Let the buyer beware

At a technical seminar I recently attended, the subject of product knowledge and salesmanship came up. The Light Brigade`s president, Larry Johnson, who was giving the seminar, pointed out that salespeople could be broken down into three groups and ranked according to their product knowledge.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Senior Associate Editor

At a technical seminar I recently attended, the subject of product knowledge and salesmanship came up. The Light Brigade`s president, Larry Johnson, who was giving the seminar, pointed out that salespeople could be broken down into three groups and ranked according to their product knowledge.

Independent sales representatives, for example, usually have the lowest level of product knowledge. They may carry 20 or more lines from different manufacturers, so the manufacturers that hire them expect these people to pass out sales literature and forward sales leads, but not much more. They are the most dangerous to the uninitiated buyer, because they don`t know their products well but they are strongly motivated to sell them.

The sales representatives of distributors should be more knowledgeable and less biased. They may know multiple lines of products by different manufacturers, so they can compare competing products and spell out the pros and cons of each. Although they are the least biased of the three groups, they still retain some bias--toward the lines they represent--and they don`t know their products as well as the third group.

Factory-direct sales representatives have the most product knowledge but are also most likely to have a strong bias toward products solely responsible for their livelihood. Why don`t all manufacturers invest in this level of product knowledge? Because a factory-direct sales representative must generate $1 million in sales to support the position.

Whether cabling contractor or network manager, each of us is a potential buyer of cabling and components. When talking to sales representatives, we must remember which of the three groups they come from, so that we can evaluate their product knowledge accordingly. It is also true that these statements are generalizations; some sales representatives will undoubtedly know far more about their product lines, and some may know less.

This is not a new problem. The Romans, 2000 years ago, had a saying for it--let the buyer beware. Being a wary buyer does not have to be a negative thing. In fact, it is just good business.

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