How to Develop Industry Expertise

industry expertise

It’s not easy being a salesperson in today’s world. It’s even harder to develop industry expertise. Not only are you expected to have a master-level understanding of the craft of turning a prospect into a customer — sales itself — but you also need to have a working knowledge of a huge variety of smaller disciplines like social media marketing, CRM-based reporting, phone-based sales, presentation expertise, email best practices … the list goes on.

And on top of it all, a great salesperson also needs to have a deep knowledge of every industry their product could possibly market to.

Not that long ago, this wasn’t much of a problem. Few companies worked across multiple industries, and it was possible for an individual salesperson to develop expert-level knowledge of supply chains, company organizations, purchasing schedules and other key details for their select group of clients within the field. Thanks to an increasingly competitive, globalized and solution-driven international market, those days are long gone.

When I speak to sales people, I often hear this frustration. The simply don’t have the time to develop the expertise they need, compromising their ability to get to make great deals, grow connections and generate outstanding commissions.

“Every day, I talk to prospects in industries that are completely unrelated to each other,” they tell me. “All of them could benefit from our products, but they just won’t take me seriously because I can’t demonstrate real expertise in their field. How can I improve my knowledge enough to change my results?”

For an individual salesperson, there are two answers to this question.

  1. You have to work at it. There’s no workaround for this, you just have to invest the time to prepare properly. Industry and prospect research has to become a part of your process.
  2. Know the skills of your team, and be willing to ask for help. It’s OK to share the load! Just remember to pay it forward when another team member needs your help.

What about on the team level? What can sales leaders do to cultivate a high-level of cross-industry knowledge among their staff? Let’s take a look at some simple, common-sense techniques for building expert-level industry knowledge.

Treat Sales Operations as Class Room

In a properly managed sales setting, the upcoming week’s calls should never be a surprise. If a specific industry or field is going to be targeted that week, use the weekly sales meeting as an opportunity to bring the staff up to speed on that industry’s needs, priorities, challenges and pain points. Even a small investment in research each week can reveal potential strategic deals, promising contacts, and relevant talking points. Team members with experience in those industries can help to fill in the blanks, pointing out successful strategies and common pitfalls. This same idea can be expanded beyond weekly meetings, becoming part of quarterly planning sessions and other team discussions.

Weekly Forecast Calls

These calls provide a great opportunity to listen to your peers discuss how they are pursuing deals in different industries. Pay attention, take and share notes, and keep track of which team members have experience in specific industries. When a similar deal comes across your desk, you will know who to call.

Strategic Deals

When management flags a deal as strategic, it can be for several reasons. The company size, the deal size, or the industry vertical the prospect is in all can place a deal in this special category. If management thinks this deal is important and has high potential, so should you. Take this opportunity to research the industry, read up on trade publications, and talk with team members who have experience in the field.

The Business Review

The more active and engaged you are in these sessions, the more you will benefit from them. Read provided materials, ask questions when appropriate, and prepare to follow up after the presentations. These sessions are as much for you as they are for management.

Use Available Resources and Prepare Before Calls

When in doubt, do more research. We live in an era bursting at the seams with high-quality, freely available information, all just a few keystrokes and mouse clicks away. There are thousands of great online resources out there for salespeople, so make use of them. If you have a subscription to a service like Hoovers.com, you can look up a wealth of prospect information for any industry long before you ever need to pick up the phone. Wikipedia, LinkedIn and social media can provide outstanding insights into industries and companies. There is really no excuse not to be informed.

If you are paying attention, and willing to put in a little work, it’s entirely possible to close the knowledge gap in almost any industry. This not only makes it easier to get your foot in the door (and, ultimately, to close the sale), but it also makes you an indispensable member of your team. Just remember that learning is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. The more time and effort you devote to expanding your knowledge, the more valuable that knowledge makes you.

Are you looking to best equip your sales team? Better your industry expertise. Learn how SugarCRM can help you. Contact us today or call (+1) 800.391.4055

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