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Social learning for sales effectiveness, customer engagement and better onboarding


Social learning can help boost a business in many ways. Naren Patil explores three areas that will help keep your business learning and growing.

Why care about social learning?

 "80% of learning and knowledge transfer occurs through informal, tacit learning activities."
The Business Impact of Social Computing on Corporate Learning, Carol Rozwell, Gartner

In a rapidly changing business environment, where employees are expected to be always available, employees cannot sit and wait for answers to their daily questions. In this environment, time is of the essence. Employees need to access what they need immediately instead of waiting for a formal training course that may address these situations.

In many instances, the formal training they received often is not sufficient to help them address these uncertain situations. For example, when a sales representative is trying to close a strategic deal at the end of the quarter, in the midst of uncertain environment around global budget crises, she is facing a never-seen-before situation.

"The growing change gap is underscoring the need for rapid skill development in order to remain competitive."

Instead of searching for answers in an ocean of outdated content, she needs to get insights from a subject matter expert who has experienced similar situations and who can prepare her to close that strategic deal by providing expertise in real time.

She also needs to have confidence in this expert based on his track record and ratings provided by the sales community about his expertise. And once she successfully closes this strategic deal, she needs to bring back her experiential know-how and make it available to the rest of the sales community and help them benefit from her success.

The world is changing and at a rate faster than anyone could have imagined or prepared for. The workforce is not effectively able to keep up with the change and the change gap is increasing rapidly every year. The growing change gap is underscoring the need for rapid skill development in order to remain competitive.

Additionally, there are four generations in the workforce with a 40% of workforce in its last decade of active contribution. Unlocking the tacit knowledge in the brain of these retiring leaders is critical to ensure continued success and sustainability.

On top of these issues, companies are discovering that key employees, such as sales representatives, lose more than 84% of the know-how gained within 90 days of a formal training program. Continuous learning and knowledge retention is becoming critical in order to ensure continued effectiveness on the job, unlock organisational tacit knowledge and turn the pace of change into a strategic competitive advantage.

Six questions L&D leaders must ask

Before drilling into how to evangelize and implement social learning, L&D leaders must ask the following questions to help them identify and target top business problems that would deliver direct business impact:

  1. How can I help my business in sustaining the effectiveness of our sales force by helping them to increase knowledge retention when they don’t have time for refresher courses?
  2. How can we rapidly onboard new employees to speed up time to productivity?
  3. How can I help increase recertification and engagement of channel partners by helping them to increase knowledge retention when they don’t have time for refresher course?
  4. How can I help unlock and capture critical business know-how that we are losing with our retiring workforce?
  5. How can we rapidly develop new skills to keep the change gap low and enable our business to keep up with the pace of change?
  6. How can I increase user adoption and frequency of use of my learning solutions to foster continuous learning so that we can realize greater ROI from our investments?

Answers to these questions would be helpful in understanding the areas of business you may want to introduce social learning, the most critical use cases that will deliver value and be able to demonstrate measurable results.  

Identifying high impact use cases

There is a lot of interest in social learning and intuitively it just seems like the right thing to do but most L&D teams are not sure where to get started, where they can apply it and what are the high impact use cases that will help them show results.

After collaborating with hundreds of best in class companies, research have identified patterns of success when companies implement social learning for following use cases:

  • Sales force effectiveness: An average learner loses over 84% of know-how within 90 days after a formal training programme. The drop in their knowledge of new products or positioning directly impacts revenues. That is the reason why you would hear sales management insisting on quarterly refresh training programmes. However, the sales reps get busy chasing critical deals, they are on the road and often unable to take time away for a refresher course. Social learning can help enhance the know-how gained with continuous peer-based learning, engaging with communities, discussion and Q&A forums, asking questions to experts, exchanging best practices, and getting help from coaches/mentors. In a nutshell, social learning plays a critical role by not just sustaining but enhancing the know-how of the sales force with on-the-job, community-based learning without waiting for a formal refresher program.
  • Channel and extended-enterprise engagement: The difference between a successful channel partner and others is usually the difference between their engagement levels. The key question is – how do you ensure that all your channel partners are engaged when they are busy selling and are unable to find time for a refresher training programme? Again, social learning plays a critical role in engaging and making the channel partners more effective with on-the-job, community based continuous learning that consists of communities, discussion forums, access to experts and ability to rapidly share best practices and new insights.
  • Strategic on-boarding: When new employees come on board, how long does it take for people to be productive? The faster the time to productivity, the greater is their level of engagement, their likelihood of staying in the company longer and their ability to impact business outcomes. Strategic on-boarding that involves social learning helps employees form key connections with experts, communities, coaches and mentors very quickly. In addition to the formal training programmes, these connections allow them to get help or questions answered quickly without getting frustrated due to lack of direction. They key connections also become their sounding board to share new ideas and innovations before opening it up to a broader audience.
  • Customer service excellence: Quality of customer service directly impacts revenue, customer churn and bottom line. When customer service representative is handling a critical customer escalation, she needs answers and expertise immediately. She can’t afford to wait for the next formal training programme. Social learning plays a critical role in a their ability to rapidly resolve a customer issue with on-the-job, community based continuous learning that consists of Q&As, access to experts, discussion forums, communities, and ability to rapidly share best practices and new insights.

What to look for in a social learning solution

  • The social learning solution should seamlessly work with your existing learning management system. Social learning is meant to augment your formal learning solution to offer continuous learning. You are not replacing your LMS or formal learning unless you are unhappy with it for other reasons.
  • It should allow you to create communities and domains for targeted training and enable rapid sharing of know-how, new insights and best practices.
  • The ability to create and access domain-specific interest groups and search not just content but experts, mentors and informal learning activities.
  • The ability to share information with a targeted set of people or communities and also follow a focused set of communities and domain experts.
  • The social learning solution should allow users to comment, rate, tag and bookmark user-generated, experiential content in addition to your existing formal course content.
  • It should allow you to add third-party content as well as ability to create, rate and certify content rapidly.
  • The social learning solution should offer ability to collaborate with remote co-workers, experts and coaches via virtual meetings and video conferencing capabilities.
  • It should provide the ability to deliver content anytime and anywhere via mobile devices to meet the need of your mobile workforce.
  • The social learning solution should be scalable to thousands of concurrent users to meet the demand of your growing communities and networks.


Social learning, when combined with your formal learning, enables continuous learning that helps you rapidly build new skills, share know-how and retain/enhance the knowledge you gained via formal training programnes. It helps drive user adoption and frequency of usage so that you can realise greater return on investment from your investments. In a nutshell, social learning rapidly enhances knowhow of your workforce to drive sales effectiveness, channel engagement and new-hire productivity.

Naren Patil is senior director of product marketing at Saba Software. By combining learning, people management and collaboration technologies, Saba delivers solutions that help mobilise and engage people to drive new strategies and initiatives, align and connect people to accelerate the flow of business, and cultivate individual and collective knowhow to achieve exceptional results. Learn more information about Saba Social Learning at:


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