The complexity of today’s digital products but also complex physical products require a significant product knowledge of their functionality and capabilities so that those products can be sold. Do you agree?
It is logical to agree, however, in this article I will prove to you that never in history the product knowledge was more insignificant than it is today, DESPITE the increase in complexity of the products themselves.
How can that make sense? An increase in the complexity requires less knowledge of the product. Ιt is not quite that simple.
Let me explain.
Back in the day, when a more complicated product was sold, let us say a medical equipment (I don’t want to use the car example, although it contains a degree of complexity, other factors such as image, social status etc. are getting involved and alter the example) the prospect, the potential client visited the shop or the company of the producer or reseller of this device and had a conversation with a product expert (salesperson), that explained in detail the ins and outs of this product, made a commercial offer and used his sales skills to close the deal.
That was back in the day. Nowadays things look a little bit different.
Product knowledge and sales
- On a cold call the time to attract the attention of the client is less than 10 seconds. If successful, then you get the opportunity to talk to the prospect for 2-5 minutes. On this short period of time an in-depth, analytical product description cannot be given. BUT even if it could, it would not be appropriate to do so, as a time for “information digestion” and maturing the client-seller relationship is needed, so that we can have a productive, relaxed, and in-depth conversation on a discovery call later.
- The introvercy of product experts, specifically in software products, brings the information on the table, stripped of all sales elements, most of the time. In other words, when you have the secondary call with the client, the so called “Discovery Call” or “product presentation”, you don’t need only a product expert, but also a salesperson on the table. Most of the time a good salesperson, with the education needed, that can learn all the details of the product is better than the actual product scientist behind it. Anyway, the product scientist can be there and give specific, in-depth information if needed.
- Senior sales experts are not going to do the hard, challenging work of cold calling and trying to pass the message within seconds. By definition you have to compromise with some younger individual that has the SALES SKILLS and not the PRODUCT SKILLS to take over this role.
- Sales is a science, as important is the scientific background you have as a product expert. Do not look down on sales and understand that most important are the sales skills, the soft skills, the empathy a salesperson is carrying than the product information. Put your ego by side and give the credit to the salesperson that it deserves.
- Humans take emotional decisions, not rational. Let me repeat that: Humans (that means your prospects), take emotional decisions, not only rational. I don’t want to say that hard data is insignificant, but that it is less significant on the connection you achieve with the other party. Are you good at it?
- Cultural differences bring additional challenges to the game. As in Vparagon we deal with many international clients trying to sell in new markets, the lack of “cultural knowledge” is often an additional challenge.
- Confusion on the true characteristics of your product and how those are perceived on a telephone call or online presentation. It is not only about your product, but how your message is being perceived.
It does not matter if you sell oranges or spaceships.
The sales process and sales qualities are the same, what changes is the complexity of the product. Search for the great salesperson, the achiever, the go getter, not the product freak. Assuming a certain education level is there to cope with the complexity of today’s world and have an understanding of things, the sales qualities are missing.
Degrees and studies don’t say anything about your quality as a salesperson.
When I interview salespeople, I never ask for any type of degree. Prior experience in hard sales, in complex sales, is an absolute must for more senior salespeople.
Soft skills, empathy, and life experience from the side of the interviewer are the most important factors to select the proper salespersons. You need to be “streetwise” to understand human weaknesses, dig in, inside the candidate’s character. The strength of a character, extroversion to a degree, a non-pleaser, a high degree of confidence, handling rejection, are required qualities for someone to be a great salesperson. Product knowledge is secondary.
Industry specific prior experience is not necessarily a plus. It is easier to mold a new salesperson to a new product, than get an “experienced” salesperson on the specific product that has a default previous sales process inside him from the previous company he worked with, not always a plus.
Next time when you interview people or ask when they apply their resume about the prior product experience they have, think twice.
If you are a product manager, I do understand that it is your work, that is what you know.
But if you are a sales manager, entrepreneur, CEO and focus on the product knowledge, then let me question your competence.