knowledge management

3 Reasons Why Q&A in the Enterprise Fails and How to Fix it

Alex Yamamoto
May 4, 2015
Read Time: 7 mins

When you have a question you need someone on your team to answer, where do you go? Your first instincts are probably either your company's messaging app, email, or the good ol' fashioned shoulder tap. Why is that? A simple answer is because we want responses to our questions in the fastest, easiest way possible for us. Going to another destination (app) to ask a question feels like extra work to us. But diving even deeper, unconsciously or not, "faster and easier" leads us to optimize for the benefit of askers (knowledge seekers), while neglecting the burden it places on the answerers (experts/knowledge creators). This misalignment in value between the question asker and answerer is the central reason why Q&A software in the enterprise fails today and manifests itself in 3 ways.

1. No Individual Accountability Creates Slow Response Time

When you ask a question on a social Q&A site like Quora, generally you are searching for expertise that you do not have direct access to. You hope the answer comes in a reasonable amount of time, but there is no expectation of an instant, qualified response. Folks will respond to your question only if they feel compelled to. They are not individually responsible to respond, even if they have an appropriate answer. Contrast that to a typical Q&A scenario a sales rep might face. Take for example, a situation where a prospect raises a technical question that she does not know the answer to. The rep probably has direct access to the expert (whether it's in person or via email/chat). She also has a good idea of the person/team who can answer their question. Finally and most importantly, she needs an acceptable answer in a reasonable amount of time.

The circumstances surrounding the two scenarios couldn't be any different. Yet, often times it's treated the same way by enterprise software. Enterprise Q&A solutions make questions available to the whole company to answer, in the hopes that more people = more (and better) answers. But the bystander effect tells us that the probability someone helps us is actually inverselyproportional to the number of people present. We experience it all the time when we think (and assume) someone else will answer the question. Rarely is it done with bad intentions either. Most of the time its because at the point in time we received the notification we were busy focused on something else. But since the question is addressed to a group, instead of an individual there is no urgency. In fact, we reassure ourselves that someone else will shoulder the burden of answering the question.

Now, if that question was addressed specifically to one individual, the answerer's response is different. That question now becomes a defined task the answerer must complete vs. a mind reading game of "Who Answered It." A sense of urgency is created as the individual feels a responsibility to give an accurate and timely response. No one wants to be "that guy/gal."

2. Stale Content Leads to Distrust

Email, chat, and Q&A software are all great at providing answers at that specific moment someone asks the question. Yet your business' information changes everyday. An answer given today on competitive positioning will certainly be different than the one given the next year, even the next month. When that information changes it would be great if our answers were automatically verified by experts on our team, but they aren't.

So when your rep is searching for how you position against X competitor in your messaging app, an email thread, or your Q&A software she may find what she is looking for. But, she noticed the response is 3 months old. Being the good rep that she is, she wants to make sure that answer is still the same today so she messages someone on the sales enablement team. She finds out that there are some new updates to the answer, so she takes what her enablement team says, crafts a thoughtful response, and sends it off to the prospect. Great outcome right? Well on the one hand, the rep found an answer, but she still needed to ask someone else to verify the information was still accurate. Even more troublesome, since her experience with the Q&A software did not solve her problem she now distrusts the solution. As a result, she is less inclined to search on your Q&A software again.

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that Q&A software optimizes forsearch not solve. You can very well find what you are looking for, but that does not mean it is still accurate. Since your problem remains unsolved, reps resort back to "faster and easier." This means more shoulder taps and one-off messages that lower the productivity of your experts. A cycle gets created as other reps experience the same problems. Experts receive even more shoulder taps and messages, leading to declining usage metrics on your Q&A software. Even worse, knowledge experts spend more time answering questions than creating new knowledge, lowering their productivity.

3. Shoulder Taps and One-off Messages Don't Scale

When a company has only a few reps, shoulder taps and one-off chat messages aren't that big of a deal. You all work close to each other, so sometimes shouting across the room just works better. But when you start to hire sales enablement, sales ops, and product marketing folks you probably have a sizable sales team. And when you look at the difference in number of your knowledge seekers (Sales, customer success, support) to your knowledge creators (sales op, enablement, product management/marketing) you can clearly see that knowledge seekers highly outnumber your knowledge creators.

So when your sole sales enablement person is tasked with fielding one-off messages or shoulder taps from 10 reps all of which are asking the same question, it is clear to see that this does not scale. In fact, the problem only gets worse as you grow. The problem with email, chat, or shoulder taps are that these mediums do not capture the knowledge shared with the whole team. Instead, knowledge gets trapped in lengthy email threads, chat exchanges, and in your rep's minds, never shared with your whole team.

A McKinsey report on knowledge worker productivity found a whopping 61% of their work week consists of reading and answering email, searching and gathering information, and internal communication and collaboration. Only 39% of time spent is on role-specific tasks. At the end of the day, the ideal outcome for Q&A software is to reduce time spent searching and communicating for information. The direct result being an increase in time spent on role-specific tasks. Yet, current Q&A solutions do not deliver on this promise, leading to poor adoption and resulting in a return of old habits that hampers the productivity of your knowledge workers.

So How Do We Re-Align Value for Askers and Answerers?

For Q&A to work efficiently as your company grows, you must think about it from both sides. What is important to the asker, and what is important to the expert answering questions.

For question askers:

  1. Stay within their workflow - The reason askers quickly resort back to email or chat is because it is already a part of their daily workflow. It's the path of least resistance. Much has been discussed on the benefits of designing systems, not destinations in the context of mobile. We believe browser extensions serve as an analog experience for desktops as push notifications are to mobile.

  2. Continuously verified content - Directly related to point #2, knowledge must stay up to date in order for askers to trust that they can use it. To reinforce this trust, it's important for askers to be 100% confident about whenthe content was last verified, and who verified it. In knowing this information, askers can leverage knowledge appropriately and build trust that's fundamental to the adoption of Q&A software.

For question answerers:

  1. Capture knowledge for the whole team - When a question gets answered, it must be visible to the entire team. The problem with shoulder taps and one-off messages are that knowledge remains trapped with that specific person and does not prevent someone else from asking the same questions. If all answers are captured in one place, there is no excuse for askers not to first search their Q&A tool to try and find what they are looking for.

  2. Reminders to verify content - It's not enough to expect your knowledge experts to update answers themselves on a continuous basis. By pushing reminders to them every so often (every week/month/quarter/year depending on the content), experts remember to update stale content.

  3. Show analytics on their answers - Want to keep your experts engaged and interested in answering questions? Show them the impact their answers have on your team! You should be able to provide them insights that the answers they have provided have been used X times by your team.

At the end of the day this value realignment creates accountability on both sides: askers first search for answers on their Q&A solution and answerers ensure content is verified on a continuous basis. Less time spent searching and asking for knowledge = less shoulder taps and one-off messages for experts = more productivity on role-specific tasks = more revenue :)

Want to learn about what kinds of solutions will work for your sales enablement needs? Download our newly released Guru Guide to Sales Enablement eBook! 100+ pages of content on how to build a sustainable sales enablement program and how to choose the right enablement solution for your team.