Article from Thinking Aloud ()
August 26, 2004
Keeping It Brief: Features v. Benefits
Closing the Sale Series: Part 9
by Janet Ryan

You have the appointment with the key decision maker, you have spent the time to learn her business and demonstrate your knowledge and experience, and you have gotten agreement on the problem they need to solve.
Now you get to show your stuff, pitch your offering, and make them fall in love with what you are selling.  For many sales people, this is where things go south, fall apart, kill the deal.  The offering may be sound, but the moment we start talking about our stuff, we forget all about the customer and start droning on and on about every wonderful feature of our offering.
In sales circles, we call this throwing up all over the client. 
Sound familiar?  Even if you canít recall ever doing it (though most of us have been guilty one time or another) you can certainly remember a sales situation where some overeager seller did it to you.  A time when the moment was lost, that great rapport destroyed or badly damaged, and the sale killed or at least stalled.
Go ahead, delve into that memory, feel all that discomfort, and make a vow never to do that to your customers and prospects.  Itís hard, I know, to resist the urge to tell all, now that youíve finally got the permission to show your stuff.  But fight that urge, because even though its now your turn to tell your story, it's still the prospect's interests that need to hold center stage, and losing sight of that key rule is the basis of far too many lost sales.
Instead of telling all, discipline yourself to tell only what is important to the prospect, based on your earlier in-depth discussion of the individual prospect's needs and interests.  Even with that shorter list, prioritize and summarize, so that you are talking only about those features and benefits that really matter, not every cool thing you like about your offer.
You notice I said features and benefits.  You know the difference between the two, but do you know how to use them each to your best advantage?  A feature is an aspect of the product or service; the benefit is why it matters to the buyer.  The more technical the offering and the buyer, the more you can get away with talking features.  The less technical, the more you want to talk benefits, referring back to the related feature only when necessary to illustrate a point or demonstrate why the benefit claim is real.
Truly customer-oriented sales people spend time before the call figuring out which small list of features and benefits will matter most to the customer and which others to have ready should questions arise.
Ideally, youíll talk about the main benefits, back up your claims with the features that allow those benefits to be delivered, and then invite questions, letting the buyer lead you to the details that interest him or her.  Keep it conversational, allowing the buyer to interact, so you are sure you are focusing on what your buyer cares about, not just what you like to talk about.
If you have any doubt about what are features and what are benefits, make a list with two columns, listing product attributes in the first and the related value statement in the second.  Be clear on which benefits derive from which features, and then discipline yourself to talk about one or the other, and only those items on the list that matter most to THIS customer.  Going through this exercise before the call helps even the most experienced sales person remember what is truly important to focus on in the meeting with the prospect. 
And it will keep you from undoing all the good youíve done in getting to this crucial point in the sales conversation.

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