Product knowledge is not enough. It needs to be sold. “Excuse me Sir; do you know the bank is giving away credit cards for free?” I’m sure that statement has stopped you short. Who offers credit for free?!…and that’s the point exactly. It caught your attention

In a workshop I recently conducted, the true essence of selling was brought to the fore for me.

The delegates were from a financial institution. During the break, one of them told me that his opening gambit to prospects is, “Excuse me Sir; do you know the bank is giving away credit cards for free?” I’m sure that statement has stopped you short. Who offers credit for free?! The truth of the matter though, was that the bank had waived the joining fee to accessing the credit card.

Both statements mean the same thing. However, knowing the latter is product knowledge and communicating the former is selling. Product knowledge is what many organizations thrive in when training staff internally. The staff are pumped up like a balloon with product knowledge like an 8-4-4 candidate about to seat a national examination. And just like the candidate who gets unleashed to the exam room after burning the midnight oil, the novice salesperson is thrust to the field after an intense class on product knowledge.

Stating product knowledge is not selling

A fortnight of repeated rejections later, he is torn between continuing with the job and quitting. “Why aren’t they buying” he wonders. “I’ve told them all about the product just like I was told-and it’s a fantastic product”. Well, they aren’t buying because you aren’t selling. You are still telling them that joining fee has been waived instead of saying that the bank is giving away cards for free.

As another delegate in a separate forum told me, he has learnt that what one is taught in class is very different from what one encounters in the field. When he joined a separate industry (insurance) from the one he was in, on day one, he did this after the first session on product knowledge. He went out and about as a mystery shopper, collecting and completing application forms and asking questions, from the different insurance companies as a customer would.

Product knowledge is not enough

Product knowledge looks inwards

And there-in lays the difference. An organization looks inward when it dwells on product knowledge as the panacea to selling its product. As if to say, “We don’t have to listen to you; we know what your sickness is and we have just the right medicine for you. Now be a good boy and open your mouth wide. Say Ahhh. There you go; that didn’t hurt now did it?” But it does hurt; painfully so.

The medicine may be good for me but I could be allergic to it. It may be what will cure my ailment but the dose you are giving it in, is too strong for me. Or, the medicine could also be out rightly wrong for me even if it worked for Tom and Dick. Someone must bridge that gap between the inward looking organization and communicating its well intended medicine to the patient in a way in which the latter will find palatable. And that is the job of the salesperson. To interpret product knowledge into solution provision; to interpret “waive” as “free”; and to see the product through the customers eyes that he may explain it to him (the customer) in the manner he will understand.

It’s not lying

Surprisingly, there are those who will call this interpretation lying. Interestingly, they will not want to be told by the fellow in IT to reboot their machine or by the advert, the chemistry behind how the seasoning works. They just want to be told to restart the computer and how the seasoning will make their food taste and smell good. The customer is king. He wants to be told things in the manner he will understand. Product knowledge is meant be ammunition to be used sparingly and communicated amiably. Not as a tank to run the customer over with.


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