Product Training vs Sales Training

product training

I started this morning just like any other. With a cup of coffee in hand, I begin reading my emails. The first email I came across began with a simple statement. “Product training is the most important aspect of sales training.” I wasn’t interested in the free webinar the email was offering. However, the statement evoked a thought. Is product training more important than sales training?

Many organizations invest money, time, and effort in teaching salespeople about the products they sell. As a direct result of this effort, we find salespeople spending the bulk of their time pitching their products and services to prospective customers.

So what’s wrong with this approach?

To fully grasp the problem, we have to put ourselves in the position of the prospects. Prospects sit through sales presentations. They learn about the sales rep’s new products and services. The prospect must make the connection between these products. They must also gauge any applicable impact on their organization. Unless the product clearly solves a problem the prospect recognizes, most simply won’t conduct that thorough analysis. It becomes a bit like channel surfing. If their attention isn’t grabbed quickly, they simply move on to something else.

Unfortunately, this pitch approach works often enough that many believe it’s a good idea. What about the 80%+ of meetings where this approach didn’t lead to any meaningful opportunities for either party?

Placing a priority on product training runs the risk of focusing salespeople in the wrong direction. We focus on our solutions instead of the prospect’s company.

product training

Product Training & Sales Training 101: Focus on the Customer

Does this mean everyone should abandon all product training and focus exclusively on selling skills? Of course not. However, all training should focus on the customer first. Moreover, equipping salespeople to engage in meaningful conversations about the customer’s business MUST be the top priority for the organization. Assume for a moment that a salesperson knows nothing of her products. As long as this seller focuses her energy on gathering critical information from the prospect, the meeting is likely to be more productive than a product pitch. This assumes the salesperson has the skill needed to gather critical information including details regarding the prospect’s organization and the criteria the buyer would use to evaluate any proposed solutions. Obviously, there are additional information objectives that would be important from the prospect’s perspective, but you get my point.

Leaving the meeting with meaningful information from the prospect, the person could simply take this information back to his company and seek help finding an ideal solution. Imagine a seller returning from a sales call and stating: “Here are the business objectives I learned from my prospect… Here are the criteria the prospect will consider in order to make a decision…Do we have any solutions that address these problems and align with their criteria?” Assuming once again the salesperson knows nothing about his company’s products; it seems likely there would be adequate help to define the ideal solution.

Solutions = Success

There is no question that equipping salespeople with a clear understanding of the solutions they offer is important to the success of the sales organization. However, when product training becomes the top or sole priority, there is a risk that the sales people becoming too focused on their products, and not focused enough on prospects’ best interests.

Have you run into obstacles with product-focused training programs? If so, were you able to find a good balance between products and skills training?

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