The Differentiators – Skills and Knowledge

Posted by David Wallace on September 29, 2009

Skills and knowledge make your sales reps more effective and help differentiate them from the competition.


Skills  – abilities acquired through training. If you’re hiring reps who are new to sales, expect to spend time training them in effective sales techniques and developing their skills on the job.  Experienced sales representatives already have the skills necessary to sell effectively.

Basic Selling Skills

Every sales representative needs basic selling skills: prospecting, qualifying prospects, presenting, managing objections, closing and following up.  More experienced or professional sales reps demonstrate a wide repertoire of advanced selling skills, including: solution selling, relationship selling, managing territories, managing customers, managing the competition and so on.

The Trade-Off:  Compensation vs. Training

The sales manager makes a trade-off when hiring sales representatives. Professional sales reps require immediate compensation. Inexperienced reps require an investment in training.

Experienced sales representatives command higher base salaries, higher draws against future commissions, and better perks (i.e. car, expense account).  They command these higher up-front costs because their experience should enable them to drive more sales.  They will identify opportunities sooner and close deals faster.  Their higher commissions will more than offset their draws; greater revenue production will more than offset the cost of perks.

Less experienced sales representatives command lower salaries.  However, they cost more to train and produce revenue more slowly.   Some sales managers elect to hire less experienced, less expensive sales representatives and let them learn on the job.  If these reps do not produce at a satisfactory level within a period of  time, the sales manager will replace the sales rep with another sales rep.  This continues until the manager finds a sales rep that produces at acceptable levels.  But it takes time and sacrifices revenue opportunities.

New Reps Need Training

If you elect to higher a less experienced sales professional, be sure to invest in training to develop the skills your sales rep needs to be successful.  The return on your training investment should be worth it.  Well trained sales representatives will drive more sales and generate more revenue faster.  Selling skills training programs are widely available via classes, online or self-study programs.  The American Management Association, Miller Heiman, IMPAX, and Sandler Sales are among the many sales training resources to consider.


Knowledge  –  facts and information known in a particular field.  Experienced sales reps may have the skills to sell, but lack the knowledge necessary to sell your specific products or services.  Every sales rep needs to learn the product, company, and industry-specific knowledge unique to selling to your customers.

Sales reps gain product, company, and industry knowledge through orientation, formal training, customer interactions and self-education.  They can also benefit from mentoring or shadowing periods, where a new sales representative works with an experienced rep to “learn the ropes.”

When your product or service is highly technical, you may need to recruit reps with an existing base of knowledge or industry experience.  This is also critical when you seek fast revenue growth in a particular territory or market.

For more information, contact Wallace Management Group at (203) 834-0143 or email David Wallace.

© 2009, David P. Wallace

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