The Pros and Cons of Product or Service Knowledge

Most people would agree that product/service knowledge is a good thing. Discussing a product or service with someone with limited knowledge of it can be a frustrating and unproductive experience.

However, we’ve all experienced the situation where people spend most of the sales interaction telling us all they know, whether we want to hear it or not. The effect can confuse, overwhelm, and worst of all, cause delay or even inertia in making a buying decision.

What is product/service knowledge?

In a nutshell, your team should know about your product’s or service’s…

  • Price and value (not just how much it costs, but how can one pay for it, and how does this compare with other options)
  • Quality (And how it compares to others)
  • Experience (The amount of time invested, or the number of units sold and serviced, or the degree of improvement that has been made, in making the product or service good)
  • Expertise or Specialism (Whether you specialise in the product or service)
  • Unique points of difference (What makes this product or service unique?)
  • Knowledge of service basics (What are the elements and processes in the product or service itself? How is it purchased? How is it used?)

The Pros

1. It strengthens communication skills. More knowledge enables the sales person to explain things in different ways and with fewer words, which might lead to better and more efficient communication.

For example, someone selling an accounting software package will be able to more effectively sell it if they fully understand all the ins and outs of the software. A product like this can be very complicated for the layperson to understand, so product knowledge can help the sales person to explain the features and benefits of the product in a way that is simple to understand.

2. It boosts enthusiasm and confidence. Sometimes, knowing a lot of information about something may lead to enthusiasm or even evangelism about a certain product. While belief doesn’t always follow knowledge, it can be a useful route to increase the amount of belief people have in a product. Strangely, I’ve also seen the opposite effect. Sometimes those who are new to a product will be enthusiastic about it because they do not yet know all of its weaknesses.

Apple’s products are a good example of this – Apple has an almost obsessive community of fans who will buy Apple products over anything else, despite price or considerations of practicality. Because their affinity with the product is so strong, salespeople who work for Apple will enthuse about the products and as their enthusiasm is so genuine, it can be very persuasive. Apple stores have a great customer service reputation as their staff really believe in the products they are selling.

3. It assists in overcoming objections. To me, this is the most important and useful applications of product knowledge. One of our core beliefs is that people want to know about what they’re interested in, as opposed to what you’re interested in.

One way of understanding what they’re interested in is eliciting and listening to questions.

Questions and ambiguous statements (also known as objections) are the clue to what interests people most about what they are buying. Questions are buying signals.

The absence of questions, as a salesperson or a trainer, makes me anxious because it means they are either not listening, not interested or not mentally buying the product or service I’d discussing.

The Cons

1. It leaves less room for questions. The more you talk, the gaps you fill, the fewer questions people ask. Talking too much can also fatigue prospects, rendering all your good information rather useless. Questions stimulate conversation, and conversations (not just presentations) tend to lead to more decisions and actions. In our interpersonal skills training we teach how to leave appropriate gaps in conversation to allow the prospect to ask questions.

2. It can give your prospect too much to think about. One of the most common objections to taking action is “I want to think about it”. Often, we are our own worst enemies. We firehose the prospect with so much information that we quite literally give them too much to think about.

It’s been proving that providing the customer with too many options provokes a kind of paralysis that can prevent them from buying anything at all. Amazon limited their product suggestions for cross-selling to 6 items to prevent this sales paralysis from occurring.

3. It overcomplicate it simple decisions. When I take a plane from London to New York, I don’t have any need to know how it works. I just need to know that it will work. Most of the products and services we buy are well out of the grasp of most people.

How do mobile phones actually work? How do computers actually work? How do actuarial tables actually work? Does any of this matter if you’re not making or fixing phones and computers and calculating actuarial tables? Perhaps intellectually, but practically, no.

4. It can obscure the need to detect and analyse needs and slow down presentations. There is some research that suggests that “The human body is hard-wired to pulse. To operate at our best, we need to renew our energy at 90-minute intervals — not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.” Source.

This is one reason we advocate 90 minute consultations from start to finish. Using that time to disseminate product information erodes one’s ability to discover needs. This is the wrong focus and is a recipe for low conversions.