I’ve been taking a lot of heat for last week’s blog post. In that post, I said that most sellers don’t know the difference between a feature and a benefit. And I promised to talk more about that subject in this week’s post. So here we go, as planned. I don’t mind the heat, because I realize this is a hot topic and it merits the discussion. So bring it on!
But first, let me explain myself and walk you through some examples of features and benefits. Be honest with yourself – how often are you stopping short of articulating the complete benefit?
Here are the operating definitions of features and benefits that I propose as the simplest.
A feature describes something about your product. Features are about you, your company, and/or your product. A benefit describes how the feature of your product brings meaningful value to the customer. Benefits are about the customer.
If you do not fully bridge the gap between the feature and the benefit, you may have what I call an “implied benefit.” You’re leaving it up to the prospect to figure it out on their own. (Most won’t do that work… so don’t bother with implied benefits… Go the full distance to express a bona fide benefit.)
Here are four examples:
Feature: “This product has been awarded the gold standard by an independent testing agency.”
This is an impressive honor, and you might see the appeal of this for a buyer. Nevertheless, it’s about the product, so it’s clearly a feature.
Benefit: What this means to you is that you can be assured of the quality and reliability that you told me was of such importance to you. Our component parts will give you and your buyers confidence, which will drive sales and help you build the reputation you desire.”
Feature: “We are the leading provider of services for businesses like yours.”
Yes, you’ve mentioned the prospect’s business. But this isn’t about the prospect. It’s about your company. That makes it a feature.
Benefit: You can count on our experience and network to give you the variety of services you need all in one place. That adds up to significant time savings for you at a time when you are being asked to do more with fewer people in your department.
Feature: “I can save you 20% if you sign this agreement today.”
This one is a little trickier, but it is still about you and what you can do. It is a feature. There may be an implied benefit, but you haven’t stated it.
Benefit: When you buy today and save, you will be able to reinvest those savings and add the premium features that you need to accelerate productivity. That resourcefulness will pay dividends over the long term and sets you up nicely for delivering on your shareholders’ expectations.
Feature: We reach your best prospects and can help bring them into your store.
This one is even more likely to trip up even the most experienced sales reps. But it is still about you and what you do. It is certainly closer than the previous examples are to becoming a benefit. But as is, it still falls short of directly stating how the prospect will benefit.
(By the way, we should never assume that we know how the prospect will benefit. It may seem obvious that bringing prospects into the store would be beneficial… But it isn’t always. Retailers everywhere are fatigued with “showroom shoppers” who come in to their stores to see the merchandise and then go home and buy the same product online for less.)
Benefit: With a planned and well-timed increase in showroom traffic, you can plan your staffing appropriately and do more direct selling when people are in the store. Since you are hoping to close more sales by promoting your superior service, immediate delivery and extended warranty, you have a lot of story to tell your prospects and this solution will give you the perfect vehicle for telling that story.
Notice that the features are generic. But the benefits are very specific, referencing something specific that the prospect has said. It is impossible to translate features into benefits unless you know something about your prospect. Sure, you can make inferences about benefits – everyone wants their cash register to ring, everyone wants new clients, everyone wants faster/better/easier, etc. But so long as you speak in broad strokes, you diminish the impact of the benefit. Saying “this will reduce payroll processing time by 20% and give you 8 hours back in your work week so you can leave before 7:00 p.m. more often” is far more compelling than saying “this saves time.”
To get to a point where you can offer clear, compelling, relevant, and personalized benefits, you will have to know something about your prospect. Needs assessment is the surefire way to get this information. If you shortcut this step or fail to ask questions that pinpoint what the customer values, you will be unable to get to the real benefit.
How will you know when you’ve completely bridged the gap between feature and benefit? It’s when the “so what?” question goes away. Prospects don’t say “so what?” out loud… But it is an ever-present question in their mind when sellers present features. “So what”” goes away when the link between the buyer’s problem and the seller’s solution is crystal clear. Only benefits provide that level of clarity.
Over the past 10 years, on thousands of sales calls, I have tracked feature and benefit statements. Using these definitions, the ratio of features to benefits is about 250:1. And when benefits are stated, there is a much higher likelihood that the sale will close. That’s why we need to keep talking about this hot topic.
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