Written by Steve Murphy, CEO, Epicor Software Corp.
If you’re in the business of selling technology, you know that you win sales when you can solve tough, specific problems.
However, to demonstrate that you can solve a customer’s pain points, you must know technology solutions at a detailed level—you need deep product knowledge. You must also understand the specific needs of your customers so you can communicate which solutions and capabilities are most relevant to them. When you have more comprehensive knowledge on both fronts, you can communicate how your solution is differentiated, relevant, and superior on a functional level.
Take, for example, an automotive manufacturer. Production scheduling is a crucial aspect of their business. Contrary to manufacturers in other industries that may be more focused on cutting assembly line costs, many automotive manufacturers prioritize flexibility. They need solutions that provide the opportunity to make live adjustments in production scheduling as needed. If new data shows more customers are buying red and black cars than yellow, they can adjust the assembly line to produce cars that reflect that current market demand. A smart sales rep understands the auto manufacturer’s priorities and communicates how their solution provides the flexibility to meet this need.
But simply understanding there’s a need for deep product knowledge is not enough. You also need to know how to best obtain product knowledge and then seek it out continually.
Here are six practical tips to help you stay current on product knowledge—three for companies and three for employees.
What Companies Can Do
Embed product knowledge in company culture
This first step is crucial. The importance of product knowledge starts at the top. Executives and other leaders should diligently work to ensure product knowledge is a valued part of your company culture.
Don’t just know your product—talk about it with each other and your customers. Hold town halls with your employees and share how product knowledge will play a central role—if it hasn’t already. Connect employees with internal subject matter experts so that ongoing conversations can be developed about the true benefits of your solutions.
Furthermore, when you meet with customer advisory boards, talk specifics about your solution. Demonstrate your expertise and enthusiasm for addressing your customers’ pain points.
Invest in product knowledge training
Once the importance of product knowledge is established in your company culture, follow through. You need to spend time and money on education that delivers information and training to your employees on product knowledge, important product updates, etc.
If you run into pushback on this front, emphasize the long-term benefits you’ll get out of this investment. When a customer feels your sales rep understands their business and specific challenges, not only is your company more likely to win a sale, but you also establish a greater level of trust for a long-term working relationship with that customer.
Working relationships built on trust also foster better communication that can have many unforeseen benefits. For example, your customer may end up providing you with feedback that leads to future innovation for the solutions you offer. But it all comes back to the trust you establish with your customer through product knowledge.
Be smart about sharing product knowledge
While providing employees with access to product knowledge is important, be strategic to maximize the impact of your efforts. First, consider your words. Use plain language so communications and training are simple to comprehend and remember. Also, translate complex industry jargon so it’s easy for employees to share the information with customers.
Second, push out tech updates on an exception basis. This means sharing notable changes to a product. Avoid inundating your employees with unnecessary information.
Third, only send technology updates out to relevant personnel. Mass customize who gets what information based on their job function.
Finally, consider providing in-person workshops given by leaders in your business who are black belts or superusers on a specific solution. Have them go out and share their knowledge on pain points of businesses you serve, as well as the value propositions of your solution.
What Employees Can Do
Consume in manageable doses
Think back to your college days. If you crammed for a test, you might get a B—rarely an A. But, if you studied throughout the year and stayed up-to-date on reading, the time you needed to study for your test was less intense, you typically performed better, and you were able to retain the information long term.
The same is true for consuming product knowledge. Consume information as frequently as you can—even if it’s only two or three minutes at a time. Read an article while you wait in line for coffee. Watch a short tech update after you put the kids to bed. This doesn’t need to be a heavy lift—just a mindful one.
Ignore product release data at your own risk
When your company provides you with a product update, use it. It’s part of a good-faith relationship. They are prioritizing the importance of product knowledge, and they want you to as well.
Go a step further. If you receive information that is helpful to you, share feedback and say why you found it helpful. Conversely, if you need additional information, don’t be shy about seeking it out.
Pursue information from objective outlets
In addition to the product knowledge provided by your company, seek information from outside outlets. Consider looking beyond tech publications. Professional, balanced publications and think tanks offer credible, researched information. For example, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times have tech sections that can provide a well-rounded perspective.
Technology constantly evolves, and maintaining up-to-date product knowledge is by no means easy. Remind yourself that it’s an investment in your success with your customers. When you can provide them with specific information and articulate how solutions address tough problems, everyone wins.