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Expert Product Knowledge for Sales Professionals.
Gaining Expert Sales Product Knowledge
I keep hearing how important product knowledge is and this has caused a dilemma. I’ve tried to get our Suppliers to come and host product-knowledge talks with my salespeople but they end up being nothing more than ‘cocktail hours’. There are so many products in our range and to cover them all seems an endless task. Is there a clever way of doing this, is there an easy and effective way of learning product knowledge?
Product or service knowledge is vital to a salesperson’s effectiveness. Without it they will lack credibility and confidence. One of the causes of the problem could be the concept of accountability. If you keep spoon-feeding salespeople, most of them won't use initiative when products are updated or new ones are introduced. If you want them to be responsible then give them responsibility. Make it the salesperson’s responsibility to ensure that they are always completely up-to-date with all the products and services that they represent.
Of course the company will assist but it is important that the salespeople know that they are responsible for acquiring the tools of their trade. It’s an ongoing situation, it is imperative that they stay abreast of: new technology, new products and services, competitor products and services, ever-changing customer needs, other market trends, etc.
Teach them how to learn their products
There is however a clever way of learning product knowledge based upon a strategy quite common in the Selling and Marketing profession. It was a Mr. E. K. Strong, who in the 1920s, recognised a way of presenting merchandise that proved to be more persuasive than others. This is the FAB approach - the Features, Advantages and Benefits (FAB), analysis of service and products and used properly, makes the task of learning products, and selling them, much easier.
Written Word - Spoken Word
One of the problems that exists within sales-communication is the fact that the written word and the spoken word are VERY different. It would be quite normal for a product brochure to state, “So you can be assured of it’s continued, structural strength”. But try to imagine yourself using those exact words to a customer! Most salespeople get their product information off brochures, product packaging and memos from their marketing department and these are usually studied and learned ‘parrot-fashion’ without the necessary understanding of how to communicate it to customers.
The best way?
There are many ways of obtaining product knowledge but the method that is the most logical and proves to be effective in the long-term is: To learn product knowledge in the same way that you will be communicating the information. In other words, structure your knowledge session so that it links directly with the way you'll be presenting the information to the customer.
Where do you start? The principle of effective and persuasive selling is : Meet your customer's need with a Benefit Statement. So let us have a closer look at FAB, an effective way to learn, understand and communicate product knowledge to customers.
A Feature is a characteristic of a product or service. All products and all services have features. Characteristics that describe what they are. It's that simple. Features will always answer the question, “What is it?” or “What does it have?” For example:
- It has a five-year guarantee.
- It is $899-00.
- It has a built-in Anti-Virus protection programme.
Imagine 'spraying' your customer with lots of Features and 'praying' that some of them were relevant. You would also need to pray that your customer understood what each one was and how it contributed to his or her needs. This is another common error made by many salespeople. It's called, 'The Spray and Pray Method', and certainly not a reliable strategy. It is important that the customer has a clear understanding of what the Feature means or does. We can therefore transfer this insight into the next definition:
An Advantage explains what the feature means or does. For example:
- Which gives you unconditional cover for a full five years.
- Which means that you’re getting excellent value for money.
- So that you can download files confidently.
A Benefit Statement appears to be exactly the same as an Advantage Statement. It also explains what a Feature means or does, but with one major difference. A Benefit explains how a feature of a product or service will answer a specific need expressed by the customer.
Yet another mistake made by salespeople is to 'spray' customers with a long list of Advantages that are totally irrelevant to that customer. How would you feel if you were the customer? You can imagine what's probably going through the customer's mind at that time, "Another sales pitch, I don't need it to add the totals, I wish he'd shut up so that I could get out of here!" Yes, this egregious strategy can actually cause Objections to the sale. Now why would anyone want to cause objections for themselves?
Preparing Product Profiles
Now let’s get back to the question of developing one’s product knowledge. The salesperson needs to work out all the Features and Advantages for each of the products and services in the range. Although it seems quite pedantic, it is necessary to point out that you can't prepare Benefit Statements in advance. You don't know exactly what your client's Needs are going to be. You can however, prepare Features and Advantages for each product and service, that once learned, can be appropriately used when the client expresses a Need.
When preparing an Advantage Statement, always use the words YOU or YOUR. This will ensure that you focus on how the product or service helps the customer, rather than just giving a technical explanation. Write out each Feature and Advantage Statement in full, using the exact words you'll be using to communicate with customers and you'll find that the learning process is also made much easier. For example:
“This has adjustable velcro straps as fasteners (Feature) so that you are able to quickly adjust them to a comfortable tension (Advantage).
The life of the professional salesperson is dynamic and skill-based and although the company should provide training, guidance and direction, it is ultimately the sales consultant's responsibility to stay in touch with the constant changes in order to effectively represent the company to the customer. Using the FAB approach to learn and communicate product knowledge will prove to be quick and effective and promote excellent customer service by focusing on the customer's expressed specific needs.