Dr. S. Shyam Prasad
In the present era of ‘technolisation’ where technology is all pervasive and omni-channel shoppers becoming increasingly empowered, marketing is undergoing phenomenal changes. But one of the things that still remain unchanged in marketing is the product knowledge for the sales people. Customers have unrestricted modes of accessing important information about the product but they all lack actionable insight. It is the ability of the marketers to integrate the knowledge and information with knowledge of customer and market that translates into business. This write-up is intended to demonstrate how superior product knowledge can increase sales.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to sell a particular product to a customer if one cannot show how the product is going to meet the customer’s want. It is imperative for the salesman to have a good understanding of the products that are presented to the customers. Thus, product knowledge is the technical knowledge about a particular product a marketer offers for sale – be it a pin or aircraft, biscuit or cosmetics, or insurance or a house. Some ill-informed people think that marketers lack the technical knowledge of the product they market or sell. Nothing can be further from truth. “In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision—researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on—before even having a conversation with a supplier. In this world the celebrated “solution sales rep” can be more of an annoyance than an asset”.
(Brent Adamson, 2012) Sales people, leave alone marketing people, know all about the product and may even know more than the technical person. This is the basis for selecting engineers to sell engineering products, pharmacists to sell pharma products, and such.
Sources of Product Knowledge
The sources of product knowledge are dependent on the person who seeks it. The table below gives different people who may need product knowledge and different sources available to them.
Table‑1 Different Sources of Product Knowledge
New Product developer
Academic literature, Research Journals/Publications, Universities, Libraries, Internet and in-house R & D.
Product Manager, Sales and Marketing people of the firm
In-house training, Academic literature, Internet and Libraries.
Marketing literature, Product inserts, Internet, Sales representatives, Testimonials and Practical use.
Marketing literature, Product inserts, Sales representatives, Internets and Testimonials.
Importance of Product Knowledge
“Have you ever thought why did you lose a particular customer, when your product had almost everything he/she was looking for?
Did you ever think how competitor with the same product is able to make more sales than you?
Is competitor’s product really superior than your’s?
Do you really know your product inside out?
The answer to all the above questions is “Product Knowledge”. In all my posts I always stress on the importance of product knowledge. It is always necessary to have a proper knowledge about your product. This will not only help you win more sales but will also help you have an edge over the competitors.”
All the stakeholders and marketing people in particular, should understand the value of the product, how it should be used and the precautions to be taken to derive the maximum benefits from the product, i.e. dos and don’ts. In addition to the above, the sales people should also be aware of how the product is made. The product knowledge has the following value to the sales people:
1. Having good product knowledge will allow the salesman to tailor the sales presentation according to the want and type of the customer.
2. Confident and enthusiastic presentation that stems from adequate product knowledge generates excitement for, and confidence in, the product.
3. Objections raised by the customers can be handled with factual information which comes in the form of product knowledge. Besides knowing all about one’s product knowing similar products by the competitors lets the salesman to easily counter the objections convincingly.
4. Armed with good product knowledge one can up-sell and cross-sell.
5. One can also build a long time customer relationship if one has good product knowledge and provides value to the customer.
LUSH, a cosmetics company based in UK that make 100% vegetarian products train their every new recruit to know almost every single product thoroughly before they are allowed to speak to the customers. “It is vital that our teams understand the products they are selling so they can find the correct product – not just sell them the latest favorite,” LUSH co-founder Rowena Bird says.
Professional sales people sell solutions or the value created by the firm and not just the product. The sales people who do otherwise are ‘quacks’. Product knowledge is no doubt important for selling. More important are sales skills and business acumen. Without the holistic set of skills, sales people are unprepared and unarmed.
Combining Product Knowledge and Sales Techniques
Technical knowledge is the back bone of all sales presentations. If selling is imagined to be a human being, product knowledge is the skeleton and selling techniques and skills are flesh and blood; the sales person himself being the ‘life-force’ of the human.
If one were to sell complex products, the sales training do need to include the technical knowledge, product capabilities, its features and benefits; on top of all these the sales training should also teach to do an effective need analysis. An ideal sales training would teach the sales people enough about the product and also train them to calculate customer’s return on the product. This way the sales people would present a value created instead of the price. As mentioned earlier, a good sales man sells a value and not the product.
“The fact is, if you are consistently making money, it is almost always a sure sign that you are adding value to the other person, to the buyer.” – Spencer Johnson & Larry Wilson
In the present age of omni-channel one tool that gives a winning edge over the competitors is the customer service and in the sphere of customer service, the importance of product knowledge cannot be overstated. “Winging it” with regard to product knowledge does not work anymore. There is another common error which the sales people make; it called ‘The Spray and Pray Method’ where the representative would ‘spray’ the customer with plenty of information and features of the product and would then ‘pray’ that some of them are relevant. It does not work anymore.
The foregoing article clearly establishes the necessity of product knowledge for the sales people. It is amateurish to think that sales people are well versed only in selling techniques. They are the people with above average technical knowledge trained to sell. It is this knowledge – the product knowledge coupled with people handling knowledge – that gives them a clear edge over their colleagues in other departments inside their own organization that propels them to the top faster. It is this knowledge that endears them to customers and helps the firm to build longtime customer relationship. Product knowledge does not make up for poor selling skills or the selling skills make up for poor product knowledge. However, if one masters both of them, there will be hardly any that one cannot achieve.
The working life of professional salesperson is dynamic. Though the primary responsibility of the training and updating the salespeople rests with the company, in their own interest, the salespeople should stay in touch with the latest developments pertaining at least to the product. FAB (Feature, Advantage and Benefit) approach will prove to be useful here. Salespeople know what they sell, and they sell what they know.
Brent Adamson, M. D. (2012, July-August). The End of Solution Sales. Harvard Business Review.
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Iannarino, S. A. (2011, September 9). Product Knowledge Alone Isn’t Enough (A Note to Sales Leaders). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from The Sales Blog: http://thesalesblog.com/blog/2011/09/09/product-knowledge-alone-isn%E2%80%99t-enough-a-note-to-sales-leaders/
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