The 2 Types of Sales Knowledge

Marc Miller Sales Training, Uncategorized 2 Comments


How do you transfer the know-how in your top sellers’ heads to your average reps?  The answer starts with understanding the differences between two very different types of knowledge.

Explicit Knowledge

Think of explicit knowledge as things like facts, product knowledge, and figures.  For example, your CRM contains loads of numbers, addresses, contacts, leads, and opportunities. These are all forms of explicit knowledge.  This type of knowledge might make for a good product expert, but it does not promise top, or even average, sales performance.  We’ve all met the “Mr. Know-it-All” who can tell you every detail about a subject – but has little ability to influence or sell.

Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge separates extraordinary sellers from the ordinary ones.  Tacit knowledge is the special mix of skills, experience, and emotional intelligence required for success.  Preparing a list of questions ahead of a sales call requires explicit knowledge.  Asking those questions under the pressure of an important sales call – right sequence at the right moment – is tacit.

Tacit knowledge if often referred to as “know-how.”  As such, it’s notoriously difficult to measure and transfer.  For example, riding a bike is tacit as it requires extraordinarily complex commands from the brain – thousands of bytes of information coming together simultaneously.  When riding a bike, you don’t have to think about it – your brain works in the background to get the job done.  But try explaining it to someone who has never ridden a bike and you can begin to understand the difficulty of tacit knowledge transfer.

Training new salespeople should be about tacit knowledge transfer, but the reality is that most companies only provide training in explicit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is easy to teach in a classroom, but tacit knowledge, which you learn from real calls, is what makes the difference in sales effectiveness.

Here’s why.

A well-done sales call is extraordinarily complex.  It simultaneously requires:

  • Anticipation
  • Situational adjustment
  • Complex questioning skills
  • Agile messaging
  • Sharp timing
  • Personality adjustment
  • And more.

It’s no wonder that the average productivity difference between top & average salespeople in a complex sale is 4x (Corporate Executive Board).

In no other profession is someone considered normal by performing 75% lower than the top group (and they keep their job!).

The groupthink solution to improving sales performance is to focus on CRM data.  Get more of it, the experts say, and you will solve your sales productivity problem.  But as every experienced sales professional knows, that strategy is misguided.  Sales performance is about tacit knowledge execution, not explicit knowledge data collection.  Without question, CRM data is essential for operational reasons, but it most certainly does not create high-performing salespeople on it’s own.

Today, you can easily capture, share, and analyze tacit sales knowledge – a dynamic made possible by the mobile smartphones present in every sales call.  Forward-thinking companies like Iron Mountain, Hyland Software, and AJ Gallagher have challenged the status quo by capturing and leveraging tacit knowledge data – indexed audio of the sales call itself, easily reviewed by topic.

This allows them to:

  • Ramp new sellers faster
  • Improve win rates
  • Shorten selling cycles

Today, sales training is not a differentiator because far too often it never leaves the classroom.  The real difference in scaling sales performance lies in execution mastery.   But how do you know whether salespeople are actually executing effectively?   SpearFysh solves that very thorny and expensive problem using a Consistent Execution Platform.

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Comments 2

  1. Joe Foley

    Interesting concept. I’ve definitely been an explicit salesperson whose close rate wasn’t good. Pretty good presentation skills and customer management skills, but found asking for the business challenging.
    I’m launching a veteran focused, non-profit construction management company that will focus initially on residential painting (so we’re B2C). I’m curious how this technology might impact a small sales force.

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