Selling When You Don’t Know the Content – It’s All About Listening (and a little improvising never hurts!)

When you don’t know the content – Draw them out – they’ll tell you

In my training company I select from over 40 instructors to place the right person with the right content to satisfy my clients’ requests.  Between even just the half a dozen instructors I use most often, they probably could teach several hundred different courses, covering many topics.   I’m sometimes asked how I sell content that I don’t really understand.

Years ago a respected colleague overheard me asking an engineering instructor “Sorry if this is a dumb question but if you know DSPI, does that mean you also could teach DSPII?” (He couldn’t but knew someone who could.) My colleague advised me that for most technical professionals like engineers, they think that no one knows their specialized topic like they do and they wouldn’t expect me to.  He advised me to say something more along the lines of “That’s not my area of expertise.  Can you tell me more about it and what additional content you could cover?”  They loved to talk about their passion and would happily tell me more.

Clients are much the same – they love to talk about their current passion for a training topic so if you’re not sure about an answer, keep drawing them out and they are likely to give you the information they want and you need to in order to be able to serve them.

When you don’t know the content – Be willing to do some work

One of the excruciatingly boring tasks for our department was to proofread the catalog copy for all the classes we offered.  It’s amazing what editors (and spell check) will do to technical terms like “ASICs, FPGAs, and IP cores.” In teams of two, everyone took a stint at having one person read from the original copy and the other read the edited catalog copy.  It was an excruciatingly boring and time-consuming process but, while I still may not have fully understood the terms, I learned that we offered this content and to which course the topics were attached.

A client asked recently if I had someone who could teach VHDL and I was able to answer “yes!”  while madly going through my mental index to remember where I knew the term from.  It’s an older programming language that has mostly been replaced by something else but this company had inherited the language and needed their engineers to learn it and be able to translate to the newer language.  I pulled up some relevant search terms in my physical database and found an instructor who teaches the more modern language but still knew and had materials for the older language.  He verified that he could customize new content to teach them how to work with the inherited language.

Once I identified the right instructor, I could take him with me to a meeting with a half a dozen very smart engineers and let them have an intense conversation with their technical jargon.  I just had to round it all up to how long would it take to teach what they needed and when they wanted it delivered.

When you don’t know the content – Have great resources

That brings me to my final point for this blog.  I work with amazing instructors – definitely among the best in Silicon Valley.  I’ve known and worked with most of them for years and know I can trust them to deliver what they promise.  I can present them with confidence to my clients and know that they’ll deliver.  In my case my instructors are my “product.”  In your case it may be work that you do yourself and you need to be confident that you can deliver the goods.

So – listen, do the hard work, and surround yourself with brilliant people to be able sell when you’re not the subject matter expert.' About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark is the Principal of Silicon Valley Training Connect – a training company offering on-site, customized training in leadership, project management and technology to Silicon Valley companies. Sandra also specializes in coaching individuals to build an authentic and inviting LinkedIn profile to help grow their small businesses. Check out Sandra's LinkedIn Profile Optimization webinar for WIC at

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