If you get caught up in the hustle and bustle of business you can actually overlook the products and services your consumers and clients truly demand. People buying flooring expect the people who sell it to have product knowledge and be well-trained in the subject. Anything less turns them off. Some retailers/contractors wring their hands. They view the process of gaining product knowledge as an uphill battle that never ends. This is the business equivalent of a terminal illness. Yet in reality, there is nothing that complicated about it. It is really a question of ensuring that people thoroughly know what they are talking about when they sell. For business owners it means making a genuine effort to provide product knowledge and training and not just giving lip service to this crucial area. And make no mistake, while we may be singling out retailers/contractors, there is no doubt that suppliers and their people could also do with a better understanding of the products that are driving their sales-and those of their competitors.

What started me thinking about this was a comment made by a panelist in my June article: Mal Wilk of Diamond W Floor Covering said, "The wave of new products places additional demands on sales floor personnel. Suppliers should be doing more. We must do a first-rate job of imparting product knowledge to retailers and their people if we want to grow our businesses. Retail salespeople are critical to the success of our products."

Agreed. But it is more than simply giving that knowledge and training to retailer/contractor salespeople. At the risk of hurting some friends' feelings, it is something that cries out for help from suppliers as well. It might surprise you to know that there are supplier salespeople walking around that don't have a clue about their own products: a minority, granted, but enough that it is a concern.

So here is what I suggest: First, manufacturers and distributors should test their people. When they find gaps in their knowledge they should be corrected. Manufacturers and distributors are the salespeople, after all, that are on the front lines with retailers/contractors and their staffs. They need to find an effective way to get this knowledge into the hands of their accounts and their people. If that sounds simple, it is. But suppliers have to cull those who lack the knowledge or are otherwise unable to get it directly into the hands of their customers.

Some retailers and contractors are also guilty of lip service. They often share a common fault: They have convinced themselves that they know it all, and consider meeting with suppliers for product knowledge and training a waste of time. Their attitude is "Who needs it?" The truth is they all do.

Remember we are witnessing an era of dramatic growth that is being fueled by numerous new and improved products. Some are new in every way. Then there are many new ways to install even the most well-established flooring material. Staffs that fail to keep up will earn the following quote: "You've come a long way, baby, but in the wrong direction."

There is no excuse for anyone in our industry - from suppliers and their staffs to retailers/contractors and their staffs - to fail to know the products.

It is imperative when a new product enters the market that all are knowledgeable about it. That means every last detail: What it will and won't do, where it can and can't be installed, what its main selling attributes are - and on and on. Everyone who will be touching and selling the product - suppliers and retailers/contractors - must know what makes it tick. Otherwise they are of little help to the potential buyer.

With the multitude of products in the pipeline, it is also important for all segments to hold regular reviews. It's amazing what can slip between the cracks - which means lost sales when a staff goes to work with half a deck.

You are probably saying, "Hey, there are only so many hours in a day." I can't argue against that. But I can tell you this: There are only so many sales in a day, and the choice cut of the pie goes to those who really know exactly what they are selling and sell it in a smart, aggressive knowledgeable manner.