Product Knowledge Training for Sales Reps

Most companies do a superb job in training their new sales representatives in the technical aspects of the products they sell. Companies have management, scientific and engineering personnel who “know” their products. For this reason, they can easily overtrain sales people in the area of product knowledge.

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Salespeople should understand the products they sell well enough to be able to converse intelligently about them with their customers. They should be able to answer routine questions and know how to get the answers to complex ones. In other words, sales trainees should acquire a thorough knowledge of their products, but not at the expense of sales skills. The salesperson’s technical knowledge need not be at the expert level.

A real sales problem arises when the salesperson is spending a great deal of time on esoteric technical problems and not enough time in face-to-face selling.

Companies know the types of questions their salespeople are asked. For example, in the specialty compressed gas business, a frequently asked question might be: What valve should be used with a specific gas? In the life insurance business, the question might be: What is the difference between whole life and term insurance?

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The company should provide the information necessary for trainees to answer the most common questions. It should also tell them how to obtain the answers to more technical questions.

This approach to product knowledge training allows a company to zero in on those product problems a new sales representative is likely to face in the field. It prevents overtraining in technical areas, yet gives the trainee enough product knowledge so that he or she will go out and meet the customer with confidence.

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Training the candidate in the strengths and weaknesses of the competition. Both national and re¬gional companies have competition that varies from one place to another.-A given competitor may be strong in one area, region or part of the country and weak in another. How can a trainer familiarize the new salesper¬son with the strengths and weak¬nesses of the competition in his or her sales territory?

The sales representative who previously covered a territory is probably the trainee’s most valuable resource for information on this subject. Discussions with the area, regional or national sales manager are another excellent way to become familiar with the specific strengths and weaknesses of the competition. Other experienced people in the company, such as plant, warehouse or depot managers, may also have valuable input about competitive strengths and weaknesses in a given territory.

While the trainee is studying the sales data on the territory being taken over, he or she can construct a picture of the competitive strengths or weaknesses of the accounts. Also, the trainee can study competitive catalogs and other advertising published by the competition. This literature will show the trainee where the competition has distributive and product strengths. Finally, business reference books sometimes provide detailed breakdowns on the types and dollar volume of products sold by the competition.

When a trainee has covered all five of the areas discussed, he or she should be familiar with the requisite sales skills and information. This practical and economical approach to training the newly hired sales representative stresses those skills that are most needed to achieve the main sales objectives: increased market share and profitable sales. It covers the
matters a salesperson confronts on a day-to-day basis in selling in a territory. Therefore, sound training in these five areas will help a new salesperson become an effective field sales representative quickly.

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Source Training Magazine. Written by : Daniel K. Weadock

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