Marc Benioff is right. Tribal knowledge has become an existential threat to every company.

Michael Katz
June 6, 2023
4 min read

It's been a challenging year for the tech industry, with widespread layoffs, economic headwinds, and bank failures impacting companies across the board. But amidst all the chaos, a key leak from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff went unnoticed by 99% of us. It sheds light on an issue that almost every company is facing, but that most leaders are ignoring.


As the founder of the fastest-growing enterprise software company of all time – now serving over 150k companies – Benioff has one of the most strategic vantage points of any CEO in the world. However, even Salesforce has faced economic headwinds, resulting in the need to cut more than 10% of their team - 7,000+ employees. Like many other companies, Marc has cited below average productivity from folks hired in the past few years.

But his diagnosis is different.

While other leaders are prescribing old solutions to new productivity problems, such as "better sales process," "more training," and "more coaching," Benioff is realizing that the landscape has changed – remote is now the norm and tenures are shorter. Relying on old solutions alone will leave gaping wounds.

The unique root cause

In a leaked company-wide Slack message, Benioff asked a question that shed light on his diagnosis: “Are we not building tribal knowledge with new employees without an office culture?”

This is a critical issue for every company, and it's especially important for revenue teams.

It’s worth taking a second to think about this in the context of Benioff and Salesforce. His company:

  1. Acquired Slack – software built to digitally connect employees, and
  2. Has one of the most respected revenue training organizations in the world

It’s become so bad that they’re reversing many remote work policies - and even shuttering a remote work research group – to stem the bleeding.

If this is an issue for Salesforce, it’s likely even worse for most other companies. Current training methods and sales processes are unable to solve these destructive tribal knowledge silos, and important knowledge isn’t making its way to the people who need it most. 

Put simply, employees don’t have the tools to execute in an evolving market.

What this knowledge looks like

When most people think of “knowledge management”, they think of docs, wikis, and content systems with process &resource guides. But this isn’t the “tribal” knowledge that your teams are missing.

The important tribal knowledge is the experiential knowledge that frontline employees gain on a daily basis through customer and prospect interactions, such as:

  • Proven tactics to handle specific customer objections or competitive tactics
  • Messaging, content, and stories that frontline reps are using to communicate value and win over customers
  • Strategies top performers are using to make customers successful and generate adoption
  • Customer and internal feedback

It's the knowledge that powers the success of a company’s founders and best employees, and that every employee needs to win. But without a clear system and process to capture and disseminate this information, it gets lost. Every employee must fend for themselves or at best, rely on their immediate team.

Consequences of siloed tribal knowledge

The circumstances driving tribal knowledge siloes are more acute than ever – lower employee tenure, remote-first work, less time with accounts, and more organizational change. 

And the consequences are severe. 

  • Rather than spending time delivering value for prospects and customers, employees are spinning their wheels recreating or retrieving knowledge and content, sitting through trainings, and worst at all, losing winnable deals. 
  • Teams are seeing major disparities in productivity and performance among individuals and teams. 
  • Your best people – the ones you know you can rely on – are overstaffed having to help out on every deal. 
  • Losing a top performer has an outsized negative effect on the company – made worse by the fact that every time you lose an employee, you're losing all of their knowledge and experience, 42+% of which is unique to them
  • Every time accounts change hands, roles change, or people leave, customers are seeing a disjointed organization, and new team members are starting from scratch.

What you can do about it

So, what can leaders do about it? Before training on the newest release or forcing more unsuccessful prospecting, they need to figure out their tribal knowledge strategy.

We’ll cover more of this in future posts, but there are a few key components for every leader to think about if they want to stop their brain drain and fix productivity issues:

  1. Capture & preserve experiential knowledge: Automate the capture & preservation of winning knowledge. This includes everything from winning tactics & stories to key content and messaging. Tenured employees’ existing tribal knowledge can be brought in to supplement new and ongoing information. 
  2. Disseminate peer stories: Establish a way for this knowledge to flow to the rest of the organization, especially newer hires and junior employees. This includes everyone from frontline sales & post-sales employees to leadership.
  3. Personalize knowledge delivery: Provide employees with specific information and strategies that are relevant to their roles, domain areas (e.g. account industres), and products.
  4. Connect employee expertise: Help employees connect with others in the organization who have expertise in their specific issues and domain areas. This is especially important in a remote work environment where physical & serendipitous connections are more difficult to make.

By taking these steps, leaders can stop the brain drain and fix productivity issues, while codifying the blueprints and stories behind their deals and successes. 

To learn more, feel free to chat with our team at Kawin ( or sign up for future content notifications below.

Michael Katz
Founder, Kawin