Customer Service Blog

The Clang of Silence (Understanding features and benefits)

Over a hundred years ago I was trained to sell central heating systems by the firm I worked for in West London. The two week course involved learning a script off by heart so that we would be word perfect in a sales pitch!

The opening line of “Ooh! What a nice garden you have!”,  was less of a hit at the doorstep of a second floor flat in Poplar than it was at a semi in Ealing and the lesson on Features and Benefits in the context of a scripted presentation  was a complete waste of time. It was a waste of time because we were taught to sell by talking and not listening.

Consequently it took me nearly six years to get Features and Benefits or FAB as I was subsequently taught – Features, Advantages and Benefits.

Because it took me so long to “get” and because it is so important, I spent a long time working out how to teach this vital fulcrum of selling to others.

Years later I became  National Sales Manager of a communications company in London  running 34 reps and now I have my own business providing a range of marketing, sales, coaching, training and mentoring services for family businesses here in Yorkshire.

I have hundreds of examples but the one thing that I think will help people to “get” this is to draw up a list of reasons why people should buy from them. That is, buy their products and their services from their company – so the list will include product features – it will last longer – service features – we give you a 12 month warranty – and company features – we have good parking at our premises.

To find the benefits they use the phrase “This means that...

So for example:- This car has great air conditioning.

Which means that   You can cool the air in your car  Which means that   You will feel cooler in your car Which means that   You will feel less hot and bothered whilst you are driving Which means that   you will be safer and have less chance of an accident Which means that  you will arrive safely at your destination on time and feeling fine Which means that   you will be more likely to get that sale!

Now...

All of this is a complete waste of time if the person you are addressing has a sneezing fit every time she gets into a car with air conditioning, so we need to put our F&B stuff into the right context.

If we are writing sales copy and unable to ask direct questions we have to ASSUME that most people will find particular features to be a benefit – hence I suppose we label these advantages.

If , however we are able to talk to our prospective customer, they will die of boredom long before we get to the end of our Which means that list  .

So my golden rule is to ask questions and listen to answers.

Do you like air conditioning?

No – it makes me sneeze.

OK – so what is important to you in a car...?

Do you like air conditioning?

Yes.

Will you use the car for work or leisure?

Both

We can then go down the work line of questioning and then the family line of questioning until the prospective customer has told us all the reasons why they want that feature. – all those reasons are of course benefits

Summary . A benefit is a feature that meets a need.

My sales training works like this….

People buy benefits

People buy from people they like

People like them if you ask them questions

They like you even more if you listen to their answers

If you listen to the answers you will find out their needs

If you find out their needs you can offer them a feature that will meet that need

This will not be complete without mentioning the SO What? Test which I am sure you will have heard of but is worth a reminder.

I find that most people, when writing sales copy for e mails, web sites letter etc  fall into the feature trap and we can identify this by applying the So what? test to everything they write.

For example:

We have been in this business for the last 23 years.

So What? Are you any good?

Becomes: We have been in this business for the last 23 years and in that time have learned to understand exactly what you are looking for. For that reason we carry a stock of 4000 of the most demanded products so that you never have to wait for a delivery.

And finally, this is an example that  crops up as a recurring nightmare!

It is not just a good example of asking questions before stating benefits but more about observation, common sense and sheer foot in mouth stupidity!

I was selling a house a few years back. It was on a modern housing estate .

I was in the back garden, on the patio with a prospective buyer.

The prospective buyer, who was deaf, had brought his daughter along as a sign language interpreter.

I was in feature mode – great area to live in, great garden, lots of room but above all for a modern housing estate it was very quiet.

At least I heard the clang!

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