What You Need to Know about the Product You Sell

By Tom Hopkins

You need to know what you’re selling to sell it well. What must you absolutely, positively, truly know about your product in order to sell it? Always begin with the obvious:

  • What the product is called. Know the specific product name and models, as well as the product/part number. Clients may refer to frequently ordered products by number. This is what’s called insider jargon.

  • How the product is represented in the marketplace. People are more likely to ask questions related to the benefits or features of a product than by using its name and model number. Become familiar with what it does because you’re bound to run into potential clients who refer to it as, “that type of vacuum that picks the lint off of fleas. At least I think that’s what it said in the ad I saw.” Potential clients may not recall the brand or name of your product, but they always remember what grabbed their attention in your advertising.

  • Whether the product is the latest model or release. Many of the potential clients you encounter want the latest version of your product. Others hope to find a discount on a discontinued model. Either way, you need to be prepared.

  • How the product improves on a previous model or version. Be able to list the new features or options and what they can do for your customers. This is especially beneficial when you talk with existing clients who might be interested in upgrading or taking advantage of a technical advancement.

  • How fast, powerful, or accurate the product is. Be able to offer up a comparison of your product to its competition so you can tell your customers how your product stacks up. It’s better if the comparison was done by an independent group. If it’s just your word against that of the competition, you may not have much of a leg to stand on with doubters. If there’s no independent study available, at least have your satisfied clients who are already using it give you a testimonial stating that it’s better than what they had before.

    If you must create a comparison yourself, base it on something the competition provides so you can show your clients that you’re very exacting in the information you provide — that your comparison is truly apples to apples.

  • How to operate the product during demonstrations. Nothing is worse than trying to demonstrate a product to a prospective customer, only to find out that you’re not sure how to make it do what he asked. Be able to operate the product as well as you operate the car you drive every day — by reflex.

  • What colors the product comes in. Being able to tell your customers right away whether you have a specific color available comes in handy when they want to know whether or not it meets their needs. Some companies discontinue colors and release new ones to meet and match current fashion and decorating trends.

  • What your current inventory is for setting delivery dates. Your client may have seen a review of your product in a magazine, even though it’s not due out for two more months. You need to know what he’s talking about, be prepared to inform him of delivery delays or future release dates, and see whether he needs the benefits of the product sooner. If the product is currently in production, but on back order, brag about its popularity and know the projected delivery dates. This is where you want to focus on the new model being worth the wait.

  • How much of an investment is required. Be sure to phrase the price of the product in terms of an investment or amount as opposed to a cost. Also, be prepared to reduce that amount to a monthly amount if your product is something that requires financing. Many purchasing agents consider how much something will add to monthly overhead.

    Other clients want to know how quickly they will receive a return on their investment (ROI). Be prepared to do that math with them as well. It can be as simple as calculating the cost of your product and dividing it by the annual, monthly, or weekly savings you project after your product is up and running. The answer you get tells the client when you project he will earn his money back on the initial investment.

  • What terms and financing are available. If your company offers financing, consider it another product and know how the payment plan works as well as you know the product itself. Don’t risk losing a sale when you’ve gotten all the way through to the financing stage of things.

  • Know whether distributors or competitors offer the same product for less. Know who these distributors or competitors are and what price they’re selling the product for. Don’t be caught shortsighted by a client who is willing to do more research than you are.

Even companies with the most basic product training should cover these topics with new salespeople before asking them to meet with buyers. Unfortunately, however, some companies provide only the bare minimum of information, and you have to develop the rest on your own. With all this preparation, you should be pretty well off.

Be prepared to encounter a potential client who asks an odd question — something out of the ordinary that you can’t answer with your current knowledge. When that happens, never make up an answer! Tell the person that you’d be happy to find out the answer to that question for him and then do it — quickly — before he considers the competition’s product over yours. In cases such as this, you may have to do a lot of additional information gathering in the course of researching the answers to your buyers’ questions. And that’s okay because you build your product knowledge as well.

Keep in mind that if a potential client ever comes to you with valid information about your product or service that is a surprise to you, your credibility with that client is on shaky ground. After all, you’re supposed to be the expert clients come to for information or advice. If they know more than you do, why do they need you? Make a commitment to stay on top of your game!