony Bradley writes about this saying the “provide and pray” only nets a 10% success rate which aren’t odds the finance people or ops staffers would willingly take. Sales and marketing types aren’t limited by such constraints, preferring to focus on the upside.

Finding the Field of Dreams

If you build it, will they come? Silva, Koplowitz and Bradley all suggest that it’s going to take more than making the technology available to reap enterprise benefits of mobile, social and collaborative technology.  For Bradley it starts with finding, and articulating, a purpose for that technology.  Silva adds that organizational behavior must change, which is fittingly playing a bigger role in his research agenda.

For many of us, the problem with all this shiny technology is that it often ends up leading us on a trip to nowhere. Show us a shorter path to the Promised Land and you can bet that we’ll scramble to find our place in line.

More often than not it’s sales guy/gal down the hall that’s trailblazing for the rest of us.

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