Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 5:
Q&A for Sellers on Features and Benefits

 What's the difference between FEATURES and BENEFITS, and where did FEATURES get their bad reputation?

FEATURES are statements that describe the product itself, or more simply put, they are “product characteristics.”

BENEFITS are statements that describe the value or help the product provides the user. In the simplest terms, BENEFITS are “what the product does for you.”

FEATURES have acquired a bad reputation because some sellers focus too much on their product and its FEATURES and too little on the needs of their buyer. Many buyers are very interested in what the product or service can do for them but care very little how the product does it. These buyers are turned off by a seller with a product and features orientation.

If it's better to stress BENEFITS, why do some sellers focus on FEATURES?

Because it is easier. All you need to do is memorize product characteristics. You can then use essentially the same pitch for all clients to whom you want to sell a particular product. That's a lot easier than the work required to understand each client's needs and then demonstrate how your product or service can satisfy those needs.

Is it ever appropriate to stress FEATURES?

A FEATURES approach may be appropriate when you are dealing with a buyer who is extremely wellversed in the technical aspects of the product and its applications. Such buyers can immediately translate a product’s technical FEATURES into the BENEFITS it will provide them. Sellers who can “talk the same language” as these buyers have an advantage.

The best sellers determine the technical sophistication and interests of their buyers and adapt their product presentations accordingly. For example, a FEATURES approach might be appropriate when selling interest rate swaps, options, and futures to a treasurer who has been actively using these products for several years and who is wellversed in options theory. A less technical BENEFITS approach, however, might be essential when selling a very technical product to the manager/owner of a small firm who has little formal training or experience in the intricacies of the product.

Are all BENEFITS alike, or are there different types?

If we start with the fact that BENEFITS describe how a product helps or provides value to the user, then we can distinguish two types of benefits. PROVEN BENEFITS are things we know the buyer will like, because they satisfy PRESSING NEEDS the buyer has expressed. POTENTIAL BENEFITS are things we think the buyer will like based on our knowledge of the product itself and of the reaction other clients have had to the product.

When a seller begins to propose or describe a solution (a product or service), the buyer immediately begins to calculate in her mind whether the solution is really worth what it will cost to purchase and implement. With this calculation going on, it is essential that the seller describe the product in a way that maximizes its value and appeal to the buyer. The best way to do this is to relate the product's benefits to the PRESSING NEEDS which were uncovered earlier in the conversation.

For example, the seller might say, “You mentioned that you want protection for the foreign exchange exposures that result from the fact that you import so much of your raw material, and export so much of your finished product. We can help you institute a netting system for the various currencies you use. That way you will only need to hedge the net exposure.”

Are you saying that POTENTIAL BENEFITS should not be used at all in describing a product?

No, we’re not saying that. We’re simply saying that while PROVEN BENEFITS are always winners (by definition, they satisfy PRESSING POTENTIAL BENEFITS sometimes miss the mark; in fact, they sometimes backfire. When a seller offers a benefit the buyer doesn’t care about, the buyer is likely to respond with an objection, since the buyer doesn’t want to be spending money on “benefits” which in fact are of no value to him.

When you have run out of PROVEN BENEFITS, it's good to mention POTENTIAL BENEFITS, but do it carefully. Don't say “You should buy this product because it allows high speed transmission of data.” If the client doesn't want high speed transmission, you have undermined your own argument. It's better to say “Many of our clients prefer this product because it allows high speed transmission of data. Would that be important to you?” If the answer is negative, at least you haven't undermined your own selling effort by focusing on the wrong issues.

Sometimes, of course, POTENTIAL BENEFITS are immediately converted into PROVEN BENEFITS as the client realizes that he does want or need what the seller is describing. In the example above, the client might respond by saying, “now that you mention it, perhaps we should convert to high speed data transmission. Our present equipment doesn't require it, but I notice that all new terminals on the market do require it.”


Other Parts in this Quick Guide to Consultative Sales Calls Series: