An influencing strategy for introducing KM

Introducing Knowledge Management into an organisation is largely a process of influencing, advocating and selling. Here is some guidance on which influencing tools to use as your program progresses. 

I wrote a blog post just before lockdown, listing 9 influencing tactics you can use when introducing Knowledge Management.   The 9 tactics come from The Farnham Street blog (reporting on the book Mind Gym) and are as follows:

  1. Reasoning – the process of using facts, logic, and argument to make a case. 
  2. Inspiring – focusing on the heart rather than the head, appealing to emotions and creating the vision. 
  3. Asking Questions – leading the other person to make their own discovery of the value of Knowledge Management. 
  4. Cosying Up You almost always feel positive toward someone who makes you feel good about yourself. 
  5. Deal Making – when you give another person something in return for their agreement with you. “
  6. Favour Asking – simply asking for something because you want or need it. 
  7. Using Silent Allies (aka social proof)
  8. Invoking Authority – appealing to a rule or principle. 
  9. Forcing “Do it or else.” 

The picture above shows when, and at what level, to use the different tactics, depending on the phase of implementation.

  • Reasoning, Inspiring and Question-asking are useful at any stage, but are your prime strategies in the early stages of implementation, and when working with senior management. By using these techniques, you help make the business case and sell the vision of KM.
  • Deal making, favour asking and cosying up come into their own when trying to influence middle managers to host a KM pilot.
  • The use of social proof and silent allies is particularly important during the roll-out phase. You can use success stories from the piloting phase to influence others to try, and adopt, KM.
  • Invoking authority and forcing can only be used late on, during or after roll-out, once KM has become a clear corporate expectation. However once the expectation is clear, then these tactics are very powerful. 

Choose your influencing tactic depending on the stage your implementation program has reached. 

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9 influencing tactics to use when promoting KM

The Farnham Street blog (reporting on the book Mind Gym) describes nine tactics you can use to influence others, while making the point that ““it is essential that you understand the other person’s reasons so you can use tactics that will work to persuade them, as opposed to tactics that would work on you.”

Let’s see how these nine tactics can be used when promoting Knowledge Management

1. Reasoning  –  the process of using facts, logic, and argument to make a case. You would use this to make a business case for Knowledge Management, but need good evidence to back it up. “Knowledge Management, if applied to the bidding process, should improve our bid conversion rate by 20%, which would be worth $5 million in new business. We calculated this by looking at the bid losses over the last 3 years that would have been avoided through re-use of knowledge and best practices”.  Reasoning will almost certainly be necessary to support your case, but it is likely that other influencing techniques will create the “sell”.

2. Inspiring  –  focusing on the heart rather than the head, appealing to emotions and creating the vision. You would use this when your Knowledge Management business case is weak or unclear and you want a high level of emotional commitment. The inspiring tactic demands conviction, energy, and passion. “Imagine what it would be like to have knowledge at our fingertips – to know, at every decision point, what we have tried in the past, what works and what doesn’t work. We hold 5,000 years of experience in the heads of our staff – imagine what would be possible if that resource was available to everyone in the building”. Inspiring works well as a sell in the early stages of KM implementation, especially when backed up by a business case. See a list of KM visions here – some more inspiring than others!

3. Asking Questions – leading the other person to make their own discovery of the value of Knowledge Management. See the example here –   “When do your people use knowledge? Tell me about some of the important decisions, where knowledge is critical? If we had a situation where every person facing such a decision had complete access to the knowledge they needed, how much more business do you think we could win?  And how certain are you that people in this situation are currently handling this vital knowledge in a rigorous, systematic managed way?”  This is one of the more difficult tactics to use because it is impossible to know how the other person will respond and you have to be able to think on your feet, but is one of the most powerful approaches to use when talking to senior staff.

4. Cosying Up You almost always feel positive toward someone who makes you feel good about yourself. This is the cosying up tactic. “Dan, you are the smartest and most progressive leader in the whole management layer, and I know you are always looking for the next way to really improve your department. Let me tell you about this new thing called Knowledge Management”. Don’t use this approach when talking to people who are much more senior than you, when cosying up can look like sucking up.

5. Deal Making  – when you give another person something in return for their agreement with you. “Susie, if you agree to host a Community of Practice pilot, then in return I will support your expansion proposal in the next seniors meeting”  or, in an even braver approach (where you need a good reasoning argument to back it up), “Susie, I would like to make a deal with you. Let me set up a Knowledge Management pilot in your part of the business, and I guarantee you a 10% improvement in your results within 3 months.”  See for example the “KM deal with senior management”. Your ability to use this approach depends very much on your ability to offer something in return.

6. Favour Asking – simply asking for something because you want or need it.  “Davide, I really need a favour. I need an area of the business to set up a trial Lesson Learning System, and your department would be perfect. Can you help me?” This tactic works well only when the other person cares about you or their relationship with you. If used sparingly, it is hard to resist, but be aware you may have to pay back the favour at some time.

7. Using Silent Allies (aka social proof – using the fact that others use KM as an argument in its favour. This involves showing or telling stories of other people, as similar as possible to the person you want to influence, gaining value from Knowledge Management. This may be people from other organisations – “Did you know all our competitors are doing KM already? Let me tell you what the head of Acme said about it last week“, or people from your own organisation – “Here is one of our engineers talking about how the CoP helped him deliver his project ahead of time“. Beware of the “Yes, but we are different” response, and also of the CEO that says “We don’t want to copy the competition”.  Also for this technique to work, you need a success case somewhere you can draw from. However social proof is the most powerful convincing mechanism for most people, especially the knowledge workers and users of the framework.

8. Invoking Authority –  appealing to a rule or principle. “You have to hold your lessons learned meeting – it says so in the project procedure“. It doesn’t matter whether the authority invoked is formal or implicit, so long as it is recognized by the person you are trying to influence. This technique is one you use once you have the support of senior management, when the Knowledge Management policy (or equivalent) is in place, and when KM has become a clear expectation.  The downside is that it is more likely to lead to compliance than commitment, but well facilitated compliance can still deliver excellent results.  This is a technique to use once KM has been implemented, and you need to drive it’s application.

 9. Forcing “Do it or else.” The best example of the use of this tactic in KM comes from Bob Buckman, CEO of Buckman Labs, and his memo that says “if you are unwilling to contribute (your knowledge), the many opportunities open to you in the past will no longer be available”.  Or as Melissie Rumizen said about the same organisation, “In Buckman labs we reward knowledge sharing. If you do it, we reward you by letting you keep your job”. This is a technique that senior management can use on your behalf, and which may need to be used to remove the past few vestiges of non-compliance with KM expectations. This can only be used after KM implementation is complete, and you are looking to

People change their minds for their own reasons, not for your reasons. If you are using only one tactic to promote KM (Reasoning is the most commonly used tactic, even though it is largely ineffective), and its not working, then try something else. Also be prepared to change your tactic as your Knowledge Management implementation program progresses.

Learn these 9 techniques – you will need them to market and sell KM within your organisation.

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How to sell KM – what we can learn from the Wolf of Wall Street

The knowledge manager, seeking to lead the change to a Knowledge Management culture in their own organisation, needs to know how to sell their product. 

Image from wikimedia commons

As a Knowledge Manager, you are asking people to pay attention to something (knowledge) which previously has been ignored. You are asking them to reprioritise, and you are “selling” the need to do something different. Like it or not, you are in the sales business, selling KM.

How then can we sell? What are the selling skills that a Knowledge manager needs?

We can pick up one or two tips from the classic film “the Wolf of Wall Street,” which 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 believe 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 this LinkedIn article 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. Remember – you cant sell something until you understand the buyer and their needs.

CEO: Do me a favor, sell me this pen.
Salesperson: Let me ask you, when was the last time you used a pen?
CEO: This morning.
Salesperson:  Do you remember what kind of pen that was?
CEO: No.
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 disposable 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 Elon Musk’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 – knowledge of how to craft the bid, how to price it, and how to set the margin-  in a rigorous, systematic managed way? How do you know they are learning from every bid this company has made, rather than the ones they personally have been involved in?
CEO: To be honest, I could not tell you. I assume they are, but I don’t know.
KMer: Well, there you go. 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 it’s not right that you should have to just assume. You deserve to be fully assured 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 right now, 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. We will see what value it delivers, and 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 asking questions and understanding the buyer. Find how your customer uses knowledge, how valuable that knowledge is and where their knowledge hotspots  or pain points are, and then sell into that need.  Find that “something wider” that you can sell – reassurance, or pride, or the opportunity to beat the competition.

Learn to sell KM, as if you were learning to sell a pen

Contact us if you need any help in building your argument.

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Marketing KM in your organisation – know your 3 market segments

When marketing KM internally in your organisation there are 3 market segments you need to understand.

To a large extent, the Knowledge Manager is a salesperson, selling the concept of KM to an organisation.

Every salesperson needs to know their market and their customer base, and for selling Knowledge Management, you can think in terms of three market segments.

1) The one in five people who instinctively “get” KM.

About 20% of staff are supporters of the idea from the beginning. Their response to KM is an enthusiastic “Yeah!”, or even “Hell Yeah!”. When you talk to a room full of people about KM, the “KM Light Bulb” will switch on over the heads of about a fifth of your audience. That 20% will become your allies, your supporters and the early adopters.

2) The 3 in 5 people who don’t care about KM one way or the other

They don’t get it instinctively, the light bulb doesn’t switch on. Their response is “Maybe”.  They will engage in KM if they have to, if it’s part of the job, of if everyone else is doing it. If they don’t have to do it – if KM is voluntary, or “encouraged” – they won’t bother. They have better things to do. They just want to get on with their job. For these people, we need to make KM “part of the job”.

3) The remaining 1 in 5 who really don’t like KM at all

They are the firm “No”s. They think it a waste of time, or a personal threat, or a way of “stealing their ideas”. These people will resist KM, unless it is made unavoidable and fully embedded into performance management so that their job prospects suffer if they refuse to share.

There are a few implications of these demographics.

Firstly, if you introduce KM from the bottom up, you only reach about 20% of the people.

If you introduce some new KM tools and allow people the time and space to use them, then KM behaviours will emerge, but only among about 20% of the population (this 2016 blog post suggests 24% average adoption). You will get a lot of buzz, you will find some exciting projects, but you are preaching to the choir. The KM fans will create a KM bubble, but you won’t penetrate the rest of the organisation, so 80% of the knowledge remains untapped and unmanaged. A 2013 Gartner report showed even worse figures, and concluded that a “Provide and Pray” approach has just a 10% success rate.

Secondly, you need to use the 20% of enthusiasts to make the case to management

Management are not going to set the expectation or the requirement, unless they believe KM really adds value. So use the 20% who are your supporters and early adopters to conduct the pilots, deliver the benefits and write the case studies that will convince management to set KM as a corporate expectation. Use this resource as a stepping stone to the next step. To continue the ecclesiastical metaphor, its OK to preach to the choir, if you then use the choir to produce the required miracles that will convince others.

Finally, you won’t complete the journey until KM becomes inescapable

If the company is committed to KM, then the last 20%, who really don’t like it, need to know that their future is at risk if they continue to avoid or sabotage the KM efforts. If you let KM remain optional – if you let people avoid it with no sanction and no follow-up – then the word gets round, the 60% stop doing it (as they have other things to get on with), and you get to the “the tipping back point“. Soon there’s nobody in the church except the choir.

The proportions may vary from company to company and may not always be 20%, 60%, 20%. In a truly progressive company, it may be 40%, 55%, 5%. In a cynical old-style firm, or a public sector department riddled with politics, it might be 5%, 50%, 45%

However the market segments will be there, and your KM implementation program needs to recognise this.

Its fun to preach to the choir – you get lots of positive feedback – but it won’t get you very far in the long run.

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"Buried Treasure" – A KM selling point to senior management

This is an argument you can use with your senior management, when trying to sell Knowledge Management.

Image from wikimedia commons

Knowledge is a resource you already own; you just haven’t properly monetized it yet. 

Any organisation is rich with knowledge, and our organisation pays a lot for knowledge already (60% of the non-capital spend according to Larry Prusak). That knowledge is a very powerful resource, but it’s mostly locked away in silos, and in the heads of individuals. 

All you need to to, do release the value of that knowledge, is start to link up the people so the knowledge can be sought and shared.  

You don’t need to buy the knowledge – you own it already. All you need to do it free it up to move to where it is needed. It’s like a buried treasure, buried in your own back yard, and Knowledge management is the spade you can use to dig it up.

The great advantage of this selling point is that it calls on two primary instincts; the instinct for Gain, and the instinct to not Lose something you already own. It also suggests sunk costs – that you have spent so much on knowledge already – and that KM is a modest on-the-top expense to liberate that sunk cost.

Try it with your senior managers – it just might work!

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How to structure your KM elevator pitch

Everyone needs an elevator pitch for KM. Base it around these 3 questions. 

The elevator pitch is your 30-second attemtp to sell KM to a senior manager you meet in an elevator. It needs to be short, concise, and engaging.

According to this blog post by Dan Steer, it needs to answer 3 questions – the 3 questions every listenter to your pitch will have

These are;

  • What’s your point?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • What do you want me to do?
If you can answer these three questions in advance, then you have the perfect Knowledge management sales pitch for your internal stakeholders. For example

“Knowledge Management is something new we are trying – a systematic way of ensuring that your people at all levels have instant access to the knowledge they need to make the right decisions and take the right actions. 

It can save you time and money, save you from repeat mistakes made elsewhere in the past, and help you deliver a better result. 

Can you work with me to choose a suitable pilot area in your business unit where KM can add some real value?”


“We are losing work because our bid teams don’t have good enough access to the knowledge they need to land the bid. 

I think we can fix that, and  in quite a simple way. 

Can I have 10 minutes of your time this week to explain in more detail?”


“Some of our most critical know-how is in the heads of people who will retire soon, and if we don’t do something about it, that capability will be lost to us. For example (give example of imminent knowledge loss).

We can cover this risk, if we act now and act strategically. 

I would like to book an hour with you to tell you how our competitors are addressing this issue, and what our options are?”

You will need to word the pitch yourself, but remember to answer the three questions.

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The "KM ROI" question – problem or opportunity?

Your manager comes to you and says “I like the idea of Knowledge Management, but you have to give me an ROI figure”. Is this a problem, or an opportunity?

At first sight this is a problematic request, as the ROI for KM is notoriously difficult to predict. If your manager wants you to sell KM on a firm ROI prediction, you have some difficult thinking to do (we can help).

However there are five things that make this question into a real opportunity for your KM program.

1) Top Management are talking to you. You have access to them, and they are listening to you. A conversation with senior management has opened up. As a KM sales person, you need to make the most of this, and you need to determine the selling point for KM.  ROI will not be the selling point – most firms buy KM on emotion and not logic – but management will still need a convincing ROI to justify the purchase.

2) You have the opportunity to show them some success stories which demonstrate a very high ROI. KM can deliver fantastic ROI – our October 2012 Newsletter gives many examples of KM ROI and how it can be measured, and this blog has published a regular series of quantified success stories, with 117 examples to date. There is plenty of evidence you can show them from industrial organisations where KM has paid back its investment ten-fold or a hundred-fold, and plenty of success stories you can use as social proof.

3) You have the opportunity to make a deal with them.Ask them for permission and support to pilot knowledge management in one part of the organisation, and to measure the return. You promise them ROI from the pilot, and if this ROI is big enough, you ask them for their continued support in return.

4) You have the opportunity to offer to use KM to solve some of their real problems. Don’t forget, KM works extremely well when applied at senior level – its not just for the frontline staff. Senior managers are knowledge workers too. If you can solve their problems through KM, they will become your greatest advocates.

 5) A big ROI gives you permission to ask for a big budget. Once your management realise how valuable KM can be, then they are more likely to make a sizeable investment. This could be the chance you were looking for to build a proper KM program with a good chance of success.

So look on this request as an opportunity to engage, and broker a deal, at the highest level.  Your aim should be to gain support for a business pilot, through which you can demonstrate ROI, and if that ROI is convincing enough, to gain further support for full KM roll-out.

The ROI conversation could be the best opportunity you are given to progress KM. 

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The four most dangerous words in KM

There are four dangerous words you hear a lot when introducing KM. Here’s how to respond to them.

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“This organisation is different”

Those are the four words, and they usually appear in this context.

  • “Here is a story about how knowledge management helps organisations like this one”
  • “Yes it might work in that story, but our organisation is different; why should it work here?”
Sometimes it gets silly;
  • “Here is how KM works in legal firms”
  • “Yes, but those examples are all from large legal firms – we are different”
  • “Well, here’s a small legal firm using KM”
  • “Yes, but that’s a US firm and we are Canadian. We are different”
  • and so on
This comeback is one of the 5 most common objections to KM, and you hear it from senior managers when talking about KM at organisational level, and you hear something similar from project managers when talking about KM at project level (“We can’t learn from the past – this project is different“).

These are very dangerous words

They represent at best a closed attitude, and at worst a fundamental unwillingness to learn – a sort of arrogance, almost.  In a way they are true – every organisation is different. But on the other hand, every organisation is the same; all are made up of people who have to make decisions, and who need knowledge to make those decisions.
The way to address this argument is not to tackle it head-on – not to say “No, you are not different, you are just the same as everyone else” – but to start to discuss the details of when KM might be needed. For example;
  • “OK, you are different. Let’s explore a bit how you use knowledge in your unique organisation. Give me an example of when your people might really need access to knowledge”
  • “Well, it’s important to us to win work. When our people are in front of the client, and the client asks if we have any experience with a particular sort of project, it would be good if our people knew the answer so they could reassure the client”
  • “That’s a good example. How do they get that knowledge at the moment?”
  • “They need to know it already. That’s why we only send out most experienced people on client visits”
  • “What difference would it make if all your people had that knowledge at their fingertips?”
  • “We could make a lot more pitches and presentations, and I think we would see an increase in win rate”
  • “Would you like to hear how other companies have made that possible?”

The point is that every organisation is different, but the problems and issues they face are much the same, and when those problems are knowledge-related, KM can help.

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Selling KM based on emotion

You have have made a logical business case for KM at your organisation, but nobody buys things based on logic.

People generally buy things based on emotion (“I must have that – it looks so cool”), and then convince themselves by logic that is was a Good Decision.

Knowledge Management is no different. You need to present your senior managers with an emotional case for Knowledge Management that they will buy into, then back this up with a logical business case that shows it was a great decision.

So how do you make the emotional case? Try some of these approaches

  1. All our competitors are doing KM already. The sale is based on Fear of being left out. “We had better catch up with the others”.
  2. None of our competitors are doing KM yet – we can beat them to the draw. The sale is based on the lure of Exclusivity (“Be the first on your block to have Knowledge Management), but it is a risky sale, as senior management may wonder WHY none of the competitors are doing it.
  3. All the Big Companies are doing KM. This sale is based on Envy and Aspiration – the reasons why people buy BMWs. You tell them great stories about the MAKE award winners, and how much value they get from KM. You tell them about TI’s “free fabrication plant”, or Shell’s $200m pa from CoPs. Use some of our success stories as bait for the logical case, but the sell is “If so many Big Organisations do it, it must be good. Let’s copy the Big Boys”.
  4. Clients are beginning to demand KM as “part of good business”. This is another Fear-based sale – “If we don’t have KM, we won’t be able to compete”. KM has already appeared in ISO Standard 9001, and there will soon be an ISO KM Standard, and clients will want to make sure you are up to standard.
  5. We will look stupid if we can’t manage knowledge. Tell them the story of the client with a good knowledge management framework, who could see their contractor (who had no KM) making the same expensive repeat mistake around the world. This is a Fear-based sale – nobody wants their client to discover repeat mistakes.
  6. We are at real risk if we don’t have have knowledge management. “We can’t carry on like this!” This is an effective sale for ageing industries, with age-loaded demographics, where you can show figures about projected expertise-loss. You show how the company will have lost 20% of its brainpower in the next 5 years (or whatever the figures are), and you talk about the risk that this poses to continued effective operation. Sell the idea that Doing Nothing is a Bad Choice.
  7. There’s a massive advantage if we do have Knowledge Management. This is the Greed Sell, but it’s hard to divorce this from the logical sell. The best way to present this to your senior management is to say “We have this Knowledge already. We have already paid for it. It’s an underused asset. All we need to do it monetise it”. That’s a bit more subtle than a Greed Sell – it’s a “Wasted Value” sell.
  8. It’s cool. This is a risky sale, as KM has now lost the “Cool” cachet. It may have worked 15 years ago, but it’s hard to make it work now.
Then once you have piloted knowledge management, and have a success story to tell, then the sell for further investment is easy.

9. We tried it, it worked, we really liked it. Make sure that this story, this sell, is told not by you, but by someone within the business. Get a real quote from them, or (even better) get them on video  giving their feedback. This is your “happy customer” endorsement, and the happy customer has to come from within your company, has to speak with emotion, and has to talk about the solving of a real business problem.

Work out the Emotional Sell for KM, and back this up with a sound business case.

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