Great product knowledge drives sales for retailers
The internet is a great resource for shoppers to do research, but nothing beats the knowledge of a good salesperson
Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go tokara.ie
In my early career, I worked in the jewellery business. For many customers, there was a mystique around how to judge the value of watches, jewellery and silverware.
I can't tell you how many times I saw customers weighing a watch or a silver-plated teapot in their hand. There was something of an urban myth that made people think the heavier the product, the better the quality. While that was true for precious metals and gemstones, it just wasn't true for watches, costume jewellery and silverware.
I remember selling EPNS (electro-plated nickel silver) tea-sets made in India. They were about a third of the price of their English competitors. One reason was that the silver plating was many microns thinner. The heavy nickel base gave the illusion of quality and they sold in truckloads. With sterling (solid) silver tea-sets on the other hand, weight was an indicator of value.
The point is that in that particular industry, customers often did not know what the true determinant of quality was. They were totally reliant on their assumptions and what they were or were not told by the salesperson. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the jewellery sector. I have seen this across industry with clients in B2C, B2B and the service sector.
The business risk of poor product knowledge
Nowadays, with Google and smartphones, customers are much better informed. They do their research on the spot or in advance, and will have no issue with challenging a salesperson with their knowledge. Despite their research they can still get it wrong, and I therefore believe it puts product knowledge to the fore when selling to a questioning customer. If a salesperson cannot answer questions effectively and with confidence, two factors are at stake - one is that the salesperson might feel inadequate as a result, the other is that customers might not buy.
King Koil is a long-established premium bed and mattress brand, with products made by hand in Co Kildare since 1982. Employing 300 people, King Koil is known for back care comfort, being endorsed by the chiropractor community, and its prominence in five-star Irish hotels. Conor Stapleton is the marketing manager and he explained a few things to me about beds and mattresses. Like many other ill-informed customers, I thought firmness was an indication of quality - but of course our bodies are not flat and, instead, King Koil has innovated with mattresses which adapt to our shape and weight, with improved temperature control and breathability.
Now that may sound like a mouthful. But if that was explained to a customer, it would surely inspire them to buy. After all, in a world where consumers might only buy a mattress every 10 years, they are unlikely to stay abreast of technological advances in that field. Then when they do research in advance of purchasing, they probably just skim what they read for the key points. The challenge for this and every company is to be sure to find a way to inform customers of what makes your products so special. If you don't, customers will resort to their own assumptions of value and may get it very wrong.
Tips on how to use great product knowledge to drive sales
1 Revisit the features of each of your products
Features are the basic list of characteristics of your product which describe its attributes. Examples of a feature in a mattress might include 'open cell visco', or 'made in Ireland'.
2 Features alone do not inspire customers to buy. Benefits do
Benefits are what the product will do for the customer - what need it fulfils. Therefore, for each feature, identify its matching benefits. When the customer understands the benefits, they are more likely to be inspired to buy.
3 Some of your attributes may overlap with your competitors
So consider which of your features and benefits you can claim to be different to your competitors'. They are the ones to put a particular focus on in your sales pitch.
4 Learn and rehearse a scripted non-robotic way of explaining your product to your customers
There is a significant phrase to ensure you match features with their matching benefits. It goes like this: "It has foam wall encasement, which means that you get edge to edge non-sag sleep comfort."
Another example is: "Made in Ireland, which means that it is locally produced by expert craftsmen."
5 Don't just repeat from a feature-driven spec sheet
If you have a range of collateral or brochures to support your range of products, be careful not to just list off a feature-driven specification sheet.
If you can, word the narrative in your collateral to include matching benefits where you can.
The last word
These steps will do a lot to help you drive sales - but it doesn't stop there. Regardless of whether you're a B2B or B2C business, you need to train all of your people who interact with customers.
Arm them with enough knowledge to build their confidence and trust with your customers.
Your suppliers will help you with this, as they too will see the value in a better-informed salesperson.
If you are a manufacturer of your own products, take time to ensure that your own people and your customers are well-armed with all of the great attributes which make you different from others in the marketplace.
Sunday Indo Business