In days gone by, the term “knowledge,” when used in a sales setting, usually meant “product knowledge.” That is understandable; even today, 80 percent of training budgets is spent on teaching sales teams all there is to know about the range of products they sell. But product knowledge is no longer a differentiator. It is merely a very basic requirement of all successful frontline sales professionals. In other words, it’s part of the entrance exam—not a higher qualification.
Today, knowledge really is power. In order to excel, salespeople must acquire the following types of knowledge:
- Industry knowledge
- Sector knowledge
- Competitive knowledge
- Company knowledge
- Business knowledge (acumen)
As the discussions and debates continue regarding the future of professional selling, one fact is very clear: The relevance of a salesperson to the “buying process”—yes, we have moved away from saying the “sales process”—is becoming increasingly diminished. This is quite simply because buyers, who are more self-educated than ever, are entering the cycle so much later.
The fact that buyers are already “super-busy and frazzled,” as “SNAP Selling” author Jill Konrath explains, has negatively impacted the profession of selling. But it is not the main reason buyers will not entertain us as readily as they once did. In the age of the Internet, they simply don’t need to deal with us. That’s why Konrath argues that our interactions with buyers need to be wholly relevant.
“Wholly relevant” means using our knowledge—our complete knowledge—to justify our right to be part of a customer’s purchasing process. As we move up the food chain, our ability to speak different “languages” becomes increasingly important. We have to become commercially multilingual because C-level executives, for example, rarely use the same language as members of an information technology team. And both groups naturally have different sets of buying criteria. As salespeople, we need to guarantee our survival by building our “commercial bandwidth”—and that means our knowledge.
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Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author, consultant and chairman of The JF Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates. For more information and tips from Jonathan, visit http://www.topsalesworld.com/, or go to his blog at http://www.thejfblogit.co.uk/.