Product Knowledge Training? Time for my nap!

Perhaps the worst programs I ever attended when I was in sales were product training. Managers will often lament sales ineffectiveness by saying, “My people need more product training.How can they sell if they don’t understand the product?”  Well, okay, but it’s how the training is designed that matters.

Consider my own tag line, “Think Like Your Customer.”  The difficulty with much product training is that it focuses on the product and its features, rather than the information a top salesperson needs to know in order to sell it.  Strong salespeople think like their customers.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedNext time you have a say in how product training is delivered to your sales team, follow these simple steps. Don’t let product reps come to you with a prepared deck. Instead, direct them to answer your questions, as follows:

Give us an elevator speech on the product. Very briefly, what is it and what does it do? “Rewards points are a customer incentive to encourage the use of debit cards because electronic transactions are cheaper than paper check processing.  They work just like frequent flier miles.” Just a paragraph in layman’s language will do.  Try to focus on facts that you think the audience will not be familiar with.  Good examples are the approximate fee for the service, some recent modification to the product, or a feature no other company has.  In stating the benefits, give us the ones you use when describing the product to a prospect, making sure they are very specific, “you’ll find this service helpful because it will save you the expense of…or the time it now takes you to…”

Who uses it?  Don’t give us, “Anybody who likes to travel,” or “all small business owners.”  We need specific descriptors of the target groups of users or prospects. Describe the market segment of the customer who might use the product, or the most likely candidate.  For example, a target group such as, “mid-life loyal customers who tend to use the Financial Center,” is superior to the first examples.  To answer this question fairly, look at the characteristics of the customers with whom you are currently successful.  Who seems to use this product the most?  Aside from their age, income and number or other demographic information, what are these people worried about?  What are their attitudes and feelings?  These types of descriptors are useful to salespeople.

Give us the best probes.  If you were there to talk to the customer yourself, what are the three to five most important questions you would ask? We’re looking for open probes that obtain information and get engagement.  For example, “How do you pay for everyday purchases?” or “What part does technology play in the way you run your business?” are far more powerful than, “Do you have this kind of product now?”

How does our product differ from our competitors?  We would like more specific information on differentiating features.  We want to know what we have that some competitor doesn’t. “Our turnaround time is only one day; most of our competitors take two or more,” is a good example.  Cite price differences where you know we have an advantage.  If product managers have put together spread sheets showing competitive fee structures, these would be most helpful.

Tell us the objections we will hear and how we deal with them. Having sold this product many times, you probably hear the same objections over and over, and no doubt have learned to deal with them.  Give us some pointers on what we can expect, and what we should say in reply.  If there are objections that you commonly hear from the field that are difficult to counter, it would be useful to hear of those also.

What’s our role in the selling process?  Do we make the sale ourselves, refer it to someone else, make an appointment for someone?   Do you want to coach us and have us follow up?  How deeply do you expect us to go in the sales process?  What works best?  Give us your feelings on this; it will help us to work with you in the most time-efficient manner.

Your salespeople are your customers in this kind of training, so…

Think Like Your Customer!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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