Key Learning Outcomes

  • Distinguish between the features and benefits of a product or service.
  • Develop responses to your customers’ questions, such as “what’s in it for me?”
  • Explain the benefits of your products or services, and provide supporting evidence.
  • Learn to communicate the benefits of your products and services to customers.

Article

One of the keys to being a great salesperson is being able to understand and communicate the difference between features and benefits. In simple terms, features simply describe the product or service, and benefits illustrate how it will satisfy the customer’s need. Too often salespeople get caught up in selling the features of a product or service without ever connecting them to a benefit for their potential client. At the end of the day, when making buying decisions most customers want to know the answer to the question, “what’s in it for me?”

For example, if you are selling a car, rear-parking sensors might be one of the features. The advantage of this is that the sensors will beep before you hit something, but the real benefit is that you can park with confidence in tight spots knowing that you will not damage a car, property, or worse, a person.

When buying products, the majority of consumers, whether they are doing it consciously or not, are weighing up the benefits of the competing products. They might start their selection process by looking at the features and narrowing down the selection by discounting any that do not match the initial criteria. However, they will make their final decision based on how well the product satisfies their particular need. The more articulate you are about the benefits your product or service offers and the more accurate you are at matching these to your clients’ needs, the better your sales results will be.[wlm_ismember]

Benefits are one of the key ways that you can differentiate your product or service from your competitors. Professional marketers are masters at this concept. You can clearly see the theory in action when you are looking to buy a big-ticket item such as a car – every marketing message is targeted at a specific consumer group. However, these days you can see benefit selling in almost every item you go to buy.

Think about the last time you went to buy a loaf of bread in the supermarket. Long gone are the days when you had a choice between simply buying white or brown. Today there are numerous choices and options. You may still start your selection process by choosing white, but then there are so many added features and advantages to consider. Do you want the loaf with extra fibre or the one with omega-3 added? Your choice will depend on your need. When you start to read the advertising messages you will see that the marketers are aiming to tap into these needs and provide benefits. For example, the white bread with extra fibre is aimed directly at families. The message is “extra fibre is hidden in white bread and kids will still love to eat it”. This satisfies the parents’ need to provide the family with a healthy diet, while also satisfying the children’s desire for soft white bread.

The more competitive a particular area of business or product line becomes, the more adept owners and marketers need to be at communicating the benefit, rather than just the feature, to the client. In saying this, it is important to be aware that cost savings are a real benefit that appeals to many consumers. When looking at various product lines in the supermarket, including bread, you will often see generic-branded products on the shelves. You will not find any benefit statements on the packaging; there will no added features as all that is on offer is the basic product at the lowest price. Interestingly, when you start to become aware of this concept you will see that these generic, basic products need to be offered at a substantially lower cost to appeal to consumers, as the majority of us will still lean towards something that offers additional benefits for the cost if the saving is not great enough.

Putting theory into practice

The first step is to ensure that you and your team are clear on what you have to offer and that this appeals to your target audience. If you are not sure what your clients actually want, then we would suggest looking at our articles on questions-based sales and buyer motivation in the sales and customer service section of the website before finalising your product offering.

Assuming you are clear on the needs of most of your potential clients, you then need to outline the features of your product or service. Once you have your list of features, the next step is to look at each one and think about the advantages and benefits each offers to your potential clients.

As an example, we could look at your typical local cafe. They are open for breakfast and lunch offering light, health-conscious snacks and coffee. They aim to offer a healthier alternative to the other fast-food outlets in the area. They are also introducing a lunchtime delivery service to surrounding offices to try and gain a competitive edge. The delivery service is a feature that offers clients the advantage of being able to get a healthy lunch delivered to their desk. The real benefits to the client are it is time-saving, convenient and encourages healthy eating. To promote the service the cafe needs to clearly communicate these benefits to their potential customers.

Begin to think about what benefits your business is offering the client. It is important that the entire sales team is aware of the difference between selling features and benefits. Our article on the “so what test” will help with the development of sales dialogue that focuses on fulfilling the client’s need. In essence, if the client can answer your sales pitch with “so what”, you have not clearly outlined a benefit to them. Let’s go back to the parking sensor example. The salesperson tells the potential client that the car has rear-parking sensors. “So what?” the client asks. The salesperson needs to outline the benefit to the client. They could perhaps respond with, “so what this means for you living in the inner city where parking is at a premium is that you will be able to park in tight spots with confidence knowing that the sensors will go off when you are getting close to hitting something (or someone).”

Backing up a benefit statement with some solid evidence will also add weight to the argument. For example, the cafe with the lunch delivery service might have some statistics from a respected third party such as a health foundation that outlines the importance of not skipping meals during the day. Or the car salesperson might have some industry data that suggests that if you buy a car with parking sensors, you are 75% less likely to have a parking accident.

Practice makes perfect

Once you have clearly outlined the benefits your product or service offers, it is essential that your sales team become skilled in communicating these to potential clients. By adding some regular dialogue training to your sales meeting, the team will start to focus on benefit selling. This can take the form of group brainstorming. Take just one feature each meeting and brainstorm all the benefits it may offer to your potential clients by thinking about their various needs. Another effective and fun training tool is to have all of the features listed on separate slips of paper placed in separate envelopes. Each salesperson takes an envelope then role plays the feature’s benefit statement to the rest of the team. The more skilled your team are at selling the benefits, and not just the features, to potential clients, the more successful they will be.[/wlm_ismember]

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