When to Emphasise Features Rather Than Benefits

I can think of at least five situations in which features should be as prominent as benefits in your sales copy or, indeed, should top the bill in your copy… for example, when selling:


home and office systems

to experts

to engineers and scientists

to enthusiasts

How to sell equipmentCopy whose purpose is to sell equipment should stress both features and benefits in equal measure. Note also that copy that fails to highlight all the key features of a piece of equipment can cost you sales.For example, if I buy a professional journal, let’s say Accountancy Today, I do so because I expect that I will benefit from the information I will find in it. I don’t really much care about anything else. All I want is information that would help me in my accountancy practice.But if I want to buy a particular piece of equipment, such as a piece of office furniture, the sales copy, once it has mentioned the benefits, must list complete specifications so I can make an informed decision whether to buy.For example, if the copy relates to furniture being sold on mail order, it should show complete dimensions… otherwise how could I know whether it will fit in my living room or whatever space I expect it to fill?The takeaway: Benefits may generate an initial interest in a physical product… but your copy must also show how it works and what it can do. Leaving out a particular feature can mean that you fail to convert the initial interest into a sale.

How to sell home and office systemsAnother time features expensive systems such as kitchens, heating systems, car maintenance kits, and so on.For example, if a person were thinking of having a new oil-fired central heating system installed in his or her home they would be likely to concentrate on the technical features of the various systems available in their local market.In this kind of situation, your copy would have to explain key technical features, such as installation costs, running costs, warranties and so on, to build consumer confidence in the performance of the product and the reliability of the manufacturer and the installer. These features and technical specifications would be the key ingredient of successful copy.The takeaway: Detailed features are absolutely necessary to persuade potential buyers of home and office systems to buy your product.How to sell to expertsThe copy you write to address experts in a particular field is usually very different compared to the usual business-to-consumer writing.Suppose, for example, you are writing copy to sell home insulation products.If you sales copy is directed at home owners, you should highlight benefits such as reductions in fuel bills, how your house will be made warmer with fewer draughts, the effects of insulating the attic floor rather than the roof and so on.But if your copy is directed at building contractors and installers of insulation systems you would ignore all these benefits. Contractors are already fully aware of them.They are only interested in whether your products are what they need to do a good job and turn a decent profit… features like types of materials, installation techniques, prices and volume discounts, and so on, ie the knowledge they need to make an informed decision about your insulation products.The takeaway: Treat experts as experts and just give them the information they need to make informed decisions about your products or services.How to sell to engineers and scientistsWriting copy for engineers and scientists is similar to writing for experts.Engineers and scientists do not respond to benefit-oriented copy. They respond to features. Your copy must tell them exactly what they are getting in language that they feel at home with.The vocabulary you use must reflect the professional or scientific vocabulary they use in their every day work and you must be careful not to dumb it down. The tone must be engineer-to-engineer, ie that of two technocrats having a conversation.Engineers and scientists are put off by copy that sounds like advertising. In tests comparing feature-oriented and benefit-oriented mailings sent to these professionals, the feature-oriented copy always wins.The takeaway: When writing copy that addresses engineers and scientists, just give them information about your product or service. Forget the clever stuff.

How to sell to enthusiastsEnthusiasts are consumers who have a passion for a particular type of product… motorcycles, cars, stereo music systems, model aeroplanes, computers, and so on. They have a love for the object of their desire that is quite alien to the rest of us. It is the features that turn them on.For example, if an ad for a sports car says”It reaches maximum torque of 150 ft-lb at 3.000 rpm and produces 175 hp at 5,000 rpm”, an enthusiast will begin to daydream about handling all that power on a twisty mountain road.To write successfully for enthusiasts, you have to think like an enthusiast… you have to share their abiding interest in the details of whatever you are selling.A detailed discussion of the aural difference between vinyl records and CDs will fire up a hi-fi enthusiast but probably leave the rest of us cold. But you have to get on that wavelength if you are to address a hi-fit nut persuasively.A nerd will have an unhealthy interest in the internal workings of a computer that most of us ignore… but as the copywriter you have to find a way to share that enthusiasm. That’s your job.The takeaway: describe the features and enthusiasts will readily imagine the benefits of their choice in their own heads.

Salespeople Can Always Sell More, by Strengthening Their Strategic Selling Skills

How strong are your strategic selling skills? Strategic selling involves increasing your competitive advantage by strengthening your ability to communicate your uniqueness, value, and competitive differential to a customer or prospect.

How successful have you been explaining your competitive uniqueness and differentiation to your potential buyers?

What is involved with strategic selling?

So what is Strategic selling? Strategic selling involves your ability to communicate your value and competitive uniqueness to a prospect or customer throughout your entire selling process.

Strategic selling includes starting each call with a strong strategic uniqueness or philosophy statement about you and your company that takes less than two minutes to present. It also involves you developing a more strategic or “big picture” focus to your selling messaging, selling language, and overall philosophy or approach to a customer’s business.

The toughest single question asked by customers today is “Why, based on all the competitive alternatives available to me do I want to buy from you?” How successful have you been persuasively answering this question from your customers or prospects?

Most sales reps would answer this “Why buy?” question with a presentation detailing their products or services best “features and advantages.” It is then up to your buyer to organize and sort everything you covered so they understand the overall value and impact of doing business with you. However, this also means that your success is completely dependent on your buyer’s ability to summarize and interpret everything said so they can understand the overall value of buying from you and your company.

Allow me to share my strategic selling message that I use to begin a sales call. As a sales and sales management consultant and trainer, my answer to a prospect asking me why they would want to buy from me would be, “I have a very specific niche in the sales and sales management training environment. I only work with experienced “business to business” sales professionals who already know how to sell, the managers who led them, and the executives who direct them. Everything I do has one bottom line focus, to increase your competitive advantage so you can increase your profitability and selling success. I have the most advanced sales training available in North America today and I can prove it!”

What did you think of my message? Notice how customer focused my message hopefully appears and how it talks about how I want to help solve a customer’s sales issues instead of the traditional selling approach of just talking about the features, and customer benefits of my various products and programs.

Strategic or philosophy selling is not in conflict with “feature-benefit” selling. Both need to be utilized by you in your persuasive selling. However, most sales reps spend all their time on a call only focusing on explaining their features and advantages, and spending little to no time positioning their philosophy or approach.

Strategic selling is based on you being able to prove a difference in your value.

A foundation of successful strategic selling is an understanding and belief that you are not in a price driven market.

Here’s the simple reality of selling: If you’re working as an outside sales rep then you’re NOT in a price driven market, never have been and never will be, even in a tougher market or economic slowdown.

It is not that you are in a price driven market, it is that all markets are value driven with pricing only being a distant second. There is a real simple concept in strategic selling, “the more of a differential you can show me in value the more of a differential I’ll be willing to pay in price.”

The reality is price will always be a factor or component in any buyer’s decision. However, the challenge for buyers is not based on getting the lowest price; the real buying challenge is being able to find the vendor with the best value offering so that you then do not mind paying a higher price. In fact, many buyers have told me they and their company cannot afford to buy the lowest price available due to the lower value also being provided.

Strategic selling focuses on your customers instead of on yourself or your products.

Your ability to focus on your customers and what they want, and need, is an important component of strategic selling. Too many sales people only sell to one person…themselves! The sad reality is most reps spend all their selling time only talking about their products and themselves.

Customers are not actually buying your products or a service, which has no real value or benefit to them. What they are buying, and find profound value in, is what your products or services will actually do for them.

So how are you answering a customer or prospect asking you why they should buy from you? The foundation of strategic selling is to not spend the majority of your selling time talking about yourself, your company, or why your stuff is so competitively superior, but instead to focus the majority of your selling message on how your customer’s are going to benefit and receive greater value buying from you compared to anyone else.

In addition, make sure you do not do all the talking in your sales calls. Most experienced sales pro’s I have ridden with do all the talking on their sales calls. Customers might spend as little as 10% of the call actually talking!

What percentage of your sales calls are you talking vs. listening? Moreover, what can you do to make sure you focus your discussions and selling efforts on your customer, and what you can do to address their challenges?

Strategic selling involves selling as a single team with one voice and one message.

A critical key to increasing your strategic success is to sell as a single team with one voice and one message. Do you and your fellow sales pros work as a team? The reality is most sales teams don’t.

Do you want to test to see how independent the members of your team really are? Individually ask several team members how they would answer a prospect asking them “Why, based on all the competitive alternatives available to me do I want to buy from you?” If your team is similar to most, you will discover that each rep will have completely different answers to this question.

It is not just your fellow sales reps we need to worry about. How many different people from your company will communicate with a prospect or customer before they say yes and sign an agreement? Most companies have several people talking to their customers including service and technical people, management, credit, and your administrative team.

With all the different players from your company communicating, and hopefully, persuading your customers, it is critical you have a single, simple, and focused uniqueness message that is discussed and confirmed by all members of your team.

Decide to meet with your entire sales team to begin defining why someone would want to buy from you and your company, and then work to train and coach anyone who is communicating, and persuading your prospects and customers to want to buy from you.

Strategic selling incorporates the four “core values” selling language into every sales call.

Strengthening your philosophical or strategic selling language is also based on your understanding of the core values or driving philosophies of why buyers buy. These terms are referred to as the core values of buying because they are the central themes, philosophies, or driving justification of why a buyer likes you over all other alternatives.

Whether you are buying for your personal consumption or buying for your company, there are only four reasons, or core values, as to why you would select a specific vendor from a field of competitors.

Why did you choose that vendor? I chose them because, number 1 – they did more than anyone else to lower my risk. Alternatively, number 2 – I chose them because they did more to make my life or work easier. I chose them because, number 3, they did more than anyone else to either lower my total costs or to increase my profitability…and the fourth and final core value…I chose them because they did more than anyone else to increase my competitive advantage.

That’s it! Those are the four overall reasons, or core values, why all buying decisions are made. All other buying reasons from customers will fit into these four core drivers or will be a sub-set of them.

These core values are powerful selling terms because they parallel the thinking and reasoning of your buyers. In addition, these four core values are not terms utilized by most sales people. How exciting is it to have selling language that is both customer focused and not being used by your competitors?

Set a goal next week of finding excuses to drop at least one of these four terms into your conversation with every customer to see if you notice any difference in your buyer’s responses or questions.

Final comments.

So how strong are your strategic selling skills? What can you now do to increase your ability, and your entire sales team’s ability, to sell as a single team with one voice and one message? What can you now do to increase your ability to communicate effectively your uniqueness, to focus more on your customers than on yourself and your products? What can you do to stay focused on the “Big Picture” philosophy of why your buyers want to buy from you, and to incorporate the four “core values” selling language into every sales call you make?

We know you’re good…now the question is…are you good enough, and committed enough, to increase your strategic selling skills and to communicate a simple, brief and effective strategic message of competitive uniqueness on every call so you can accelerate your competitive advantage and selling success?

Jim Pancero