Recruit wisely: Technical competency is not sales competency

I was once asked to do a rather unusual thing. The request affirmed that technical competency does not mean sales competency. Here’s what happened.

A client had a product (a ground-breaking software). He also had a compelling testimonial of it from a wowed customer, and the gravitas to marshal key decision makers (most C-suite) from different companies to come pay heed to this saviour software (which it is), and of course, buy it.

The fly in this otherwise aromatic ointment pertained to the ability to engage in sound skills to convince them to do so. Meaning someone to communicate the solution this software offered to the key decision makers in simple ‘English’; free of technical information and in a manner, they will understand and act upon. In sum, sell.

Amazing, isn’t it? Much as the client understood the software with the clarity observing with a pair of binoculars offers’ much as he and his co-developer understood its every nook and cranny, the client lacked the ability to communicate this information across to potential buyers. In short, he couldn’t sell it.

To his credit, like the astute businessperson he was, he accepted this. As such, he appreciated the importance of passing across the necessary information in the correct manner. And so, he engaged our services to do so.

Read: Adapt your presentation to respective business buyer to accelerate the sale

Technical competencies examples

A mechanic is not your best car salesman much as he understands the intricacies of the car best; an underwriter is not the best insurance salesman much as he scripts the policy document; a doctor is not necessarily the best medical representative much as he prescribes the medicine and understands better the human anatomy; and a woman is not necessarily the best handbag vendor much as she knows best the intimacy she shares with her handbag.

Technical competency does not mean sales competency. Technical skills do not translate to sales skills. In fact, I dare say, a heighted sense of the former may impede the latter.

technical vs sales competency

Technical and sales competency: difference.

Technical and sales competency are not just different they have different goals and objectives. Like features, technical skills, tell; like, benefits, selling skills, well, sell. That’s why product knowledge alone is not enough to clinch you that sale.

I’m reminded here, of another entrepreneur, an engineer by profession. He wanted to hire a sales manager. In the interview, he insisted there be a CAT (yes, test) with technical questions about the firefighting products he was selling. Needless to say, all the salespeople failed miserably and engineers passed spectacularly. Did the ‘winner’ survive the role? Of course, not.  “He scored such high marks but couldn’t sell,” the bitter business owner lamented innocently.

Read more here: Scientific sellers must adopt artistic skills for successful closes

Sales skills vs technical talent

The mediocre sales person knows the product; the successful one understands what it can do. Mediocre salespeople who know their product, just as with technical staff, may want to impress you with their knowledge of it; successful salespeople understand it and are happy sharing just what they see you need to know to make a decision.

Read: Differences in successful and average sales people

In a past workshop, a participant construed the latter as lying; “The prospect must be given all the whys and wherefores of the product before making a decision,” he argued.

Yet successful salespeople have learnt that most decisions in life are made based on consideration of only a few facts.

Car buyers don’t ask for the chassis to be laid bare before making the decision to buy; parents don’t do personal interviews of every teacher of the school they want to enrol their child in; and executives buy because your fuel with additives will save them 7% in factory maintenance costs and not because it has an active ingredient.

Read: Benefits sell features tell. Here’s why

The meaning of technical competence

Now then. There is reason why firms that hitherto required specialized knowledge (technical competence) as a must-have to sell, “Our very technical pump,” are now shifting gears. “One with both technical and selling skills would be ideal. But in our experience, is rare,” a client shared. “We now recruit based on ability to sell, first. We then inculcate the features of the pump in the training. You see, we were losing to the competition on two fronts.

“First, savvy business people (note, not technical people) would get the specs of the pump from the client, fly to China have them made, and simply deliver them. The other thing we realized is that, decision makers are not technical people and are bored by tech speak. ‘I just want to know it works!’, is what they say. Our technical team struggled with this. In fact, most interpreted that to mean, ‘Tell me more technical facts.’

He explained further: “To be sure, the importance of technical skills in the workplace cannot be underestimated. For that reason, we have an engineer to accompany the salespeople if need be. Over the years, and because of the internet, we find that need becoming less and less.”

Perhaps among the few decisions one needs 100 per cent information on, before making, is when the consequences of an operation may lead to death and the doctor must make this clear to the patient for the latter to decide whether to proceed with it or not.

Technical and product knowledge are, just that- knowledge skills

Aside from such outliers, for as long as the salesperson’s conscious is clear that the product is of benefit to the client, all he or she needs to share is just enough to close.

It means that no matter how splendid a product is, its usage is only as good as the market’s ability to connect with it. This is the salespersons job and one he must handle with great responsibility.

Understand your product well enough to express what it can do for the buyer, and not to impress him with your knowledge of it.

Read: Never say, ‘I can’t sell’ once you start a business

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