How to increase your sales team’s product and industry knowledge

Edited excerpt from What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest by Steve W. Martin:

Participants in a study of high performing vs. under-performing sales people were asked to rank the different attributes of great sales managers. In order of priority, the top three factors for high-performing salespeople were leadership and management skills, practical experience and sales intuition, and communication and coaching skills.

The top three factors for underperforming salespeople were industry expertise and product knowledge, communication and coaching skills, and fights for the team.

These results reveal how high and under-performing salespeople utilize their managers differently. Under-performers tend to use their managers to make up for the product and industry knowledge they lack.

(1) Bottom line: Sales success is correlated with strong product and industry knowledge.
(2) Sales people acquire product and industry knowledge in three ways: (i) Self-training. (ii) Guidance from the company, such as organized training and strong written materials. (iii) Learning from other sales people and their sales manager.
(3) Steve’s study suggests that (iii) doesn’t work.
(4) Implications: If you want successful sales people, hire candidates who demonstrate they can train themselves, and implement a rigorous training program.
(5) Thank you Eli Hoffmann for the tip.

3 thoughts on “How to increase your sales team’s product and industry knowledge

  1. Did you notice that in Steve’s study, underperforming sales people care that their manager “fights for the team”, whereas successful sales people don’t care about that?

    Why do you think that is?

  2. I would argue that the three factors mentioned, especially “industry expertise and product knowledge” is a top factor in underperforming employees in general, not just sales people, making training (or the encouragement of self-training) so important

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