Fixing the Product-Knowledge Gap

By Selling Power Editors

Do your sales reps draw a blank when asked basic questions about products? When reps don’t know their stuff, they make the company look bad in front of prospects, customers, and the competition. For many sales leaders, however, it’s a constant struggle to keep their teams up to speed on a stream of new product rollouts – not to mention new hires who need to start from square one.

The Long-Term Fix: Virtual Sales Enablement
For a long-term approach (particularly for very large or dispersed sales forces), a virtual quiz or sales certification course is a highly effective way to disseminate new product knowledge and capture it for future use.

Michael Nelson, who leads ON24’s global sales organization, says that he recently had his reps go through a “certification launch” in conjunction with a new product rollout. The 90-minute test could be taken online using the ON24 platform, and Nelson could check to see whether reps had participated in the mandatory course and how long they spent on their answers.

A sales leader with more than 15 years of sales and business-development experience in the technology industry (with a focus on large-enterprise and strategic accounts), Nelson says leveraging tools that help with product knowledge can be immediately helpful – more so than training that focuses on methodology.

“What most sales organizations struggle with on a primary level is figuring out how their salespeople are going to be positioning their products and services,” Nelson says. “They want to know how they’ll be overcoming specific objections about products and services.”

Nelson says that on-demand information hosted in an online sales-resource center can help new hires who need to get up to speed on product knowledge quickly. “When you send information in an email or do a live conference call, that’s only getting to your existing team,” Nelson says. “With brand-new salespeople, you want to make sure they know what they’re talking about when they interact with prospects.”

The Quick Fix: The Pop Quiz
For a quick fix, try springing a pop quiz get up to speed on product knowledge quickly with prizes get up to speed on product knowledge quickly at your next sales meeting, suggests James Dance in his book, Get the Most Out of Sales Meetings (McGraw-Hill, 1992). Dance suggests sales managers prepare 20 to 25 quality questions about their company’s products, industry, market, and customers. Provide varying degrees of difficulty, he says, and try to come up with questions customers might ask.

For instance, if you sell copy machines, you might ask, “What kind of generic alternatives could I use instead of the manufacturer’s toner cartridge on the Model B-32 copier?” says Dance. If you’re in the office-furniture business, Dance says a good question might be, “What if I buy the Model 1076 conference table for eight people, and I have twelve people at a meeting?”

Aside from avoiding questions that mainly elicit yes/no or single-word answers, formulate your questions so that they challenge everyone from your newest salesperson to your top-performing veteran. Afterward, follow up by providing in-depth answers to the questions so that your sales team has a permanent reference. And offer prizes, such as a day off or dinner for two at a local restaurant, to those who achieve scores of at least 90 percent.

Finally, says Dance, save the test and give it again in a month, since “this will give you an opportunity to see what your staff has learned and retained.”