Features vs. Benefits

by Jacques Werth

Here is a question that we’ve heard hundreds of times.  I heard it again, when Shawn called and said, “I have always been told that you should talk about benefits, not features.  Why do you teach salespeople to do the opposite?”

My response was, “Suppose you are sitting in your office, and a salesperson calls you to say, ‘My Company can increase your profits without any out-of-pocket costs.  Let’s get together and I’ll show you how we do that.  Which is better for you, Tuesday at 10:00 or Thursday at 2:30?’  How would you react?”

Shawn answered, “Well, it is obvious that he is trying to get an appointment without revealing what he is selling.  My  prospecting pitch is not so obvious.”

So, I asked him to tell me what he says.

Here it is:  “My name is Shawn.  I’m with the Process Technology division of RMC.  We can lower your machine maintenance costs while increasing your profits.  How much is machine maintenance and downtime costing you now?”

My reply was, “Shawn, if that is working for you, why did you call us?”

“Well, it isn’t working very well,” he said, “that’s why I called.  Almost everyone refuses to answer the question.  Once in a while, someone will ask me to explain how we do that.  Then, I try to set an appointment to show them, and they refuse.”

“Why do you think you have been getting those results?” I asked.

“I think that people are so sick and tired of getting sales calls, that they treat all salespeople badly.”

I replied, “Top salespeople seldom get those kinds of reactions.  Have you considered that you might be creating those results?”

“Why would anyone not want to save money and increase profits?” he asked.

“Perhaps your ‘pitch’ makes them feel like a fish that is being offered a worm, with a great big hook sticking out of it,” I said.  “Most intelligent people react that way when presented with benefits that are intended to entice them.”

Most people who have a need for your products or services already know that they have the need.  Those prospects want a clear, very brief description of what you are selling, and they want to know a couple of important features.  If they can perceive the benefit of at least one of those features, you will usually get a positive response.”

“So, why does our sales manager tell us to only use benefits in our pitches?” Shawn asked.

“It’s probably because he believes that it is the right way to sell.  But, he does not remember how ineffective it was when he was selling – before he became a manager and trainer.”

“Well, if I don’t do it his way, I’ll probably lose my job,” he said.

“If you continue to do it his way, and your sales do not improve, do you think that you will keep your job?” I asked.

Shawn said he would have to think about that.

What do you think?

Features vs. Benefits

13 thoughts on “Features vs. Benefits

  1. Steve Alexander says:

    I did the HPS courses, and it became obvious to me that selling benefits never worked as well as selling features. I have not mentioned benefits to prospects since I took the courses. I wish I had known about that fact when I first started in sales, 20 years before. It would have made me a lot more money – and I would have enjoyed it much more.

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  2. Jimmy Mathew says:

    We were asked to sell on “better features” of the products while I was selling high pressure hydraulic tools. As the technologies mature there are hardly any differences between the features offered by the top manufacturers. In my experience, what matters in such situations is the reputation of the brand and the company that sells it.

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  3. Well articulated Jacques. The pattern of repeated behavior is fascinating.

    I’ve learned that people won’t change until the pain of failure exceeds the pain of change.

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    1. Hello Richard,

      Even when “the pain of failure exceeds the pain of change”, people will only follow the paths that they see. For many people, the only paths they see are: 1) do what they have been doing, only a lot harder; or 2) quit. A huge number of salespeople quit.

      For those who have “bought” the paradigm of persuasive selling, all non-persuasive selling methods seem absurd, and no amount of pain will change that.

      Carl Ingalls

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  4. This is an extremely useful post. However, I think it is much simpler than having to address the reluctance to change brought on by the human condition. Context!!! It is really all about setting the stage for your discussions by providing the context of your discussions. Naturally busy people are not going to open up to strangers if they are not provided a context to do so. What amazes me most about the sales profession today, brought on by the sales TRAINING profession today, is the complete LACK of attention paid to phases in a sales cycle. We are all told to sell benefits not features. Great!!! So now we are an army of drones pitching standard “reduce cost/increase revenues” value messages. We feel good because our fearless trainers and managers have told us THIS is the holy grail. What they dont tell us is that their training and leadership is flawed because it LACKS Common Sense. I don’t care how smart you are our how great your benefits message is…you are not going to engage ANYONE unless you give them some context. The Context comes from the features of your solution because those features are what drive the benefits. So…what you should know is this…at every phase of a sales cycle you should be engaging your prospects and customers differently. There is NOT one way for the entire cycle. When you are introducing yourself COLD you MUST provide the context for your engagement. To do this effectively, you MUST reveal at a high level and in summary WHAT you are offering. Trust that every solution being sold today either reduces costs or increases revenues!!! To differentiate your individual approach to these universal objectives is what engages people!

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  5. Carl,
    Good comment. I believe the pain of failure is nevertheless very real. If they are not succeeding, doing the same thing over again doesn’t provide the desired result.

    People who are caught in the grasps of addictive behavior are almost always in denial. In this case, the denial is that there could be another way of selling, a non-persuasive one, for example.

    Quitting is an escape and becomes addictive as well, as the pattern is repeated throughout their life.

    Hearing and learning about High Probability goes against the teaching methods of the masses, but it doesn’t go against logic and reason, when one chooses to listen.

    Vin suggests the importance of context. Very powerful in the argument of why HPS is discounted. Those in denial, choose not to use logic, reason, and context to make an informed decision.

    This becomes a function of WHO is right versus WHAT is right.

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  6. tom says:

    Vin – such a good point and such common sense that it bears repeating – who after all would call a prospect and declare that they are selling something that will cause their expenses to skyrocket and revenues to plummet. So, to state the opposite in a prospecting call is just so much “blah blah” to a prospect as it would be to me. I need to make a note of that and read it occasionally when my offers drift from reality.

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  7. Huh. I never really thought about selling in this way, because, as others have said, I’ve been told to speak about the benefits. Being in the health care industry, the obvious benefit to my patients is optimal health. But what I’ve found is that people don’t care about my “benefit” (health), because they’re more concerned about the smaller things like picking up their grandkids, that sore throat, their neck pain. They have no use for this grandiose benefit (health), but the smaller everyday benefits work better in their understanding. I haven’t even thought about talking to them from the features aspect though. Thought-provoking post, thanks.

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  8. Steve Alexander says:

    People do want benefits rather than features. The point is that they know which benefits they want, and the salesman doesn’t. Therefore, tell them the features, and let them decide if they want the benefits that go with those features.

    If you are a doctor, the situation may be a little different, because people may not know what the benefits are. All you can do is tell the features and benefits, and let them choose. But then a doctor is not really in the sales business.

    I once asked my dad why he smoked,
    “You know it will shorten your life, so why do you do it?”

    He said, “I’d rather live a shorter life and enjoy it more, than live longer and miss the pleasure I get from smoking.”

    He knew the benefits of not smoking, and he didn’t want them. He died at age 87 – heart attack, not lung cancer.

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  9. tj shepherd says:

    From the one call close article on the main site:
    http://www.highprobsell.com/articles/one-call-close.html
    “Discuss every feature, benefit and detriment of your product or service with regard to how it will affect the prospect’s needs. Exposing all detriments will eliminate almost all objections and ensure the prospect’s trust.”

    How do we weave this into the conditions of satisfaction process? Reading only the book and not having taken any workshops, I didn’t see this being done. It seems like the discussions are just the exact things the customer requests… and there wasn’t a presentation being done of the product/service.

    Also, Is there training on this planned?

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    1. Hello TJ,

      The Conditions of Satisfaction process is described and discussed in Chapter Nine of the book, High Probability Selling. Also, there is a complete example of that process portrayed in the last chapter, Chapter Twelve. However, the details are usually very different for different products or services. Applying it to each situation can take a lot of work. We offer individual coaching for this, and we may offer a group workshop sometime later this year.

      There was a sort of presentation described near the end of the last chapter of the book, when the salesperson showed a mockup of the final product. It was used as a final confirmation, not as a selling tool.

      Carl Ingalls

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