The Way to Design Product Knowledge

You should always emphasize to your personnel, how important it is to know your product or service inside out for guaranteeing the best possible customer experience to your clients. The nature of your business describes what is vital to be included to the definition of useful product knowledge and what are the skills required for making your business shine. 

Your products and services are in the core of your operations. Performing well in following processes, like R&D, production, marketing, sales, logistics, aftersales, reporting and business controlling requires deep product knowledge of your personnel.  HR and training professionals play a key role in creation of the required skills.  Skills of the personnel and the knowledge how to use these skills are more important than you first would think. In normal businesses, product and service sales are the main sources of revenue. This is the main reason to focus in sales and marketing on good product knowledge and product related skills. 

Trained personnel is in possession of flexible product and service sales related skills.  When you want to evaluate the effect of those skills on monthly and quarterly sales figures, you need to understand the situation of your personnel’s pooled sales skills in detail. Taking a broad view, you have to know, on aggregate level the standard of their skills broken down by product group or product.  When your product managers want to know more about the impact of these skills on sales, they have to drill down to data on market-, country- and territory levels.  This analysis needs to be carried out for different product groups and main products.  Affiliated members of your sales and service teams could also be viewed through this prism.

The aggregated skills of your personnel are not static, but fluctuate constantly, because the composition of your personnel undergoes a continuous change.  This is a result of normal life. New personnel is hired, employees rotate between jobs, capable persons are promoted, seniors are pensioned and normal churn in the workforce occurs.

On top of the normal churn, the skills in the workforce undergo a constant transformation. 

The time value of the skills is in constant decline because of the following reasons:

– People forget

– Knowledgeable personnel leave the company

– New hires don’t have necessary required skills and experience.

– The courses have fixed periods of validity

– Older expiring skills, have lower value than sharp and current skills

The training courses have restricted shelf lives, and because of that the employees need to be frequently retrained within the period of validity of the courses, if they want to hold their positions as acknowledged professionals in the skills pool.  Successful companies usually specify expiration dates to the validity of their normal product related training courses, like the practice is with certain mandatory vocational courses. 

These elements need to be included in the calculations to explain the status of product skills in different product areas and geographical locations of your company not only today but also in the future.  Advanced companies train also their partners and members of the distribution chain locally and abroad.

Appropriate data management plays a major role in assuring correct training data evaluation. You need a purposefully built skills analytics system to collect and administer course data on present measured and future estimated skills.  This exercise is drilled down to different geographies and products for more precise understanding of the relationships between skills and performance.   

Each individual product requires from the personnel the accomplishment of several individual training courses.  The tracking of the validity of these courses combined with calculated time decay deductions is complex because several values are interdependent but their impacts on KPIs are independent.  Including all these elements into the calculations can easily lead to huge number of data points to be actively monitored.

New way to ensure product knowledge in sales organization.

The simple question of: ”What is the level of personnel’s skills?” can reliably be answered with a data driven approach. This simple sounding question becomes immediately more complex, when you drill down to multiple segments, like, what is the level of product skills in different markets, countries or sales offices.  Multiply these with different language groups, product groups and most important individual key products and you arrive at – reality. Complex reality, where we all live. 

We are here just basically discussing trivial issues like knowledge of your personnel’s competence levels for all products, markets and locations at all times. It is important to know the distribution of skills, the locations of best performers and the products they are working with. In all companies the top performers can usually be identified, as well as those individuals, who need support to perform according to the requirements.  But who can testify to know the level of skills among the silent majority. The detailed skills level of 60 to 80% of your personnel are usually uncharted.  Nobody knows for sure, what their skills are, but everyone thinks, that they are O.K.  What is the distribution of skills, remains a common unanswered question in the business world.

There should be no unqualified persons in your company.  Skills should be certified and all these skills orientated issues should be left on a backburner and the management should focus on improving sales revenue.

It is important to know where in your organization training is needed and when it should be completed.  To accomplish this, you have to monitor all skills in your company on a continuous basis. This requires a systematic approach to utilization of collected training and skills data, and the ability to make reliable estimates based on these for future needs.

Basically, this boils down to intelligent use of systematic use of training data with defined acceptance- and target levels for all of the important skills.  You can easily retrieve the necessary data from your HR systems to include all personnel, position and skills changes, including calculated residual time values of the skills.  The results will be included in reports which grants benefits to sales and HR management. 

Many critical questions which can now be answered. What is the sales skills situation in named countries and locations for key products?  Where do we have enough skills to meet our new product or service sales targets?  

At the end of day, we will gain an understanding about what is the effect of skills on sales for different products and markets. In other words, to find out relationship between skills and sales. This knowledge may lead to further questions like:  Where the training of personnel should be improved for gaining additional sales, or are we sure that all training results will have residual values within acceptance levels also in the future with present training actions. 

All these answers are gained by monitoring and analysing the skills within your organization on a regular basis. This way, you know exactly what effect the skills in your company have on your revenue.

The unique possibility to have a reliable outlook, which on a daily basis indicates your number of people trained with certified product knowledge, gives you more time to focus on other issues having effects on sales revenue. Your sales director sleeps better when he knows that the defined sales skills of a key products also in selected sales channels are on an acceptable level.  He has also more energy to focus on real sales issues, when he can be certain, that the skills are on correct levels at all locations within his company and its sales channels.

Written by Kari Hartikainen, Sales, Boudin Oy