Knowledge of product means and includes details of use, its utility, its composition, service offered, and so on. To be more clear, knowledge of the product means a thorough knowledge regarding the probable information about the products which the customers generally inquire about. A salesman needs this knowledge in order to describe product features or service advantages, to overcome objections, to answer questions, and to acquire confidence in the merit of his offerings.
Sources of product knowledge are many and varied. However, these sources can be classified as basic and subsidiary. The fundamental sources are called basic sources; whereas collateral are called subsidiary sources.
A. Basic Sources:
Salesmen, in modern times, need good education and training. For a salesman’s profession, a certain minimum educational qualification is essential. After his education, when he joins a sales organization, he is given special training so become an export salesman. Some firms have their own institutions for training salesman, whereas others send their salesmen to technical institutions. Training increases the knowledge of salesmen.
Professor Davar points out that experience is the most important source of information for a salesman. Experience makes a man perfect and salesman is not an exception to this. Initially he works under the guidance of a senior salesman, but after sometime he learns to work independently. As in independent salesman, he comes in contact with hundreds of customers of different types. Contact with every new customer enriches his knowledge and experience. In fact, the experience is more valuable than education and training in the salesman’s institution.
(iii) Uses of the product
The actual use of the product enables a salesman to know its real worth. By using the product, he knows all the advantages of it; and also the gap between its description and actual. The use of the product actually increases the knowledge of the salesman.
(iv) Senior salesman and colleagues
A salesman can also learn many things from the senior salesmen and colleagues. During the period of training, senior salesman and sales managers provide all information about the products to juniors. Moreover, information about the product can be obtained through discussions with court-executives, fellow-salesmen, suppliers, retailers and wholesalers.
Advertisements contain all the salient features of the products. A salesman, therefore, should study sincerely the advertisements of his own firm to acquire valuable information about the products. By this, he can know important information of features and selling points of products.
(vi) Sales meetings and conferences
Sales meetings and conferences are also important sources of product knowledge. Manufacturers arrange meetings and conferences of salesman at regular intervals. By attending those the salesman can acquire the product knowledge. In these meetings, senior salesmen and sales managers deliver lecturers and demonstrate important features of the product.
(vii) Visit to factories / showroom
Many manufacturers welcome the salesman to visit their own factories, which is a rich source of information about the production process, raw materials used, quality control system, method of packing etc. Similarly, they are allowed to visit showrooms of different producers to get information of substitutes, new arrivals, product varieties etc.
(Xiii) Company’s library
Product information can also be gathered from the library of company, which is a storehouse of many journals, magazines, books, papers, etc., relating to the product. However, it is much neglected source of product knowledge in India.
(ix) Sales literature
Sales literature is also an important source of information to the salesmen. The following are some of such sources:
(a) Sales manuals
It is often referred as “salesman’s bible”. It is a book published by the manufacturer. This book contains information about products, the procedure to be followed in selling goods, maintaining stock, maintaining the expense accounts, selling reports, credit facilities, discounts, delivery facilities and so on. These sales manuals supply valuable information about the products and their selling points to the salesman.
(b) Trade Journals
These are technical journals containing technical points and details about the products. Companies manufacturing drugs and medicines publish monthly journals and send them to customers. Trade associations publish their own monthlies. The members give advertisements to them emphasizing the main features and selling points of their products. Thus, these journals can serve as a good source of information for acquiring product knowledge.
(c) Sales bulletins
Besides sale-manual, manufacturers publish sales bulletins periodically to provide additional and up-to-date information regarding products. It is supplement to the sales manuals. It contains new information regarding product, its selling points, its improvements or additions etc.
(d) Sales portfolio
While sales manual and sales bulletins are meant for salesmen generally, sales portfolio is meant to retailers and wholesalers. It contains actual photograph of the product, instructions and advises regarding method of display, clippings, and names of users in a book form.
B. Subsidiary Sources
(i) Videos and other visual aids
Modern and big manufacturers sometimes use videos and audio visual slides to educate their salesmen about the features, benefits and uses of the product. It gives detailed accounts of the products to the salesman. However, this method is a bit expensive. It is generally suitable whenever a new product is introduced in the market.
(ii) Educational institutions
Educational institutions such as business schools, commercial colleges, correspondence school, and some colleges and universities offering evening classes and extension courses provide valuable educational material in the field of salesmanship.
(iii) Public libraries
Public libraries are also important source of product knowledge. There are number of books, journals, papers, reports, handbooks of different subjects in a good library. An interested salesman can take full advantage of this source at his leisure time.
(iv) Travelling demonstrators
Some manufacturers appoint demonstrators to assist salesmen in their demonstration. These demonstrators generally move from shop to shop for the purpose of demonstration. Moreover, they also train and educate counter salesmen of various shops and stores.
(v) Information about competitors and their products
This may be obtained from advertisements and sales literature of the competitor, magazines of trade associations, sales meetings, and conferences. Probably one of the best methods of getting information regarding the competitor and his product is to ask questions to the user of a competitive product to find out why he is using that.
(vi) Close contacts with customers
Customers are real judges of a product. They buy and use the products of not only one selling firm, but of different firms. It is the customers who decide which product to purchase after careful analysis and comparison with different products. When a salesman has regular and close contact with the customers, he can hear his product features, performances success and failures from their mouth. It ultimately supplements his product knowledge.
(vii) Best Solution Schemes
It is a scheme under which a set of questions relating to the product, customers and salesman are asked to salesmen to increase their product knowledge. The salesmen are required answer these questions in best possible manner. The salesman, whose answer is found best, is awarded either in cash or kind. In this way product knowledge is imparted to salesmen.
Acquisition of knowledge is a pleasure, comes easily to a salesman who is really interested in his work. It all depends upon the salesman’s zeal and initiative. Unless and until the salesman possesses a clear cut product knowledge, he can not convince and satisfy the customers. It has been rightly said that an ignorant salesman (who lacks product knowledge) is just like a traveler who does not know his way.