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Knowing Product Basics

What must you absolutely, positively, truly know about your product in order to do well in selling it? Always begin with the obvious:

  • What the product is called

  • Whether it's the latest model

  • How it improves a previous model or version

  • How fast it is

  • How to operate it during demonstrations

  • What colors it comes in

  • What your current inventory is for setting delivery dates

  • How much it costs

  • What terms and financing are available

Even companies with the most basic product training should cover those items with new salespeople before sending them out to talk with customers. It's sad, but true that some companies will provide only the bare minimum of information, and salespeople have to develop the rest on their own.

Seek out product information

Your company or the manufacturer of the products you represent probably holds regularly scheduled training sessions. If so, then by all means go to these training sessions. And always attend these sessions with a list of questions. If the speaker doesn't answer your questions during the presentation, find a way to ask your questions before this knowledgeable person gets away.

Schedule a time to sit and read brochures and technical information about your product or service — but don't just read them the way a customer would. Study them. Read them every day for at least three weeks. By the end of that time, you'll have them memorized and know exactly what your customers are referring to when they ask questions. There's nothing worse than having to look to a higher source when your customer asks a question that you should know the answer to, but don't.

If training sessions and product literature aren't available, and what you sell is a tangible product, get your hands on a sample. Be like a kid with a new toy. Play with it. Experiment. Read through suggested demonstrations and try them out as if you are the customer. Make notes on things you find hard to understand. Chances are good that at least one of your prospects will have the same questions or concerns.

Interview customers and colleagues

If you work with intangibles, get as much feedback as you can from the people who already use and benefit from what you sell. If possible, survey some of those people to find out what they think of what you sell and what their experiences with it have been. Always remember: Your current customers are an extremely valuable resource — if you keep in contact with them.

Veteran and top salespeople have all kinds of information about products that they may never document. Talk with them as much as you can to learn from them. Be careful, though, to keep your meetings focused on product knowledge and information.

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This learning strategy has worked countless times: Ask to go on a demonstration call with the top person in your company or someone who is currently on the rise to success to see and hear how they present your product. Watch just how they handle everything: themselves, the client, the brochures, proposal, visual aids, the product itself. Listen to the word pictures they use in describing it. Notice the mood they set. The how of handling products and information is as important as the what and why.

Create a respectful environment

When you are in a learning mode, it's important to set the stage for learning. That may mean gathering pen and paper, brochures, and a demo piece of equipment and locking yourself in the company conference room to study. It may mean interviewing the training director, company owner, or top salesperson, as well as current customers. It may involve watching hours of product training video or attending product classes.

No matter what type of education, begin every session with a clear respect for what's to come. Show up on time, if not early. Have plenty of paper for taking notes. Bring a couple of pens in different colors to highlight important information. Be courteous to those who are sharing their knowledge with you. The better you treat them, the more they'll relax. You'll be making them like you and trust you, thus offering more information. Hmm, sounds a lot like selling, doesn't it?

Go directly to the source

Whatever product you sell, try to create an opportunity to tour the facility where your product is designed and built. Better yet, try to visit with the originator of the idea. Find out what he or she was thinking when it all came together. You cannot know too much about your product or service. Customers love to feel that you have the inside track on the latest and greatest products and services; they want to believe that you are the most competent person in your industry. Face it: No one wants to be represented by a dud!

The challenge is that changes in technology occur almost overnight. The rapidly changing face of our world gives you all the more reason to know everything you can now. What comes next will likely require you to build on previous knowledge in order to be prepared for the future. If you don't have today's knowledge when you need it, you'll just have more to learn to get back to scratch.

Check out your competitors' products

Most companies designate a person or department to gather information on the competition and to prepare analyses of that information for the sales staff. If your company has this situation under control, sing their praises and encourage them to keep up the good work because such research is a voraciously time-consuming feat. But don't rely on just one source for information. Because you're the one who's out there every day slogging in the trenches, facing off against the competition, you need to keep your eyes and ears open for any information available.

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