by Guest Blogger Richard Balius
- used with permission
- used with permission
As a sales leader, I believe this may be one of the single most difficult questions to answer. And getting the answer right for your organization can be crucial because it can dramatically impact many things, including the recruiting and selection process, the amount of time it takes to “on-board” the sales person, and how accountable you are willing to hold those sales people who really “know the product.”
One issue that makes this complex is that you will find experts, such as myself, on two very different extremes with a long continuum in between. Uncommon Sense says that no product knowledge on the part of the sales person is necessary as long as the company has expertise. More in the middle, Sandler believes that the sales person should have lots of product knowledge but use it sparingly. On the other extreme would be systems like Natural Selling that believe product know is “essential.”
A second issue is that context matters. In other words, to answer the “how much” question in your organization, you should consider factors like your lead generation vehicle (does it educate the prospect to the point that they are an expert?), your strategy, your approach, availability of people with the product knowledge in your market, your organization’s ability to train the product knowledge, and at least three more that come to mind.
Third, you will find that MANY sales people really like/need to be experts. For some, it will tend to cover part of the selling anxiety they have (I know sales people aren’t supposed to have selling anxiety, but let’s be real here). For others, it simply assists their confidence or the “conversation they have in their head” about themselves and their chosen profession. Another group takes pride in knowing something the customer doesn’t, and it just flat feels great to dispense it. Finally, there is the group that likes to have the knowledge that really helps people. (A quick caution about this group, if you are in a business where “consulting” is part of the service, this group can tend to give it away. )
Look. Regardless of the why, product knowledge is an expectation of many professional sales people and of many organizations. However, it will take some thought to determine “how much” is right for you.
Finally, I would point out that different sales leaders define product knowledge differently. Often you will see product knowledge defined as an understanding of a company’s offering and their company’s policies and procedures relevant to selling. A simple example would be when the sales person knows that the product could solve a particular problem for a customer, comes in three configurations – one that requires installation and two that don’t – and can be delivered in three weeks.
For tangible goods, this often looks like product specifications. For non-tangibles, this is more about understanding the potential applications, customizations that are possible, and the impact on pricing. For hybrid sales that are for both goods and services, you can see how this can get infinitely more complex.
And one last point on the definition. Some sales leaders regard industry or customer-specific knowledge as product knowledge. At least from a training standpoint, it gets lumped in that bucket.
In part two of this post, we will examine all the areas where not having a clear answer to this question will, without doubt, cause inefficiency.
Richard Balius is founder of The Sales Managment Academy and has performed over 700 one to one coaching sessions of CEO’s and sales managers. You can read more about Richard and his services at www.salesmanagementacademy.com or his blog at www.topsalesmanagers.com.
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