One of the most well-known pieces of advice in selling is that customers buy key benefits, not features. Yet for all the talk, it’s unbelievable how many sales people and business owners let themselves and their fantastic products and services down by ignoring this simple rule.

In selling, and in business, one of the traps we fall into is that because we’re dealing with our products and services every day, we start assuming that our customers know just as much about them as we do, and therefore should already know why they should buy from us and not our competition.

But the fact is, nobody knows more about our products or services than us and it’s our job to convey exactly how the features and benefits of our products and services will make the lives of our customers better in some way.

Think like your customers think

To be able to present your features and benefits to your prospects effectively, we must first learn to think like them and to understand the underlying problems people are really trying to solve whenever they make a purchasing decision.

One of the difficulties in selling is that often people won’t tell you the real reasons why they want to buy. Think about it – would you ever tell a salesperson that the real reason you want that new car is to turn heads whenever you’re driving through town?! Fortunately though, the real motivation behind most buying decisions (the underlying motivators or ‘needs behind the needs’) can be traced back to just a few well established human needs.

Almost every decision we make, including our buying decisions, is geared towards satisfying one or more basic human desires. And no matter what it is that we’re considering buying, chances are that you can trace our surface reasons for buying back to one of the following reasons:

  • Security/Safety: we want peace of mind.
  • Wealth/Money: we’re interested in either making more money, or reducing expenses.
  • Popularity/Respect: we want to be respected and liked.
  • Health/Long life: we want to be healthy.
  • Love/Sex: we want to feel loved and desired.
  • Save Time: we want more time to do the things important to us.

So whether you’re selling in a retail environment, business to business or providing services to the general public, take some time to do the following exercises and start putting these key sales skills into practise today.

Step One

Choose one of your key products or services and make a list of the different types of people to whom this product or service is generally sold. Are they students? Mothers? Surfers? Gardeners? Old people or young people? Rich or poor? And if you’re selling to other businesses, who are the key people within your customer’s organisations that are involved with the decision making process? For example, are you selling to General Managers? Financial Controllers? Office Managers? IT Managers? Shareholders?

Once you’ve done this, write down the underlying motivator from the list above that is most likely to apply for each type of customer. For instance, if you’re selling laptops to businesses, the General Manager is most likely to be interested in increasing productivity (increasing profits), while the Financial Controller is most likely to be interested in how the purchase affects cashflow (reducing costs) and the IT Manager will most likely be interested in whether the specifications of the laptops are up to scratch (security of data).

This is especially important in business to business sales as you can start to see that even people from the same company will have different motivators for going ahead with a deal and will often require you to present different features and benefits to each of them if you are to secure their business.

Step Two

Next, make a list of the five main features of the particular product or service you’re selling. What is it about your product or service that is unique, or beneficial or different in some way?

This can include physical features (e.g. ‘shock resistant rubber casing’ on a mobile phone), service based features (e.g. ‘your accounts done within 10 days’ for an accounting service) or quality based features (e.g. ‘built by fully certified Master Builders’ on a residential apartment block).

Step Three

For each of the five features you have listed in step two, write down two major benefits that each feature provides your customer using no more than a sentence for each one. When doing this, imagine that you have just told your prospect about one of the key features of your product or service and they have now said to you, “So what?”

The idea of this step is so that you can convey how each feature will be of benefit to your prospect quickly and concisely. For example, using the apartment block scenario, the feature might be, “All our apartments are built by certified Master Builders…” and one of the benefits of that might be, “…which means they meet the highest standards of quality and building compliance.” Or another benefit might be, “…which means all workmanship is guaranteed for a minimum of 10 years.”

Step Four

By now you should now have a list of five key features and a total of ten benefits of those features. And now for the most crucial step.

Once you’re clear on the key features and benefits of your product or service, it’s essential that when presenting them to your prospects, you take the final step of linking them back to the underlying motivators of your potential customers, whoever they might be.

Next to each benefit listed, write the underlying motivator and type of customer that is most likely to be interested in this benefit from your list in step one.

Again using our building example, the underlying motivator that the benefit of ‘meeting the highest standard of quality’ might satisfy could be the purchaser’s need for being seen to own an attractive investment property (respect). And the underlying motivator that the benefit of ‘workmanship guaranteed for 10 years’ might satisfy could be the need to have peace of mind that they made a sound investment (security).

Once you’ve completed this final step, you should now have a good idea of exactly what features and benefits your prospects are likely to be interested in.

Just knowing this will make you more confident, you’ll appear more knowledgeable about your business and you’ll be more effective in showing your clients how your company can help solve their problems.


RICHARD LIEW IS THE FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF NZ ENTREPRENEUR MAGAZINE


Like this? Get entrepreneur articles by email.