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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Do you know what you need to know?

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Situational knowledge is the knowledge you gain from your experiences, from dealing with and understanding certain situations. You see things, you learn things. You start to identify the big issues and you start to recognize patterns. This type of knowledge helps you to help your clients and it helps you to win deals. But it is difficult to gain.

If you are new to sales, you lack these experiences, and there is no amount of training in the world that can substitute for experience—you just have to feel it. Even if you have been selling for a long time, if you were to suddenly change industries, you would immediately recognize that you are missing the situational knowledge you need to succeed and make a difference for your clients.

It’s tough sledding, no doubt, but these four ideas will help you bridge the gap when you don’t have situational knowledge.

1. Ask before you act. When you don’t know what to do to help your clients, when you don’t understand their issues, their challenges or how you should proceed, ask someone on your team with the situational knowledge to help you. You are going to make mistakes, but you don’t have to make unnecessary mistakes that could easily be prevented by asking someone what you need to know or do.

2. Ask your dream client for an education. If you don’t understand your client’s business, ask him to give you an education. You’ll be surprised how happy he will be to help you understand his situation. He knows his business better than anyone, and most people will be willing to teach you if you show the proper interest and are committed to doing your part. Simply asking for an education can ratchet up your situational knowledge.

3. Ask for time when you don’t know. Sometimes your lack of situational knowledge leaves you at a disadvantage. Your dream client may ask you something and you don’t know how to answer. Or she describes needs that you aren’t yet ready to help her with. The worse thing you can do when you don’t know how to answer is to answer anyway. If you don’t know what the right answer is, don’t answer. Ask your client for the time to go and find the right answer. Promise her you’ll get back to her promptly and then keep that commitment.

You will encounter a few clients who won’t forgive your ignorance, but most will be very understanding. (It’s much harder to forgive your ignorance when you try to answer questions you don’t understand and your answers put that ignorance on full display.)

4. Bring someone along with experience. Sometimes you must make a call without having situational knowledge. You book an appointment with your dream client, and you find yourself way out over your skis. If there is too much at stake to go it alone, don’t. Bring someone with you.

This doesn’t apply only to new salespeople or salespeople in a new industry. Sometimes we end up on a call and find that our technical knowledge is limited. We know that we need someone with a greater depth of knowledge. In such a case, it’s sensible to bring a colleague with you if you can.

By bringing people who can help, you get a chance to learn and gain greater understanding—in short, you gain experience. And this experience, in turn, improves your situational knowledge, better preparing you for future meetings.

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Anthony Iannarino is the managing director of B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, a boutique sales coaching and consulting company, and an adjunct faculty member at Capital University’s School of Management and Leadership. For more information, go


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