Selling using features and benefits

Over the years many sales training courses have focused on many similar themes, such as getting appointments, handling objections and features and benefits.  In this post we will examine the effectiveness of features and benefits and look to see how you can use some of this in your situation.

Features and benefits

Before we can go into any depth on this subject, we need to have a proper understanding and define exactly what we mean.  You might also come across “features and advantages”.

What is a feature?

A feature is something you can describe, factually.  For example a cap on a pen.  It is nothing more than a statement of fact about your product or service.

What is a benefit (advantage)?

A benefit describe what the feature actual does and crucially, what is does for your customer.  For example, back to the pen.  It has a cap (feature), which stops you covering your shirt with ink (benefit).  Whilst the benefit is also factual, it can usually be interpreted in a number of ways and can be used to describe events and/or risks which might occur by having or not having the said feature.  Back to the pen, it might never leave the desk, so why should it stain your shirt?

Should I know the features and benefits for my products?

Absolutely yes.  Make a list of each product line or service’s features and be careful not to introduce benefits.  Or perhaps you might want to start with the benefits and then tie the features to them.  You’ll be really surprised just how many you’ll get.

Another tip is to look at your competitors and see what they are saying about their products and services.  You might just find a few extra ones and they could be using better arguments in their benefit statements.

When a product or service was designed or improved there must have been some point, a reason why it would be sucessful.  Right?  So often companies think they have the best product and just need a sales person to be good at describing the features and telling everyone about the advantages (benefits) their customers will enjoy, simple!

Sounds great.

For some industries, things can be as simple as that.  These tend to be new markets with emerging ideas and little competition.  But in a more mature market you will find that everyone is using the same features and benefits, which leads to the customer becoming “blind” to them and buying purely on price.  Which is okay, if you have the best price.  But obviously not everyone in the marketplace can be the cheapest and in most industries competition survives.  How?  Usually, it is a mixture of subtle differences in products, brand values, sales and marketing.

But being the best at features and benefit selling will only get you so far, for so long.  I have experienced this several times.  The message becomes tired and customers evolve.  You can re-invent the features and therefore the associated benefits, but even then the effectiveness drops off.

A better way

Instead of thinking about features and benefits as a list, you might want to try and work out the overall value you are offering to a customer in sales situation and resulting order.  This is quite a difficult topic to describe and over the coming weeks and months, I will keep returning to this.

Let us say that you are selling photocopiers into general offices.  Sure they have a need, not necessarily today, next week or even next year.  But sooner than later, they will require a new piece of kit.  Whilst you can keep banging on about how great your copier is and how it does 200 sheets a minute (feature) and therefore, staff waiting around will spend less time waiting (more productive staff, benefit), it might not be important to the potential customer.  However, if you keep well informed about new technologies in your industry, then during your idle chats you might be able to offer further value be offering advice to potential customer.  Thus gaining respect and trust.

Overall value is much stronger than basic features and benefit selling.  It is of course most useful in account management/repeat business situations.  But I would argue that it can also be very effective even during a ten minute sales telephone call.  You can move the conversation slightly away from your solution and talk more generally about the industry, describing key trends and giving the prospect real confidence in you and your company.

As previously mentioned above, it is my intention to re-visit this idea often.  I would really like to hear from you, either by submitting comments or via e-mail