Why Salespeople Don't Need Product Knowledge Training—and What to Give Them Instead

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Don’t get me wrong: sales reps most definitely need product knowledge. What they don’t need is the typical product knowledge training that runs through a lengthy list of features and benefits that are impossible to memorize. Instead, consider developing training that helps sales reps anticipate and answer questions prospects might have about those products.

Brainstorming Product Knowledge

To get started, brainstorm four lists of questions:

questions about the product
questions about how the product compares to a previous version, if applicable
questions about how the product compares to similar products you sell, if applicable
questions about how the product compares to the competition’s offerings.

Develop one training lesson to answer each set of questions. In the case of competitors, develop one training lesson per competitor.


The elegance of this approach is twofold. First, you are training sales reps to do exactly what you want them to do: position the product to make the sale. By anticipating the questions and studying the answers, they can proactively present information matched to the prospect’s needs or reactively respond to the prospect’s questions with on-target answers.

Second, you naturally build in a certain amount of repetition. For example, you’ll most likely anticipate and answer similar questions in a similar manner for each competitor. This is important because you want product knowledge to quite literally roll off a salesperson’s tongue. Repetition helps build this level of mastery.

Developing Drills

Once you’ve created your training materials, develop some sort of a drill-and-practice game. You don’t want sales reps to simply “acquire” product knowledge; you want them to “use” it. 

The goal of a drill-and-practice game is to give them practice responding to product knowledge questions—quickly while under pressure. This is exactly the sort of fluency they’ll need when they speak with prospects. You can’t have them pawing through sales collateral while they hem and haw to gain time.

A drill-and-practice game also taps into the competitive side that is likely second nature to most people who work in sales. To goose their motivation further and add an element of fun, offer some sort of reward to the high scorer. The reward doesn’t have to be company swag. Instead, get creative like one of my startup clients did. They rewarded the winning sales rep by playing his or her favorite song for the entire company to hear.

About the Author

Diane Valenti, founder of Applied Performance Solutions, Inc., uses her instructional design ninja skills to help companies reduce their sales onboarding ramp time and help sales teams rapidly acquire product knowledge. She works with Fortune 500 and startup companies, alike. Get Diane’s checklist to learn if you are making these 10 incredibly common mistakes that slow sales onboarding.

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