My very first job was working for the department store chain J.C. Penney(R). I worked for them for several years, during the summers, and on my breaks from college. While most of my classmates were flipping burgers or slaving over deep fryers, I was honing my early sales skills, and thoroughly enjoying a shopping mall setting - my own little "retail nirvana."
Most of my breaks found me working in fairly comfortable surroundings - the shoe department, apparel, or the occasional stint in bedding and bath. While I may have lacked the level of expertise a full-time employee may have had, my basic knowledge of the departments, coupled with a more extensive knowledge of the store policies and procedures was more than adequate to get me through a five-hour shift.
But all that changed when they moved me to sporting goods.
The width and breadth of my sporting goods knowledge wouldn't fill a thimble. I had been to plenty of sporting events, but those were mainly to scope out good-looking athletes. Were they not dressed in our school colors, I can't say with certainty that I would have even known the difference between the teams. Let it suffice to say that a die hard fan I was not.
During this time, the stores still carried a fair amount of sporting goods - things outside of clothing (an area in which I had considerably more experience).
Things went rather well for the first week or so, all things considered. I discovered a whole new world...one filled with batting gloves, cleats, and various and sundry equipment. I was starting to feel more confident, and the department lead left me on my own while he took a fifteen minute break.
It is fifteen minutes of my life that I will never forget.
A gentleman came into the department, and after a few moments, he came over to me to ask for assistance. I asked what he was looking for, to which he replied, "an athletic support." Puzzled, I asked him to repeat it. He did. I still didn't know what he was talking about. Clearly agitated, he finally said, "I need a jock strap. Do you carry them?"
Suddenly, the light went on. Why didn't he say that in the first place?
I led him to the rack where they were, and pulled one off of the peg, and presented it to him, clearly pleased with myself. "Here you are, sir."
After reading the package over, he angrily thrust it back to me. He left me standing there, confused, as he stormed out. I didn't even have a moment to reply.
Moments later, my department lead returned, and I recounted my story. He asked me to show him the package I had given to the customer. I took him over to the rack, and retrieved the same package from the peg.
First he smiled. Then he began to laugh. The next thing I knew, he had tears rolling down his face. Once he was able to breathe again, he explained the reason for his laughter.
Who knew these things came in different sizes? Obviously not yours truly.
So, ladies and gents - the moral of the story is this - know your product. Know it inside and out. That knowledge gives you confidence. It builds enthusiasm. It helps you overcome objections. It helps you meet the competition effectively.
In short, it is your single most supportive sales tool.