Last week, I went to a butcher shop instead of the supermarket where I usually buy my meats, and a funny thing occurred. I came home with three times the amount of food I had intended to get. How did this happen? Because the man behind the counter was an expert: he not only knew every cut of meat, but also which cut was best for particular dishes-- and it did not stop there. He gave me cooking times and temperatures for everything I chose and even recited me a few quick recipes using cuts I was unfamiliar with.

What a change from the supermarket experience where I either help myself or am served (rather than sold) by someone other than a specialist! Whether your company offers multiple product lines or just one, the key to sales growth is making sure anyone selling your merchandise is not just a greeter, but a true expert on the products he is being asked to sell. Here are three simple ways to help a salesperson become an expert.

  1. Institute Roleplay. Every person on the sales team should be comfortable enough with his products to sell on the spur of the moment. Every Monday, in our weekly sales meeting, either my partner, our sales manager or I randomly ask a rep to sell us a specific product as though we were a customer. We ask hard questions, raise objections, and force them to think about the product in ways they might not have if they weren't being put on the spot. And we do this in front of the whole sales team, so that everyone has the chance to listen and learn from one another. Not surprisingly, most people on the team will first draw on the selling points they have been provided on product info sheets. The exercise gets far more interesting, however, when the rep starts to think creatively about how and why the product is valuable, drawing on customer feedback, her own experience, or the product's relationship to something else she sells. Setting up a weekly opportunity to test team members in roleplay scenarios gives me the chance to hear where the team lacks knowledge, and help them to shore up their expertise.
  1. Mandate fieldwork. Sales reps can get a great foundation from training and roleplay, but there is no substitution for getting out in the field and learning firsthand. Take the travel industry as an example. Most consumers have the same tools at their disposal as travel agents do now, thanks to the Internet. Those whose businesses continue to prosper despite the do-it-yourself possibilities of web bookings are agents who specialize in a particular area--and who know the secrets of a destination because they have been there themselves and seen up-close the possibilities and pitfalls of the places they are recommending. My husband and I used an expert on Corsica to book part of a recent trip, and the best cities we visited and most wonderful places we stayed were those which the specialized sales rep put on our itinerary--not the ones we found ourselves. Adding experience to information is the single best way to help a salesperson become an expert.
  1. Encourage explanation. Novice sales reps often think they have to hide the potential drawbacks to their products--experts know how to explain them. I recently spent hours doing research on strollers, and while I found many that seemed okay, none was perfect. When I headed to a nearby store, I was happy to find a woman who was able to give me the pros and cons of every stroller available--and when we had settled on the one she thought would best fit my needs, she even warned me about two issues owners of this model frequently had trouble with--and how to get around them. I was relieved to have finally picked a stroller, and even more so when I later encountered the minor folding and storing issues she had mentioned and knew how to handle them. No product is perfect, and being able to explain to customers how to make the negative work for them instead of against them is the last ingredient in becoming a true sales expert.

Don't just provide customers with a sales rep--give them access to an expert. Doing so will increase your sales, differentiate you from your competitors, and most importantly, keep your customers coming back for more.

Published on: Nov 4, 2014
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