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Product knowledge training using a little-known brain hack


Know what you sell, sell what you know.

Every sales guru in the world will tell you the same thing: Your sales staff will do better if they know the products they're selling and truly believe they are the best choice out there. Sending a salesman into the field without full knowledge of the product or service he's selling is a recipe for disaster. In many companies, the solution to this problem is to sit the sales team in a corporate classroom for a knowledge cramming session. However, this isn't the most effective way to educate your team.

Understanding how to educate your sales team, and why traditional methods don't always work best, can be the first step to increasing their sales performance. Looking at other learning techniques, it is possible to boost your sales team's performance and make them really enjoy the process. Of course, it can also help your company's bottom line!


Knowledge is power

Whether your sales team is familiar with Francis Bacon's idea that 'knowledge is power' or the GI Joe version of the concept, that 'knowing is half the battle', they probably have a basic idea that they need to have a good grasp of what it is they're meant to sell.

Knowing the product inside and out, and having a firm understanding of it, is the only way they're going to be able to sell at their best level. When a salesman joins your team, they probably don't know much about your product. They enter with the same knowledge one of your potential customers might have. It's your job to bring them up to speed so they can go out and educate others about the merits and USPs of your product.

Having full product knowledge training will also help in tricky sales situations. If a salesman is asked a question about your product and they don't know the answer, it will undermine their confidence, the product, and the sale. Every salesman needs to be your field expert, knowing what your product does, how it does it, and why a customer should pay for it. This means having to know everything there is to know about it, even the most obscure details.


Teaching the details

Most companies understand that their salesmen need to have a good working knowledge of their product and their company. The way this is achieved is usually through the corporate classroom. Sales staff are gathered together once a month, once a quarter, or once a year.

They sit in a room together, either at the office or at a conference centre, and are lectured about new products and changes to old ones. New sales staff are often given a large document about the products they'll be selling. They're told to go home and learn all they can, ready to present the company's offerings to potential customers.

The problem with both of these methods of learning is that they replicate the school environment. While some of your sales staff may have loved school, thriving in the classroom environment and relishing in every piece of homework they were assigned, it's likely that most of them weren't that student when they were younger. Even the past lover of the classroom may have outgrown that mentality. They don't want to learn through a lecture, they want to be out there selling. Knowledge cramming has been shown over and over again to be an ineffective way of learning.

Much like trying to cram before a school exam, getting your sales team to cram over the course of a corporate education session simply won't result in retained knowledge. They might be able to quickly recall some of the facts in the days following the cramming, but in a few weeks or months, when they're actually out there trying to sell your product, the finer details will have escaped them.


An alternative method

Rather than sitting people in a corporate classroom and hoping they stay off their mobiles while the products are being presented, you can achieve a better quality of learning by offering continuous training. Learning things in bite-sized chunks over a long period is much more effective than knowledge cramming. This takes learning beyond simple memorisation. When your sales team learn something by rote memorisation, they can only recall the facts.

If a customer asks them a tricky question, they won't be able to come up with the answer. However, when they have learned about your product in a different method, they will have a fuller understanding of it. While there are many different approaches to learning, one that works particularly well for sales training is Spaced Repetition.

This learning technique involves presenting small pieces of information on a regular basis. Each piece is repeated over a period of time, reinforcing the knowledge of the information. It is a method that is frequently used for learning languages and other things that have a lot of pieces that need to be remembered indefinitely. One way of thinking about Spaced Repetition is recalling flashcards.

These education tools from your younger days were an invaluable resource for learning vocabulary, basic mathematics, and many other simple lessons. Each flashcard limited the amount of information you were working on - usually only a single word or equation - and offered an easy, on the go way of studying. The knowledge you gathered in this method stuck with you and is accessible to you even now, however many years have passed.


Applying Spaced Repetition to business

Your sales team probably won't want to carry around a stack of flashcards about your product. It wouldn't look professional and would be cumbersome. However, you can apply Spaced Repetition learning to your business using software such as Wranx. Spaced Repetition software offers you a way to continuously educate and train your sales team.

Wranx takes the information you want your employees to learn and packages it in a way that is made for Spaced Repetition. These bite-sized, flashcard type pieces are delivered to any device, anywhere. This means your employees can learn while they travel, at home, or in the office.

Using a Spaced Repetition program like Wranx also gives you something flashcards can't - reporting on how employees are doing. With regular reports delivered to your inbox, you can see how employees are doing with their learning. You can then address any weak spots that need to be handled. By making the information more easily digested, it also reduces the amount of time your employees have to spend on this education.

Rather than taking full days to learn all they can, the information is presented to them in small pieces that only require a few minutes. The end result is that the actual time spent learning can be reduced significantly. Rather than spending huge amounts of time for hit and miss results, you can have a sales team that have spent less time on learning but gathered much more lasting knowledge.


Making learning fun

Another element that can help with employee education is making it fun. By adding in an element of gaming, Wranx allows your employees to compete for the top ranking. This is something that any sales team will really enjoy, and keep them motivated to learn more. While your salesmen try to outdo each other in their learning, you can also be sure that nobody is going to be left behind.

If there's a particular part of the product that a certain salesman just isn't getting to grips with, Wranx will help focus their learning. Much like using flashcards you were able to quickly weed out the easier ones and focus on the ones you found more difficult, Spaced Repetition software will use an algorithm to do the same for your employees' learning experience.

This all results in a highly effective learning method that encourages advancement while managing problems. If you've ever run a corporate classroom, you know that these are two elements that are often missing. Classroom environments tend to breed boredom and force employees to go at a single speed. This holds back more advanced salesmen and makes things more difficult for newer salesmen. The end result is usually a lack of enthusiasm on both ends of the spectrum.


Improved sales through education

At the end of the day, it's all about the bottom line. Having a well educated sales force is great, but the reality is that it needs to result in more sales. When a salesman understands a product, he's more likely to show and recommend it to customers. One of the most effective ways to boost your sales is through education. An educated and excited salesman can't wait to tell others about a product. He is enthusiastic in the field, and able to clearly explain what your product and your company have to offer that your competitors don't.

An enthusiastic salesman is more convincing and will close more sales, simply by being able to demonstrate things in such an effective way. Many studies have shown that robust and comprehensive retail sales training is an important area that delivers a measurable return on investment.

Enthusiasm isn't an innate thing when it comes to your product, though. Your sales team will come together without any previous knowledge of your product. It's your job to turn them into experts who can recommend your product to others. Word of mouth advertising is extremely effective -- just think of how many purchase decisions are made based on online reviews by other consumers who aren't even personally known. When you give your sales team full knowledge of your product in a way that is retained over the long term, they can offer this word of mouth type of pitch.

Spaced Repetition effectively turns your sales team into experienced users of your product. They know everything there is to know and can recall it in an educated manner. They aren't simply repeating a few key phrases they remember from that weekend retreat. Instead, they know your product intimately and can tailor their sales message to each new customer.


Making Spaced Repetition work for you

Spaced Repetition software is one of the easiest ways to bring this system of learning to your company. It doesn't need to replace other learning methods, either. In fact, combining it with existing methods, including corporate classroom techniques, can make them more effective. This is because the group learning becomes a refresher course for your sales team. It gives them a way to interact with each other, ask further questions, and really engage with what you have to offer.

Another benefit of Spaced Repetition is that it offers the ability to constantly update the information. If your products and services are changing on a regular basis, you don't want to have to keep calling your sales staff in for more and more classroom meetings. It isn't cost effective and will detract from their ability to be in the field making money.

 The financial benefits of Spaced Repetition software are also significant. As an education solution for your team, Wranx offers a customisable package that reduces the amount you need to spend to bring your employees up to speed. This is particularly good for new hires, since it certainly isn't a good value to pull together a corporate classroom situation every time somebody joins your team. Your sales team is with you to sell, and you need them to sell in the most effective way possible. This means fully understanding your product and what you offer customers.

While traditional learning methods can be a good way to present some types of information, they often fail to get a sales force fully engaged and knowledgeable. Adding Spaced Repetition to your employee education can be a way of boosting their understanding, confidence in the field, and, most importantly, their sales volume. Corporate education is vital, and finding a technique or mix of techniques that works for you and your employees is the first step to improving your overall sales. If you've tried classroom education and not had the results you wanted, it isn't time for a new sales team. It's time for a new mode of educating the team you have.