Product Knowledge Is Overrated - Industrial Marketing Insights

Product Knowledge Is Overrated

I bet the above headline got your attention. It’s actually a slight exaggeration but not much of one. The older I get the more I believe that product knowledge, while important, is far less important than prospect knowledge when it comes to winning more sales. I see this in all of my successful sales calls as well as in those of all of my industrial marketing consulting clients.

Salespeople have the importance of product knowledge drilled into their heads. No feature is too small or insignificant. Some of these salespeople have truly astonishing levels of product knowledge yet consistently miss their sales quotas and are viewed as being substandard performers. Now why is this? Well I think the answer can be found by listening to a particularly profound song by Weird Al Yankovic when traveling cross-country.

When my children were younger we once went on a road trip from Peterborough in Ontario to Bonavista in Newfoundland. This was a long drive with four children and all of the attendant camping gear all neatly stowed away in our mini van. Their mother, a very clever woman indeed, had all of the bases covered in terms of keeping the little angels entertained while I drove, and drove, and drove, and—well you get the general idea.

Now in those days (1997) we did not have DVD players in our vehicles. We did have a cassette player and a copy of “Bad Hair Day” by Weird Al Yankovic courtesy of my 12 year old son. One of the songs I came to know (very) well was called “Everything You Know Is Wrong” which was a typical Weird Al way of looking at the world that contains a grain of truth. The chorus gets stuck in your head and, naturally, can lead you to think about many of the other things you “know” to be true that, in fact, are wrong.

Being a dedicated industrial marketing professional I began to think about what common knowledge about selling is wrong and in a flash of insight (or exhaustion) it occurred to me

What struck me was how one of the most dangerous beliefs held by sales managers and salespeople is that product presentations containing features dumps demonstrating product knowledge will lead to winning more sales. Some day I would like to write a song on this subject called “Everything You Know (About Selling) Is Wrong.”

Salespeople are taught that a winning presentation that highlights product knowledge is the key factor in success in sales. I respectfully disagree with this.

First, many sales presentations are rehearsed or “canned” and may even have, oh horror, a standardized PowerPoint presentation. The glaring error in this approach is that the salesperson then purports that his product can solve all the prospect’s problems before the salesperson knows what these problems are. This, to put it mildly is both wrong-headed and more than a little arrogant. It also has the added cost of annoying prospects.

Second, it is much more efficient (and profitable) to worry less about the presentation and more about tying the presentation to solving only the specific problems (and their consequences) being faced by that particular prospect. Instead of wasting time spewing out product knowledge and hoping to hit the elusive hot button, salespeople can zero in on what really matters to their prospects by simply asking the right questions.

The secret to winning more sales could not be easier. Sales are won through a process of respectful and trust-building discovery. Salespeople who spend their time asking intelligent questions, uncovering the problems and pains being felt by their prospects, and tying the benefits of their products to solving these problems close more sales.

I will take my portfolio, blank paper, and pen in to any sales call and my fondest wish is my competitors have a slick PowerPoint presentation. I will ask questions and work hard at genuinely understanding my prospects and how using my products or services will benefit them. I strongly urge all salespeople interested in winning more sales to do the same. Then everything they know will be right. Well, about selling anyway.