product knowledge

Why Product Knowledge May Not Equal Sales Success.

By Chris Lott | Management, Sales | 15556 Views | 24 Comments    

For most of my career I have been involved in technical product sales. This is an ever changing market with some serious training challenges. Train a sales staff on a product today to only have that product change drastically next month and your efforts negated.

 

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There is also a credibility issue I have found when a new salesperson gets trained on a product to only find later that it’s not what I had trained on any longer. They now look at my sales manager abilities as less than. Frustrating.

What I prefer to train on are probing, non-interrogating, questions to find pains and repetitions. Then through research and presentations using technical, vendor, and manufacturer resources… uncover and present an up-to-date customized focused solution proposal.

With that said… in every team certain sales people want and “need” product knowledge detailed training or they feel “naked” in the field and have a rough time with confidence and ultimately sales success. I cave in and train on products and details as to not be viewed as a “terrible manager”. I introduce them to all the resources necessary to get to the “ones and zeros” of the products. They are now warm and fuzzy. And these professionals become my top sales people right?

What I have found, and suspected would be the case, is that these now technically product proficient salespeople are, too often, the worst salespeople. Why?

“Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” – Oscar Wilde

Too Much Information
Please don’t get me wrong. I totally believe a sales staff needs product training. 100 to 500 foot level however. More importantly they need to understand the value proposition or end user benefit more than how it actually works. Here’s why…

The temptation to regurgitate too many features, overwhelming and confusing the customer, resulting in longer sales cycles and even lost deals, is just too great.

There’s also the temptation to use technical or product jargon in their sales pitches. Again, overwhelming and confusing.

Here’s an example… A sales person spent the first half-an-hour of an hour presentation on the intricacies of setting up the web conferencing product. The potential customer had to actually ask to move on with the presentation to get to the benefits for them. Not good.

Then there’s this… To simply point out that extra product attribute they may be so proud of, without any research as to their needs, could turn the prospect off and kill the sale. I have seen this time and time again in the field. Many times the new sales person, or even experienced sales person, miss this and can’t seem to understand how the deal went sour. So what’s the solution?

Keep it Simple and Focused
If you’ve read any of my articles you know I’m a big fan of simple and easy. Instead of educating the customer take the time to find out what their needs are. Don’t start spouting off products and product details that you offer. Of course you’ll need to be able to speak to your product when asked. Just don’t “build the watch when they ask for the time”.

Ask open-ended questions that allow your potential customer to reveal their real needs. Smart salespeople ask questions to uncover specific problems and align their products as solutions to those problems. That’s it!

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Chris Lott has this crazy creative side that motivates him to design websites and write articles. He's a disruptive technologist and is passionate about sales, family, and anything related to technology. See what others are saying about his work!.

 

24 thoughts on “Why Product Knowledge May Not Equal Sales Success.

  1. That is a very insightful post 🙂
    Knowledge will never translate into sales if it is not packaged properly in such a way that the customer sees value in it .
    This reminds me of Robert Kiyosaki’s statement “Do you want to be a best seller or best writer ?”
    Great post … tweeted and shared !

    PS: A few tweaks in your WordPress settings would increase your traffic from search engines by atleast thrice the current traffic …

  2. In traditional sales, many people teach strategies and techniques to manipulate people. However, most people are turned off by this approach, and in my opinion, these types of techniques will rarely produce long-term results.Most salespeople don’t understand the psychology behind selling; they fail to identify the customer’s real needs and build value in their products or services. In addition, they have a hard time motivating themselves to do the small things that are necessary to create lasting results.If your approach to sales is to dazzle the customer with brilliance or to baffle them with your latest “power close” — and convince them that they are wrong and you are right — then you are never going to perform at the highest level.

    “What I prefer to train on are probing, non-interrogating, questions to find pains and repetitions. Then through research and presentations using technical, vendor, and manufacturer resources… uncover and present an up-to-date customized focused solution proposal.” – Chris , you are keeping it simple and easy. Thank you for adding a useful insight to my heart. And I like the “ones and zeros ” of the products too. In fact you covered everything possible in two paragraphs.

  3. very true I have been in sales for almost 20 years and always made my numbers and I totally forgot what I have sold . it is a lot of fun and you just need to focus on the benefits of the products and services to the petential customer and let the technical guys talk to their counter parts if needed

  4. Product knowledge accounts for about 10% of the sale.

    I’ve walked into far too many sales offices with minimal product knowledge and equalled or exceeded their top sales person.

    How? By engaging the client, asking leading questions, listening and prescribing the appropriate product or service for their needs. Its not rocket science, but your heart needs to be in the right place to make it work.

    Too many managers or small business owners get wrapped up in the features of their product because they’re either blind-sided by a love of their product or don’t really know how to sell.

  5. Chris –

    I totally agree with your post. Technology, features and benefits of a product must allow a company (from a fortune 500 to a small privately owned company) to either reduce expenses, increase productivity, enhance security / stability or increase revenues. 15 years ago I landed a national account sale involving 200 key telephone systems. The brand and features of the product were not relevant. The customer was suffering losses in two areas (1) revenue; they were unable to get offices up and running quickly to meet their sales goals and (2) expenses – they had allowed local managers to order equipment, installations and telephone services locally without volume discounts or fixed installation prices. The deal I put together was based on fixed prices for equipment and installation. The “closer” was that our company would order telephone services direct from LEC on behalf of the customer in their name (not as an “agent”). We had a phone line installed at our office that we would use to answer LEC calls in the name of the customer, and we had the customers credit info on their letterhead that we could fax to the LEC’s, allowing us to place an order quickly with minimal paperwork. This solution cut deployment times down by more than 50%, and local managers were no longer being sold unnecessary telephone services and equipment from the LEC, reducing ongoing expenses.

  6. Part of the problem of selling technology is that too many people forget that sales is still about getting people EMOTIONALLY tied and excited to the product. That’s a right brained event. Sadly most technology sales people are stuck in the logical left brain side and lose their clients with every presentation they make.
    People erroneously believe that we make a LOGICAL decision and then our EMOTIONS kick in. WRONG! A great salesperson triggers the emotions of his prospect and THEN gives him the ability to justify his purchase with a LOGICAL reason.

    • Derek… Right brain vs left brain… I would never have thought to explain it that way but it is spot on! Your last statement “A great salesperson triggers the emotions of his prospect and THEN gives him the ability to justify his purchase with a LOGICAL reason.” is very insightful and so true. Thanks for commenting here as well.

  7. A reply to a question posed on LinkedIn regarding whether salespeople’s product knowledge made them more successful as a salesperson:

    Could it be that their focus has been targeted too narrowly towards knowing their product rather than knowing their customer? Determining the customer’s felt needs and how their product will meet them may be old school, but I still think it works. If idea people, who invent these products our salespeople try to sell, were capable of marketing their own products solely on the merits of the product itself, no sales force would be necessary. Product knowledge is vital to the process, but is only one tool in a multi-faceted “toolbox” our salespeople must use to make a sale.

    • A world without sales professionals… just developers… engineers… a scary thought. (smile) Thanks for sharing. Well put. I agree… Selling is ultimately a team effort.

  8. Chris, this is such a great topic. As you know, I have spent a lot of time focusing on the X’s and O’s over my career because I used to wear both hats, the tech and sales. However, I am full-time in sales now and old habits were hard to break. When I receive the opportunity to spend time with a client, I am finding so much more success by conducting what I call “horizontal research” to learn more about their business. Understanding the meaning of what a client is talking about is much more fruitful than knowing the X’s and O’s of the system. I can learn those on my own time with all the video training and documentation. Great article!

    • Thanks Craig… very kind of you to say so… I know personally how hard this transition has been for you. You are the rarity in that you can work with details and keep the sales processes proceeding forward. Great comment and insights.

  9. Because product is not a metric in optimizing the cognitive response of decision makers. Who are you, why should I buy from you and what is your real value are the right questions in all these sales person related issues.

    People buy from people. People who prefer clarity over persuasion and honesty over hype will guide leads through the marketing and sales cycle faster and more consistently.

    • Jason… “Product is not a metric in optimizing the cognitive response of decision makers” is spot on! Great insights. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  10. Chris, thank you for that response. Yes, our site is “dry.” It is technical. What we have to offer the field amounts to a sea change in how validity of effort testing is done. I believe that part of the challenge is trying to separate the sales process from understanding the product. Being closely involved in the R&D end of things makes this challenge greater. We will have our site updated within the next 60 – 90 days by some real pros. I have personally developed and maintained our site for 10 years and I am obviously not a web designer. We will be working on sharpening our message, not so much to the end users, but to attorneys (both plaintiff and defense), physicians, nurse case managers, employers, risk managers and adjusters. While the advantages of the product line are the same for all of them, they all have different educational levels and even somewhat different needs. The people who will be representing these products are experienced sales people with expert knowledge of the insurance industry, so I believe the “relationship building” part will be covered very nicely. Perhaps this is a matter of educating the sales representatives, refining the message to the prospects, keeping it as basic as possible and giving the reps a “toolbox” to immediately answer the most likely questions that are not covered in the presentation. What do you think of that kind of approach, coupled with being able to refer the customer to someone who can address all other issues?

    Regarding the difficulties with the Megameeting connection, I suspect you are right. They have probably oversold their bandwidth—and I paid the price. I have a reliable service provider for my Internet connection. I regularly run diagnostic and utility repair programs on my system. So I will be looking into the Mitel service. Thanks again for your response.

    • Darrell… Sounds like you’re all over this. That’s great! I think you are spot on with the toolbox idea. Keeps them from looking like a “deer in the headlights” when asked simple product questions.

      Let me know if you find the Mitel product to your liking. I can assist you with a demo and pricing if interested.

  11. You make some good points about training sales staff. I have somewhat of a unique challenge in that the products we have developed are very different from what the market has seen in the past. How do you balance the issue of “too much information” with giving sales people enough information to make good presentations, including overcoming objections. To understand how our products work, a certain amount of information pertaining to basic science seems to be a necessity—although that’s exactly where the difficulty lies because it’s soooo boring, albeit essential. So how do you suggest handling a situation like this? Is it OK for sales representatives to consistently say, “Call this person for answers to questions we cannot answer?”

    Also, regarding online training, I have been doing that with my customers for over a year. I was using the Megameeting format and had always had great success in terms of the technical end of things. Two times last week, however, I scheduled training sessions with sales people and had absolutely zero success in maintaining my connection. The technical assistance from Megameeting did not offer any solutions, at one point indicating that “this happens sometimes and we don’t know why.” I ran a test today to see how long I could hold the connection and the results were not impressive. So I am actively looking for a new service. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you.

  12. Product knowledge is a necessity for the tech support department. While a sales person had better know all the details of their product, the sale starts from a point of understanding a client’s needs. A client doesn’t care about why your product is awesome until they see that you understand their needs and care about helping them.

  13. After many years in the sales field, I actually went back to school to get a better understanding of finding the underlying motivators that drive people to make decisions a certain way. The answer is almost always to listen, then find solutions to their issues and problems. A low level of product knowledge works. Understanding is the key.

    • Jan… couldn’t agree more… especially the statment “The answer is almost always to listen, then find solutions to their issues and problems.” Thanks for the comment!

  14. Good post. I have noticed much the same thing as I’ve associated with top sales people. I noticed very early on in the insurance business where I spent nearly 35 years that you could put people to sleep pretty quickly by trying to impress them with your vocabulary. I think that tendency as well as a lack of work ethic is what caused the tremendously high turnover in that business. While I certainly agree that there is a place for product knowledge in the sales process, being able to adapt that knowledge to the stated needs of a prospect, needs that are uncovered through effective questions and “listening” is where that knowledge comes to play. If you have an effective fact-finding interview (site-survey in some industries) you can learn enough product knowledge back in the office to effectively close a sale in the 2nd interview without having one iota of product knowledge going in. Yes, I have won that bet more than once.

    • I really like the “If you have an effective fact-finding interview (site-survey in some industries) you can learn enough product knowledge back in the office to effectively close a sale” statement! Thanks for the comment and insights Kent!

  15. Very true. And very prevalent in our business! Too much geek-speak and no ability to translate? That’s not sales, that’s showing off. It’s not about the salesperson, it’s all about what the customer needs. Period. Helping them see there is a need has more to do with them and their business than all the bells and whistles of the solution.

  16. Chris, You are SO spot on with this! Perhaps their “nakedness” comes from their fear of admitting that they do not know? I’m sure it is. “I don’t know but will find out” is a powerful selling tool!

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