It’s pretty rare for a salesperson to be sold to, but often when I’m on the receiving end of a pitch I “re-learn” something that I may have forgotten. If you are a human – and this blog is exclusively created for humans only! – then there are likely a lot of things you “know” but have sort of forgotten. Maybe you’ve gotten lazy. Who knows why we’re like this? Why do NFL players demonstrate sloppy tackling during a Sunday game? They’re professional football players, for crying out loud! It must be part of the human condition. But let’s get back to the pitch.
I was on the phone with a SaaS company recently that was pitching a big upgrade for our company. The associated cost was high enough that I wanted to spend time finding out what we’d “get” in the upgrade. The call was frustrating for all of us, and the main reason was that they were focusing on the “what”, and I was interested in the “why”.
The more they gave me a list of features the upgrade would include, the more I struggled to understand why there was an underlying ROI or business benefit for me. And the more I probed, the more exasperated they seemed to become, like I was a slow learner – which may very well be true, but if as the buyer I don’t “get it”, then they don’t get a sale.
There’s an old sales adage that “features tell, and benefits sell”. All companies operate basically the same way: you design something for a market, you build it, you sell it, you service people who bought it, you get insights from your target market, and your loop those learnings into your design. Aside from corporate functions like HR or finance, pretty much every job supports one of those activities.
Using an example from the software world, here’s the problem: we might design around a story that resonates with a market segment, but to build the release our engineering and product teams naturally deconstruct the story into a set of bite-size deliverables generally expressed as a list of features. So it is completely understandable why the resulting work could be communicated back to the market as a list of features when it’s released.
But customers don’t buy releases. They buy benefits.
Feature: “Improved reporting module now includes data on system availability.”
Benefit: “Make it easier for your staff to monitor compliance with Service Level Agreements.”
Feature: “Release 4.0 includes improved support for new Android devices.”
Benefits: “Deliver a better experience to an additional 5% of your Android users.” “Handle fewer support calls related to Android device coverage.”
It’s important to remember that when you’re selling something, buyers are always tuned into their favorite radio station: WII FM (“What’s In It For Me?”).
With all due respect to the excellent marketing colleagues I’ve worked with over the years, it’s been my experience that salespeople are usually the best at crafting benefit statements that resonate with buyers, which is why you want to make sure you have sales representation involved in product roadmap planning and release planning.
Features tell. Benefits sell. Keep that in mind.