How to Sell KM to Leaders

Stan Garfield
6 min readJul 16, 2019

The single most important “KM sale” you can make is to your senior leaders. If you get them on board, everything else will be much easier. If you can’t, you need to keep trying until you do. To get their sponsorship and support, tell stories, make the business case, and sell the benefits. Please read on to learn about each of these methods, drawn from my book Proven Practices for Promoting a Knowledge Management Program.

Part 1 Telling stories — posted on 7/19/18 and 5/8/19 and 9/12/19

Proven practices for storytelling — KM Stories Obtain Leadership Commitment

Storytelling is a very useful tool to help obtain leadership commitment as you promote your KM program.

Before launching a KM program, tell stories that show the value it will provide. After the program starts, tell stories of early success. As the program matures, memorialize wins in the voices of actual users.

In The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, Steve Denning defines eight narrative patterns of organizational storytelling. Three are especially relevant to selling KM:

  • Motivate others to action: use narrative to ignite action and implement new ideas. The challenge of igniting action and implementing new ideas is pervasive in organizations today. The main elements of the kind of story that can accomplish this — a springboard story — include the story’s foundation in a sound change idea, its truth, its minimalist style, and its positive tone.
  • Get others working together: use narrative to foster collaboration that gets things done. The different patterns of working together include work groups, teams, communities and networks. Whereas conventional management techniques have difficulty in generating high-performing teams and communities, narrative techniques are well suited to the challenge.
  • Create and share your vision: use narrative to lead people into the future. Future stories are important to organizations, although they can be difficult to tell in a compelling fashion since the future is inherently uncertain. The alternatives available to a leader in crafting the future story include telling the story in an evocative fashion and using a shortcut to the future. Others include simulations, informal stories, plans, business models, strategies, scenarios and visions.

Storytelling should be incorporated in many KM implementation steps, activities, and components. Remember that the effectiveness of education and communication will be enhanced through the use of narratives rather than dry bullet points. For example, instead of creating the usual PowerPoint slides to present your KM program, tell stories about some typical users and the ways they apply the components of the KM program to help them do their jobs.

Part 2 Making the Business Case — posted on 7/26/18 and 9/19/19

Proven practices for making the KM business case

Make a logical case for how your KM program will help achieve the key business objectives of the organization. For example, if the top three objectives are increasing profits, accelerating sales, and improving customer satisfaction, explain how the elements of the program will have a positive impact on these. If profits increase, sales accelerate, and customer satisfaction improves, and there is a rational explanation for how knowledge management supported these results, then take partial credit. On the other hand, if the business results are not achieved, the assertion that KM is doing well won’t be positively received. You can try to argue that things would have been even worse without KM, but that would be a hollow victory.

Establish plausible scenarios and then extrapolate the benefits. For example:

  • If we save one project from repeating the same mistakes as previous projects, that could save $2 million, which will more than pay for the program. If we repeat this, the impact on profits is very large.
  • If by responding quickly to an opportunity with a proven solution using acknowledged experts, we win one $10 million project that we otherwise would have lost, that’s incremental revenue of $10 million. If we repeat this, the impact on revenue is very large.
  • If by ensuring that the best engineering product knowledge is reused, we avoid one product recall, we save the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

This type of business case can be very persuasive. Note, though, that it is not a strict return on investment (ROI) analysis. You can’t prove that the sole cause of any outcome was KM, and you can’t prove that a costly recall was avoided if it never happened. But you can point out that the probabilities of positive outcomes are significantly increased through KM.

Define the most painful problems that knowledge management can help prevent, such as:

  • Product recalls
  • Injuries or deaths
  • Lawsuits
  • Unprofitable products and services
  • Low employee morale
  • Lost customers
  • Damage to the brand
  • Inability to attract or retain talent
  • Diminished productivity, revenue, growth, profit margin, shareholder value
  • Becoming a takeover target

Ask compelling questions to help make a sound business case. For example:

  • Do we want to enable people to readily find deliverables from previous projects so that they can reuse them, and identify people who can provide useful advice on how to deliver the next one?
  • Do we want anyone who has a question, seeks a resource, or requires help to be able to easily, quickly, and reliably get what they need?
  • Do we want to avoid redundant effort, repeating the same mistakes over and over, and keeping important information from reaching the very people who need it?

In addition, work with analytics experts, statisticians, and academicians to produce correlations between desired knowledge-sharing actions and desired results, including employee advancement, project success, and financial performance. Optionally, do a one-time study to show the business benefits. There is often no need for ongoing collection and reporting of ROI, since it has been done once.

Part 3 Selling the Benefits — posted on 8/2/18 and 9/6/19

A few tips for selling the benefits of knowledge management

With any change initiative, all stakeholders want to know what’s in it for them; implementing a knowledge management program is no different. To help leaders understand the benefits for them personally, and for the organization overall, answer the following questions.

  1. Why should we implement a KM program? Articulate your vision.
  2. What exactly are the benefits? Develop a list of benefits (see the list below) and tie these to your organizational goals.
  3. How will a KM program help our organization accomplish its most critical objectives? Tie your Top 3 KM Objectives to the organization’s overall priorities.
  4. How will our organization improve as a result? Make the business case.
  5. How will our people’s needs, opportunities, and challenges be met? Share compelling use cases from analogous organizations and scenarios.

15 KM Benefits

  1. Better and faster decision making
  2. Users can easily find relevant information and resources
  3. Ideas, documents, and expertise can be reused
  4. No duplication of effort
  5. Mistakes aren’t repeated
  6. Existing expertise and experience can be leveraged
  7. Important information gets communicated widely and quickly
  8. Processes and procedures can be standardized and repeatable
  9. Methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples are available
  10. Unique expertise becomes widely accessible
  11. Customers can see exactly how knowledge is used for their benefit
  12. Accelerated customer delivery
  13. Organizations can leverage scale
  14. The best organizational problem-solving experiences are reusable
  15. Innovation and growth are stimulated



Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager