The “Hire Someone With Product Knowledge” Myth

Hiring a candidate for your sales position who has “product knowledge” seems on the surface to be a smart move. Don’t believe it! Product knowledge is highly overrated by most sales manager and has little to do with a representative’s ability to close sales. Even though most of the sales training conducted today centers on learning the nuances of an organization’s products or services, the emphasis on products knowledge is nothing more than a waste of training time. If you want to hire “order takers” and not sales professionals, place an emphasis on finding candidates with industry experience and product knowledge

I was sitting in a meeting with a bank president and several vice presidents attempting to sell them on a sales training package for their customer service representatives; when, in answer to one of my questions, the the training manager said that the bank would not even consider my training program unless I had some way of measuring its effectiveness with their CSRs. The day before this sales meeting, The $elling Edge, Inc. had been awarded the distributorship for a unique bank tracking software package, that would effectively measure CSR cross-sales ratios. I knew what the software was supposed to do, but had no way to demonstrate its benefits, because all the sales literature and demo disks were in the mail. Nevertheless, before leaving the meeting that day, the controller of the bank cut a cashiers check for $8795 for the tracking software and the bank committed to one year’s training for their CSRs and tellers. Knowing how to sell gave my firm our first software package sale. Product Knowledge played no role in the process at all.

Two weeks after joining the sales staff of a large oil and gas tax shelter firm, I was asked to meet my boss at the Merrill Lynch office in Indianapolis to observe my first formal presentation of the tax shelter products. Twenty minutes before the presentation was to begin, I received a call from my boss whose plane had been delayed and was told I’de have to conduct the demonstration to 40 seasoned stock brokers alone. I knew nothing about the oil and gas industry and was scheduled for training about how hydrocarbons were produced the week after the Indiana meetings. I wasn’t quite sure how the “preference treatment” worked in the tax shelters, nor did I understand all the nuances of the products, yet when I finished my presentation, several of the brokers commented that it was the best demonstration they had ever had on the subject. I succeeded with the group because I knew how to sell--not because of a working knowledge of oil and gas tax shelters.

Hire candidates who can sell. It doesn’t matter if they know anything about your industry or your products or services. Product knowledge is overrated in the hiring process and selling skills seem to be underrated by many managers today. If your candidates can sell, learning what they need to know about what it is you sell can be accomplished in quickly.


VIRDEN J. THORNTON is the founder and President of The $elling Edge®, Inc. a 23 year old firm specializing in sales, customer relations, personal coaching and management training and development. Clients have included Sears Optical, Eastman Kodak, IBM, Deloitte & Touché, Bank One, Jefferson Pilot, and Wal-Mart to name a few. Virden is the author of Prospecting: The Key To Sales Success, Organizing For Sales Success, 101 Sales Management Myths, A Realtor's Success Formula, and two ...

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