It’s been said that quality salespeople sell what they know, and know what they sell. They know their industry, can anticipate their customer’s needs, and know how their product can meet those needs. It makes sense, therefore, that sales skills and product knowledge go hand-in-hand.
Unfortunately for many sales teams, that’s not always the case.
Sales training alone can’t make for good salespeople, who end up trying to woo their customers with smooth talking and convincing coolness to hide that they don’t know what they’re selling as well as they should. It’s comparable to a flashy stage magician—without the proper knowledge, the magician might as well have a deck of cards with “I Don’t Know” written on each card. Once the customer sees that you’re faking it, the illusion is destroyed.
That’s why product training is critical for salespeople. To best serve their customer’s needs, salespeople need to know how their company’s products and services provide the best solution for their customer. When confident in this product knowledge, salespeople are more capable of making good first impressions, building the customer’s trust in the company, and anticipating difficult or unexpected questions from the customer.
This is not to say that product training doesn’t exist. Often, product training comes about as an afterthought, a separate ‘end of year’ event to make sure everyone on the team is up-to-date the company’s products and services. But the aim of product knowledge shouldn’t be to check for accuracy. It should be to reinforce product fluency. Sales training and product training, therefore, should be simultaneous, one reinforcing the learning of the other so that each sets of skills come naturally to salespeople.
How to Combine Sales and Product Training
So why aren’t sales training and product training combined? In his blog post “Why Sales Training Fails,” my colleague Nick Mathews points out that sales and product training often exist separately “because you don’t want to overload your learners with too much information at once.” This is true. If most sales teams were to simply combine their existing strategies for both trainings, the resulting combination would be a bloated mess and an overload of information. To be combined, these two trainings will need to be trimmed down and synthesized into a single cohesive experience.
One way to achieve this is to use more web-based microlearning elements instead of big chunks of seminars, PowerPoint presentations, and other cumbersome training methods that sales training often takes the form of. Shorter learning pieces more accurately reflect the nature of sales pitches, and with the added functionalities of web-based learning, these can easily be paired with product knowledge resources.
The Benefits of Combining
In his blog post, Mathews provides an example of scenario-based sales training being reinforced by decision points which require the learner to look up product information in order to advance. As learners repeat this activity, their improved product knowledge will lead to faster completion, better product recall and familiarity, and will reinforce how product knowledge is used in real-world sales scenarios.
It will also help salespeople to have a knowledge base of product information which they can look up in their own time. The challenge with this solution, though, is not being overwhelmed with a sea of information that companies no doubt have for their products. I’ve previously written about the benefits of personalized learning portal solutions, which by extension can include knowledge bases—through the implementation of such knowledge bases, salespeople have the power to distill information most relevant to their needs, allowing them to focus on what they need to know to sell their products.
Through reinforcement such as scenarios, and through personalization such as intuitive knowledge bases, your product training solution can coexist with your sales training, and empower your salespeople not just learn their products, but make product knowledge second nature.
Want to learn more about how Allen approaches combining sales training and product knowledge? Check out our guide to giving sales training context with product education.