Product Knowledge is Overrated – Part 2

As I mentioned in my last blog that although product knowledge is very important it sometimes is overemphasized while salespeople procrastinate in completing the difficult work of identifying people who have a need for what we are selling.

I tell my clients sometimes that my job is to find the companies and the people in those companies who are buying what we are selling, get them all in a room, and have them clearly articulate exactly what they are looking for. It is my client’s job at this point to sell them on why they can meet their needs and be an excellent supplier. Now a few things have become evident to me about this approach.

  1. First of all it works. I do very little selling as I figure out which companies are buying and who the people are inside these companies who are making these decisions. People who are busy and are making key decisions in an organization appreciate simplicity and initially are not interested in getting caught up in details. They want a general overview and the basics to determine whether they have any interest in meeting with you. Your enthusiasm, clarity, and directness
    will sell these people on meeting with you.
  2. In the initial conversations with the buyers, a good salesperson has to qualify the company. We do not want to spend a lot of time developing a relationship with a company/buyer who does not buy enough of what we are selling. Sellers have to ask tough questions.
  3. When meeting with companies identifying a need is a lot more important than telling people about your company. People reveal their expertise by asking good and insightful questions not by telling people how smart they are.
  4. When you have the key decision makers in the room asking tough questions and challenging people’s assumptions is a lot more effective than trying to get people to like you.
  5. Sellers need to have realistic expectations. Overt interest may not be expressed initially. Sellers need to identify where they can help the buyer. When the seller does this and can make a good business argument for addressing this area of need, it is just a matter of time before the buyer becomes interested.
  6. Sellers need to be patient. Well run companies already have a solid vendor base. It takes time to nurture interest.

Product knowledge is important but it only becomes important after the companies/buyers have been identified, qualified, and thoroughly questioned. Now no buyer is just going to sit and answer someone’s questions. There is a give and take while doing this where a good salesperson is revealing the basics of his/her offering and a background of their company while they are qualifying the buyers and understanding what some of their needs are or could be. Specific product knowledge and expertise in the industry becomes important at this point.

Again product knowledge is important but not until a good foundation has been put in place. Putting this foundation in place is what many salespeople/companies avoid doing when they set out to grow their customer base or move into new markets.


Product Knowledge is Overrated

Listen, product knowledge is important and absolutely makes a difference. However it is overrated especially in the beginning of selling a product or service and building a new customer base. I know what I just said is heresy but please stay with me for a moment.

To bring in new customers and move into new markets, a sales person needs to have identified markets, companies, and individuals in these companies who are the decision makers and are buying what you are selling. Pretty simple and obvious statement. Yes?

If you are talking to people who are buying what you are selling your chances of making a sale are a lot better.

Obvious right?

Now the question is how much product knowledge do you need in order to build a good list of people buying what you are selling? The truth is not very much. A limited amount of product knowledge is useful when you begin this process so you can explain to people in very simple terms what you are selling. By simply explaining to people what you are doing, they can start directing you to the people in the organization who might be involved in the products you are selling.

Organizations are complicated. Every particular organization makes decisions in their own particular way. People who are involved in buying decisions can include senior management, supply chain individuals, engineers, manufacturing folks, quality people, and the list could go on. Excellent salespeople bring in highly desired new customers but being exceptional at understanding how an organization works and identifying the key person or people who are involved with the product/service. This requires a whole lot of listening, closely paying attention, and the willingness to ask tough questions.  Many people will tell you that they make the decision but in truth only a few do. This takes months and sometimes years to fully understand how an organization works.

Product knowledge is important and in an ideal world I would love my salespeople to have a very deep understanding of the product, however most organizations have people who understand their products very well. Where many businesses fall short is they do not have the tenacious sales person who will go out and identify the list of companies and build the list of buyers. Sales people who spend an inordinate amount of time in the beginning building their product knowledge at the expense of getting on the phone are avoiding
the difficult task of building their list. Many salespeople if left to their own devices will find numerous things to do in order to avoid picking up the phone and doing this hard work. The secret most of these salespeople do not know is that if they consistently prospect for 18 months they will have such a viable and well qualified list of companies/buyers that the need to do this type of cold calling and research will drop dramatically.

The first day my company begins working with a client we are on the phone identifying buyers. Why? Because the hardest and most difficult task of bringing in new customers is this type of activity. At some point product knowledge will become very useful but not until you find someone who is buying what you are selling!