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Product Knowledge Alone Isn’t Enough (A Note to Sales Leaders)

We gripe and complain that salespeople sell products instead of selling solutions or selling the value that we create. Then we send them to sales training and sales kickoff and spend all but an hour dumping mountains of product knowledge on them, hoping some of it will help them sell.

Product knowledge is important to producing sales results. But so are sales skills, sales acumen, and business acumen. Without the whole compliment of skills, salespeople are unprepared and unarmed.

Product knowledge and sales skills don’t need to be trained or taught separately.

On Combining Product Knowledge and Sales

There are some products, services, and solutions that are more complicated to understand and to sell. Salespeople need to have more than a basic understanding in order to sell them effectively. They need to be armed with product knowledge, and they need the ability to engage in a high-level dialogue around their products. They need to be prepared to ask the right questions, and they need to have the right answers when it comes to talking about their products.

To effectively use the limited time, money, and training resources you provide your sales force, combine the product knowledge with actual sales training.

If you sell complex products, what’s wrong with training to do an effective needs analysis around that product? Instead of simply sharing the technology, the capabilities, the features, and the benefits, why not incorporate a training outcome that includes the most effective questions that might be asked of a prospective client. Can you teach questioning techniques with the product knowledge?

Why couldn’t you add a component to the product knowledge presentations that includes a case study, requiring the salespeople to analyze a prospective client’s needs and then make a 10-minute presentation as to how the product would solve the client’s business issue? Could that serve as the foundation for a lot of conversations you expect your salespeople to engage in with your clients later?

If a product is new and you need your sales force to work on building market share, how about adding a component of your product knowledge training that would require your sales force to write a prospecting opening for your targets that would immediately generate interest in the business results your product delivers? How soon do you need the sales force to be able to take action on selling your new product?

Why not teach them enough about the product and combine it with a worksheet to calculate a client’s return on investment and teach and train them to present the value created instead of the price? We want them to sell value instead of price, right? In fact, we insist on it, don’t we?

On Sales Acumen and Business Acumen

Product knowledge isn’t enough by itself because our clients expect far more from us as salespeople. They expect us to have the business acumen necessary to help them achieve real business results. So, while we are teaching products, why not teach business acumen?

We need our salespeople to understand their client’s businesses. We need them to know enough about how their business works to be able to help them produce the results that they need.

Why couldn’t we teach them how their clients view their business and our products? Why not teach them from the other direction? The client needs throughput, she needs these results, and these are her constraints. Why not teach them what their clients need from your products and service and the decisions that make when choosing?

How about showing them the client’s internal reports, their metrics, and their financial results? Why not show them the improvements we make from the client’s viewpoint as part of sales training? How about showing them how someone in their client’s role is evaluated?

Too Soon Forgotten

Most of the product knowledge dump, like all event training, is quickly forgotten. There is little risk in combining the product knowledge component with the sometimes more important and more meaningful training that the sales force needs in order to succeed: sales skills.

I have always found that teaching and training the idea, providing the sales reps with the tools and the language with which to effectively discuss what they are selling, and teaching them how their client’s think about their business to be an effective combination. It’s more than “what.” It’s more than “how.” It is both of those, plus it answers the question “why?”

Questions

Why do product-intensive sales organization spend more time training on product than on sales skills?

What’s the trade-off that is being made when more focus is placed on product training? What’s the trade-off when too little product training is done?

Is our message that we don’t want our salespeople selling product congruent with our training?

Can the skills be incorporated into product training? How could that be best structured?


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