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Expertise Is In Demand

More than ever, buyers expect expertise from the sellers they choose to do business with. They want someone who is knowledgeable and stays on top of current trends. Sellers who are experts in their own products no longer impress buyers. What they demand these days is that sellers be experts about the buyer’s business, industry, and needs.

Now that’s a tall order.

This expectation isn’t one that buyers yield easily on either. They demand that sellers be knowledgeable the first time they meet with them. They are impatient with the process of educating a new sales rep, and they are downright annoyed when a seller asks questions that demonstrate a lack of knowledge.

I’ve observed this impatience when I ride-along with sales reps for field coaching. And I’ve heard buyers describe their frustration when a seller doesn’t take the time to learn more about them before “wasting their time.” As a buyer, I’ve felt this way myself. But nothing drove the point home better than a recent discussion I started in some Linked In groups I belong to.

My initial question was “Which is more important for a Sales Trainer – a background in selling or a background in training?” Nearly 200 comments poured in, and about 90% of them concurred that an effective sales trainer MUST have a background in selling. What’s more, said many commenters, the trainer should know specifically about the product and industry they are training in because sellers will not respond to anything less.

I agree. In fact, this is why I choose to do so much customization and pre-surveying of any team I work with and why I primarily work in the industries I am most familiar with when conducting sales training.

But herein lies the irony. These comments came from sales trainers, sales managers, and sales reps. When in the position of buyer (trainee or purchaser of training), they demand expertise. They wrote things like, “For the same reason I wouldn’t hire a fat personal trainer or a broke financial advisor, I’d never hire a sales trainer who did not successfully carry a bag,” and, “Every industry is different, and I would only use a sales trainer who had sold my product to my customers.”

Why is this ironic? Because, in my opinion, the standard being set by us as buyers may be a higher standard than we are willing to live up to as sellers.

Of course, there are some sellers who routinely sell with a high degree of expertise and do know everything about their buyers’ industries and companies that they need to know. I applaud those who take the time and approach selling in this way. When I’ve seen this in practice, the differentiation and competitive advantage is clear. It’s no surprise that these types of sellers are usually more successful over the long-term than sellers who do not take this approach.

Those selling professionals are able to differentiate themselves because they are rare. Most sellers think that having expertise in selling techniques and knowledge about their own products will be sufficient. Once upon a time, that may have been true. But the world has changed, and our buyers’ expectations have changed. Sellers have to change in order to catch up and keep up or they will find sellers who will.

Here are some tips and best practices for how to gain and demonstrate the level of knowledge that your buyers expect:

  • If you sell to a single industry or category, be sure to actively engage in that industry. Read the trade publications, join the discussion groups on Linked In, attend the industry events, and follow the thought leaders and innovators in that community.
  • Study the industry or category you serve. Know its history and current trends plus future projections. Get familiar with who’s who in the industry and follow their research, company performance, and interests.
  • Ask questions. Don’t bother prospects and customers with the basics – you can learn those online, from other sellers, in books, in groups, etc. But once you’ve got the fundamentals, you can craft great questions that go below the surface. You’ll be creating value by making buyers think and differentiating yourself as you probe what’s relevant and unique to the buyer.
  • Track the information you gather. Take notes during, or at least immediately after, each sales call. Most people over-estimate their own ability to retain information. You’ll be taking steps backwards if you don’t recall and build on what buyers tell you in each meeting.
  • If it is feasible, use your own product the way your end-user will use it. You may be able to describe the features and how they are different from your competitor’s features. But taking the next step is even more important. Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes so you can understand why and how these features matter to them. Link your product knowledge with your empathy to connect the dots so they won’t have to.
  • Work on your general business acumen. Know the difference between top line revenue and bottom line profit. Understand the different functions within businesses and their key responsibilities. Talk to people in marketing differently than you do people in operational roles – they have different roles and what they care about won’t be the same, even in the same company.
  • Get the lingo down pat. You may have certain terminology that you use to describe your product, but it might be different from the way your buyers use and understand those terms. Just be sure to proceed with caution when you use YOUR lingo. Additionally, don’t make any assumptions about the industry terms you hear them use – check to be sure you understand context and nuances in those terms. When you’re certain you understand, you can use the industry lingo with confidence.

The best way you can determine what knowledge you need is to consider what potential needs your product will satisfy. Learn everything you can about those needs, from the customer’s point of view, and what contributes to or changes those needs. When you know and talk from this perspective, you will be talking knowledgeably about true customer benefits. That’s how sales get made.

The CONNECT2Sell Blog has been discontinued as our focus has shifted to leadership at every level. Research with buyers demonstrates that buyers respond favorably when sellers show up as leaders. If you'd like to step into your full potential as a leader (and boost sales!), take a look at our free and affordable courses on