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Let’s Put An End To Product Training!

by David Brock on December 13th, 2011

I can already hear the distress from product managers and product marketing people.  How could we possibly imagine putting an end to product training?  How would sales people understand and be able to pitch our products?

Well, my response is pretty simple and crass, it doesn’t work!  Billions of dollars (euro, yuan, yen, pounds) are spent every year in training sales people about products.  More is spent in collateral, samples, materials.  All it does is makes our sales people knowledgeable about our products.  Very little helps the sales person solve the customers problems.

Perhaps if we turned things upside down and started thinking and training differently.  What is we started training sales people on things the customer cares about?  What if we started training on markets, customers, problems that customers have?  What if we started training sales people on helping customer discover new opportunities to grow their business or improve their operations?

The only way we can get sales to have meaningful conversations with their customers is to talk about what they care about—their businesses.  Telling them about all our great products doesn’t excite them, it doesn’t help them achieve what they need or want to achieve.

If we turned all our training upside down and focused purely on what is important to customers we would be much more effective in selling our products.  If we positioned what our products do, in terms of how they help  customers achieve their goals, we engage our customers in an entirely different conversation–one that’s important to them, one that catches their attention.  What if all our training started this way:

  • These are the customers we serve better than anyone else in the world.
  • These are the things they are trying to achieve.  These are the problems they have.  These are opportunities they are missing.  These are the things our customers should be worrying about.  This is the impact of those issues on their business.  This is what these customers need to do to win and outperform their competition.  These are dreams they may have and why they are important……
  • Here’s how our product [Insert name here] helps them address those issues.  Here’s how our product helps them achieve their goals more effectively than any other alternative…….

It’s a very simple twist from what we do, but it starts with the customer–providing sales the knowledge, skills,  tools to engage the customer with things they care about, not forcing them to listen to all the data about our products.  They really don’t care that it comes in 10 different designer colors, or that it is cloud based, or that it is modular – flexible – upgradeable, or that it’s what all the “cool dudes” use.  They don’t care that it’s bigger, better, faster, cheaper, and is HTML5 based.  But this is typically how we train our sales people.  Customers don’t care, so we are wasting our time and resources by training our sales people in this manner.

Executives–sales, marketing, and product managers need to start challenging people with different questions.  Rather than challenging sales people to be capable of “Identifying three key features and three key benefits of our products,” they need to challenge people with “Identify three opportunities our customers have to improve their business and how our products provide them the capability to seize these opportunities.”

What do you think, should we be putting an end to product training?

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9 Comments
  1. Excellent insight, Dave. I think the traditional model of training is this: give sales people a strong knowledge of product features and benefits and try to wedge those benefits into the situations that customers are facing. A better model is, like you say, to start with the problems customers have. Then, sales people can dig into their repretoire and think, “Hmm…what do I have here that can solve my customers problem?” Training in this way will overturn that classic misstep of prescribing before diagnosing.

    • Absolutely Doug! If we just changed the context of how we train, we would accomplish so much more!

  2. The advice in this article makes perfect sense. Current product development equips sales people to do nothing but regurgitate facts and data. Customers are not dazzled by good memories. Kick the training up a notch and you teach them how to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the information. Teach ’em to think. Customers are dazzled when you can solve their problems.

  3. I’m not sure that getting rid of product training will necessarily help with the sales process for many products. What I think I hear you saying is that sales people should take a more customer-centric approach to sales. Talk less about the product and features and more about the customer pains and how your solutions can potentially resolve these pains. If your product is simple you can probably end there and close the sale.

    However, if your product is more complex, having a more technical sales team can assist as the prospect continues down the sales cycle. Once we’ve convinced them that our product can help with their challenges – they’ll want to know that the solution is really the right fit for them. Bringing in a team member or having a salesperson who has greater expertise will be helpful. Having someone who can talk to the prospects’ situation and can bridge that with product knowledge is frequently important to provide a comfort level to the prospect before they buy.

    I do agree that understanding your audience and being able to adress their needs is an important first step for sales people.

    • Scott: Thanks for your comment, I actually think we are in wild agreement. What I am really saying in this post is that we need to turn our approach to product training on its head. Classically, product training is all about the product. We train people in all the capabilities of the product, we may have a few slides on target customers, etc.

      What happens is the sales people internalize the information on what the product is—features, functions, feeds, speeds. If product marketing took a different approach, starting with customer scenarios. For example, “for this category of customers, ” “here are some things they are trying to achieve, ” “here are problems they have,” “here’s why elminiating these problems is important to them” followed by, “here’s what our products/services do to address these issues.” Then position the product, it’s features and capabilities in this context.

      It’s still product training but in a very different context.

      You address a different issue that is critical for sales in the future. As the problems our customers are trying to solve become more complex, along with our products, sales needs to become more of a resource manager, identifying the right resources to help the customer and bringing them into the sales process.

      Thanks for joining the discussion.

  4. Jim permalink

    Product training? Yes. Necessary. Perspective is key. I agree entirely with the “centricity” concept. The deal will be either ‘salesperson centric’, ‘Company centric’, or ‘consumer centric’. A failure here will still produce sales but never sales records.

    EG: I love the salesperson’s chart showing the specs on my parachute are superior to the others I am considering buying. But what am I actually buying? The landing, not the parachute.

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