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The importance of product knowledge.

Becoming a go-to resource for clients, even when you don’t have what they need

Last week I was out with a client to go on a shadow call. This is a service I rarely use unless someone has been in sales for at least 10-plus years and has a pretty good understanding of the selling business.

When I was with him at a particular prospect, the conversations on both sides were really respectful and went very smooth.

Then the prospect asked him if his company does provide a particular service?

The sales person didn’t even understand the concept, which was explained very nicely by the potential buyer.

His response was NO.

After spending the day successfully at another existing customer’s plant, we proceeded to discuss the first appointment, and how he handled the question of a service he may offer.

When we got back to his office, we were called in by the owner of the company to see how the day went. My client explained and also brought up the issue of the particular service he told the client that the company didn’t offer. Pardon my frankness, but the business owner had a crap fit, since they DID offer that service. It turned out that this sales rep, a veteran in the business, never looked into it and was clueless, and therefore never offered it to anyone else.

His lack of full product knowledge likely cost the sales rep thousands of dollars in commissions over the past few years, even though every other aspect of how he maintained customer service was done well.

While this example involves a sales presentation, anyone who works for a company that provides a product or service needs to hear this loud and clear:

The importance of product knowledge cannot be understated and you knowing the products and services your company offers is invaluable to your clients, customers and anyone you do business with.

Picture walking into a store where the clerk can only answer one or two of your questions, or fails to mention features that a certain product has. Your impression of the clerk – your impression of the business really – is probably going to be negative. You certainly won’t feel valued, and there’s a likelihood that there are similar products or services you can find elsewhere.

In my example, we were left with a few problems:

· How do we go back to that prospect, who was with a Fortune 500 Company no less, and say, “Funny story – it turns out we DO offer the service you had to explain to me.”

· How will an omission like this hinder building trust that he (a 12-year veteran) will help them succeed if you’ve already appeared unaware of what you can offer them?

· How many other customers could have been served by this sales person with a service he didn’t even know they offered?

This story might be a wake up call, for those of you who feel you either know it all about your products or services, or about what a prospect needs. There is a lesson in humility here that you should take away. Before your next interaction, make a plan to become a true resource for the people you do business with.

Of course, there will be legitimate instances where the answer truly will be “No.” However, if you’ve been working with your customer or prospect and paying attention to what they’re telling you, you should have a ready follow-up to help them find what they need. For example, let’s say your company manages the recycling and disposal of electronics like computers. Someone calls asking about these services, and the more detailed your answers are, the more VALUE that prospect sees in your company. Perhaps you mention something they’ve never even thought of, or they know someone else needs, and you can possibly also gain a referral from that conversation.

So when you’re asked about a service you don’t offer, imagine how grateful the person would be when you can give them a few contacts (referrals that hopefully you have relationships with as well) that can assist them. This creates a positive customer relationship that is also memorable. Even if they don’t use your service, they likely will at some point in the future, because your humility and generosity will be what sets you apart from other businesses.

So as you’re a resource to your customer, find your own resources on your products and services. People you work with that are a part of the process are people you should shadow from time to time so you can understand everything about a product: construction, features, manufacturing, unique facets unlike others in the industry.

Service-focused businesses are no different. Tap into the genius of those who are part of the process to learn what goes into providing the service from the time the customer makes the request, to the time the job is complete. Likely you will not only learn something, but have insights that allow your team to be more efficient, or add services that your customers are talking about.

With social media an all-too-easy way for people to complain about their experience with a company, the importance of product knowledge has never been more paramount to your success. Usually a person who is unhappy with a company will tell nine friends. Someone who is happy with a company will tell only four. When you multiply that by the exposure that a digital platform offers, you can’t afford to be anything but an expert, serving your customers with your knowledge, resources and authentic concern for their needs.