“Teamwork makes the dream work!” It’s common rally cry from managers, encouraging team members to work together and contribute to each other’s success. Generally, collaboration is a good thing. A 2017 study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) found that organizations that encouraged collaboration were up to 5 times as likely to have high-performing teams.

While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of studies and research pieces that support the idea that collaboration increases overall productivity, it is possible for employees to become less productive if they are constantly being called upon to help their colleagues. Especially if it’s just for “a quick second”.

We recently conducted a survey to understand more about the biggest challenges salespeople encounter when it comes to productivity. We received over 1200 responses, and uncovered some interesting insights from salespeople about how their time is spent and where they could make improvements.

Seek and ye shall find?

One of the top activities that sales reps are spending significant time on each week is gathering information and looking for the answers they need to do their jobs. While sales reps in 2018 probably have access to more information than ever before, they are overwhelmed by multiple repositories and the volume of content available, and it makes it hard for them to filter through and zero in on the specific answers they’re looking for.

When the standard knowledge repositories aren’t delivering answers, where do sales reps get their information? Company marketing materials? Guess again! The materials being produced by the marketing department aren’t proving to be helpful to sales; in fact, 80% of respondents read less than half of the materials produced by the marketing team. And the answers they’re looking for aren’t necessarily found in marketing materials — their most pressing questions are about pricing, and technical aspects of the product.

So, what’s a sales rep to do? Many of them are turning to their neighbors, and often. Over 75% of sales reps who responded to our survey are asking their colleagues or managers for help up to 6 times per day. And that can have serious negative effects on the organization’s productivity overall.

Work, Interrrupted

These interruptions shouldn’t be such a big deal, right? When someone has a “quick question”, there should be a quick answer, and everyone can get back to work. But that’s not what’s happening.

In a recent study conducted by time management software vendor RescueTime, 64% of people surveyed indicated that their most common interruption was a face-to-face conversation, and that those are the hardest to ignore (while email interruptions are the easiest to ignore). And while those face-to-face interruptions might be brief, it can take a while to return to the same level of pre-interruption productivity.

While there are certainly circumstances where an interruption is warranted, and an immediate response is urgently needed, we’ve discovered through our work with a variety of companies that there’s a certain predictability to the questions salespeople, especially new salespeople, are asking. While a lot of required information is covered in training modules and knowledge bases, those resources can quickly become outdated, so managers and subject matter experts end up being interrupted and asked the same questions over and over. And these interruptions can be costly: author Jonathan Spira estimates that interruptions and information overload cost companies 28 billion wasted hours per year, to the tune of $1 trillion in lost productivity.

Turn Frequently Asked Questions into Frequently Automated Questions

So, if it’s costly to interrupt colleagues to ask questions, and knowledge bases are frequently out of date, what’s an organization to do? Enter artificial intelligence (AI).

Significant advances have been made in AI in recent years, particularly in the area of Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP is a branch of AI that helps computers understand and interpret human language. Many people are already leveraging the power of NLP in their everyday lives, through technologies like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, but there is a significant opportunity to bring these technologies into the workplace to democratize knowledge and dismantle information silos.

While humans don’t have the capacity to document, synthesize, and extract meaning from thousands or millions of data points, AI does — and it does so with remarkable accuracy. AI provides organizations with the opportunity to not only capture knowledge, but also to deliver knowledge back to members of the organization, in a format that’s most useful to them. The failure in most content/knowledge repositories is that the answer seeker often needs to know the answer in order to ask the question and retrieve the desired results. Introducing AI technologies to facilitate information sharing alleviates the pressure on humans to ask the right questions, and transfers that function to machines, which are much better equipped for the task.

This week’s post is by guest author Kelly Winter, Vice President of Marketing for Kiite, a 24/7 AI-powered chatbot that sits within your existing chat applications such as Slack. To learn more about Kiite, and why they were selected as a Smart Selling Tools Recommended Tool of the Week, visit their website.