by Guest Blogger Richard Balius
In Part 1 of this post, we looked at why sales people want product knowledge and the factors that make this such a complex decision. In this post, we will discuss why making a firm decision about this can affect you as a sales leader.
The first place to look is the recruiting and selection process. If there are 1,000 people looking for a sales position in your market, the number of people that have the background, qualifications, relationships and skills that you want will likely be a substantially small number. Having the product knowledge you want, or having sold into the same market, reduces the number even further. And then you still have to cross the hurdle of getting them to accept your company’s offer!
What I am getting at here is that a requirement around product or industry knowledge can throw out many candidates that could be perfectly valuable to you and your organization. I am not suggesting that product knowledge isn’t important. Only that you should really understand the impact it has on recruiting your team.
Next we can look at “on-boarding” someone new. In real time, for most sales people with experience, product knowledge can be the bulk of their on-boarding time. To consider a sales person productive, they need to be able to engage a prospect throughout the whole process and close sales by themselves. A sale that requires a lot of product knowledge can slow this down significantly. In most organizations, I find there is a way to have that person “selling” within a few days while the acumen around product knowledge is still pretty low.
You also have a decision to make around the part of product knowledge that is related to knowing the market and understanding the customer base. Many companies choose to train this by using their internal market knowledge. This knowledge is laden with our company’s perspective, our own Kool-aid, if you will. If the sales people we are selecting are confident enough to do it, I find they can be quickly educated by the market and the current customer base.
There is a great deal of selling cost tied up in on-boarding people until they are capable of being productive on their own. Just be clear that every product knowledge hurdle increases this cost. If you are strong and efficient with selection and your retention of the sales people is well above average, this may not be a problem. For many of you, understanding this can be important.
Finally, as I alluded to in Part 1, some sales people use their product knowledge like a crutch. It can inhibit their success both in the early stages of on-boarding and in their later productivity with you because of how it changes their sales conversations.
As a recap, am I suggesting that product knowledge is bad? Far from it. I am suggesting that as a sales leader you should make some definitive decisions about how much is necessary in the recruiting process, how much they really need to know before they are “on the phone” and finally, how you are going to efficiently and effectively get them the necessary product knowledge.