The Sales Contradiction!

This is not a post about how great a salesperson I was or am. It is a post about product knowledge (or lack thereof), less talking and the fine art of questioning. 

In 1975 I was a young sales guy who had just spent 5 weeks out east in training with the company that had just hired me. Toward the end of this marathon the company introduced a new product to us that no one in the sales force had seen. Literally, we received about an hours worth of product knowledge. (I could really bore the heck out of you by explaining what a bifurcated velour graft is but that would be pointless!) Cardiovascular surgeons used the product.

The first week in the field I took this product around to the surgeons in town. Here was how I introduced the product. After introducing myself I said to the physician, “Doctor, I am new to the company and this product, so I’m a little shy about telling you how great it is. You know what this is for so could you tell me what advantages it has over other products on the market?” (The product did have a well known doctor’s name attached to it so people took notice of that.)

Here’s what happened. Each physician I talked with looked at the product for about 60 seconds. I shut my mouth during the silence. Actually, I was too scared to talk. They usually asked questions which I answered followed by my question, which was, “why is that feature important to you?” After several minutes of this I asked, “Is it worth having a few of these in stock?” Not the greatest close in the world but what they heck, I was a rookie. Nine out of ten doctors ordered the product.

At the national sales meeting the following January I had sold more than anyone else in the company including the crusty veterans. Every one asked me how I did it. I gave them the honest answer that I had no clue!

Obviously, now I know why people bought so many of the things. I didn’t sell the product, the physicians bought it. They bought it because I didn’t retch forth features and benefits. Too much product knowledge at the wrong time screws up many a sales call.

Will this work in every industry, with every prospect on every sales call? Not exactly the way my sales calls happened. Selling a tangible product makes this approach possible. And I could make a case for never putting a tangible product in the hands of the prospect because then the salesperson loses control of the sales call. The moral of the story is simple-less (in this case features and benefits) is better.

The Final Thought: The more you learn the more you earn.


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