The Competent Salesperson–Is this your employee?

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  Our firm is currently seeking vendors and bids for new stationary products.  I met with a salesperson the other day to see what her firm might be able to do regarding our need.  Sadly, I was disappointed with what I learned. Here is why—
   I asked what I thought were simple product knowledge questions– what is the color of the paper, how heavy is it, what is linen content?  In each case, my salesperson did not know the answer, however was excited to go and check for me.  Now, what I had expected was that she would know these basic, fundamental product knowledge questions without having to go check.  After all, she was the representative selliing the product.
   Here is what probably happened.  She was hired to sell the product and put “on the street” without any formal product knowledge training.  Now, selling paper is simple, right?  Well, perhaps not.  Knowing the plethora of questions and factors that are involved in paper is just as important as knowing the many different facets of buying a new car.  However, what I suspect was that she was sent on the road with an order book and told to call the home office if there were any questions.
   Staff training and development are points that cannot be taken for granted.  The more time that you spend with the new staffer on the front end will pay you greater and richer dividends on the back end.  In this instant case, I am not sure that we’ll buy from this salesperson.  Oh, I don’t know that– we have yet to hear the final sales presentation, however, I suspect that in the end, the order will be earned elsewhere.
   What about your staff?  Do they have basic product knowledge down cold?  Are they able to answer many different product questions without having to check every time a new question is raised?  This phase is called product knowledge development.  Yes, it costs money to have a new employee learn all of the products and know them.  Do you test your employees on his/her knowledge?  Do you reward them with additional compensation or bonus if they learn the complete product line?  I am familiar with car dealers that have their sales staff become “certified” if they are able to pass tests on basic and advanced product knowledge.  This may be something that you may wish to implement at your store.
    The impression that I left with with this salesperson was that although she was trying hard, she was put in a “no-win” position.  She could not win by not knowing the products she was selling, however, her boss failed to invest the time necessary and required to insure that she would represent the firm in a positive manner.
    Don’t let one of your sales staff fly “solo” if you have not taken the time to develop them into trained professionals. Yes, this costs money, however, the money invested now is small compared to the cost of a lost sale later when the salesperson fails to know more about the product than the client to whom she/he is trying to sell.

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