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Features And Benefits

by David Brock on June 17th, 2018

Somehow, we think features and benefits are important.  Every beginning sales course talks about how we present Features And Benefits (When I first started, I learned how to present Features-Advantages-Benefits —-FABs).  Our product marketing and marketing teams load us up with content and presentations with endless lists of features and benefits.

Visit any web site, and one is inundated with features and benefits.  We see the comparative tables showing features and benefits on one axis and the comparison of our solution with various alternatives–and we know our solution always checks off all the boxes, the alternatives don’t.  Ironically, when you visit the websites of those alternative solutions, their comparisons always show them checking all their boxes and the alternatives–including us don’t.

These are all games we play in pitching our products. and focusing on features and benefits.

But the problem is, not all features benefit the customer.

This is the first place where Features and Benefits discussions fall apart.

Customers may not care that we have certain features, they are irrelevant and the benefit is irrelevant.  Let me take an extreme example, say we offer our product in four colors, while the competition only offers their product in black (Think back to Henry Ford–“We’ll give you a car in any color as long as it’s black.”)  The feature is 4 colors, the benefit is you can match your office decor, you have colors that are soothing and restful to your employees.

The customer responds, “I don’t care, all our employees are color blind so that’s meaningless to us.”

Features and benefits are meaningless if the customer doesn’t care about specific features or benefits.  Yet, too many sales people will rattle off all the features and benefits they offer, forgetting the ones they should be focusing on are the ones the customer cares about.  If they only care about one benefit, then the only features relevant to them are those that produce that benefit.

The second area Features and Benefits are meaningless is we have to translate them into specifics that are meaningful to the customer.  Just the fact that we enable the customer to reduce operational costs and improve profitability is meaningless to the customer.  (Plus the competition is saying the same thing).  How much will we reduce expense, how will profitability be improved, how long will it take, when will they see results. Without making the benefits specific to the customer and their situation, we aren’t articulating our value in ways that are impactful and relevant to customers.

Features only benefit the customer if they produce value the customer cares about.  When we’ve narrowed our focus to those relevant features, we must articulate benefits specific to what the customer should expect to achieve.

Absent this, we are not creating value with the customer.

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8 Comments
  1. Kurt permalink

    I wish we would throw out the whole “feature-benefit” spiel altogether. What really matters is VALUE.

    First of all, not only is a feature that provides no benefit useless, It often actually creates a NEGATIVE benefit or value. If I want a black thingamajig, the fact it comes in a rainbow assortment of colors not only is of no value, it makes me feel like I am paying for features (multi-color options) hat I don’t want or need. In effect, I’m subsidizing features from which I don’t receive benefit. In that case, “can’t you give me a discount so I’m only paying for what I need?”

    Another problem with the feature-benefit framework is that there are product characteristics that may indeed benefit me but upon which I place relatively little value. Notice the word is VALUE.

    Take a red, permanent marker. The features are that it is red and it is permanent and it is a marker. This is perhaps of NEGATIVE benefit to a nursery school teacher trying to keep the kids and the walls clean. It is a benefit to a school teacher grading papers and it is ALSO a benefit to an orthopedic surgeon using it in pre-op to identify which knee needs to be replaced. Both schoolteacher and surgeon receive benefit, but what is the VALUE?

    If he can’t find A red permanent marker, the school teacher may shrug and opt to use a red pencil instead. Basically the same mission accomplished.

    Unless she wants to be sued for everything she’s worth and vilified on social media, perhaps even having her own set of tasteless Internet memes, the surgeon isn’t likely to substitute a pencil for a fat tip, permanent red marker. For whom does that pen have not only benefit but greater VALUE?

    Hitting a homerun on a single customer “value” is worth ten “benefits” or one hundred “features.”

    • Kurt, well said. At one point in my career, when sales people would outline meaningless features and benefits, I would reply, “That isn’t meaningful to me, in fact it’s adding cost that I don’t want to spend. Will you reduce your prices…….”

      We need to transition our discussions to value and what we create with our customers.

  2. Brian MacIver permalink

    In defence of SPINFAB, the story of SPIN(r) Rackham, rejected the existent definitions of Feature/Benefits in the 1970’s.

    HRG Defined ‘Feature’,
    AND two TYPES of Benefits ‘A’ and ‘B’ Benefits.

    Type ‘A’ were the generic Marketing ‘generated’ ones: “And, that means Bigger, faster, Smaller, Cheaper etc”

    Type ‘B’ were against EXPRESSED, Clarified Customer NEEDS. Type B Benefits were described and defined as Fulfilling EXPRESSED Customer Needs.

    I NEED a faster Unit- Our unit offers 50% more speed than your current Unit.

    In their Behavioural research, which reduced type ‘A’ to ADVANTAGE, and described type B as Need Fulfilment.

    30,000 sales calls in 23 countries, over 12 years established that:

    Features don’t sell,

    ‘Advantages’ [Generic Type ‘A’ Benefits} sell in some simple sales, and

    Benefits Type ‘B’ Needs Fulfilment Statements
    Sell in ALL types of Selling.

    Their Research stands: Benefits, expressed as Need fulfilment still sells. If you can relate a feature to a Customer EXPRESSED NEED, and fulfil that need, then it sells.

    One of the issues I have found, over the last 35 years is NOT that “Benefits” Don’t Sell, but that Salespeople lack the Skill in identifying Customer’s Needs that THEY, and Their Products can fulfil.

    [n=1] research to the contrary not withstanding.

    Just as not every ‘Value’ is expressed in $, so too,
    not every Benefit is expressed as “The Value to you is…”

    • Kurt Haug permalink

      Brian– I don’t think we are too far apart. It is partly a matter of semantics, but I DO still see some distinctions I would make.

      “Benefit A vs Benefit B”– yeah, not crazy about that vocabulary. However, calling A-type benefits “ADVANTAGES” vs. benefits makes a lot of sense. Even so, I question the “value” of any kind of advantage or benefit if it is not from the customer’s perspective. To use my previous example, if I want a BLACK thingamajig, having additional color options is not even an “advantage” to a seller. Good for you, if that helps you sell to SOMEONE ELSE, but to me as the buyer in front of you right now, it is meaningless or even a negative value.

      My other point would be that while I can generally buy into the “expressed need” category, I don’t think that is totally accurate either. We all know that a customer’s “expressed” need can be a) a smokescreen (“I just EXPRESSLY NEED a lower price…”) and b) the REAL need may not even yet be clearly identified by the buyer. A perceived need to increase manufacturing input may REALLY be better expressed and served as a need for improved quality, which also leads to reduced scrap and other overhead costs. IMO (and admittedly, perhaps my opinion only), our job is to truly HELP customers, not just stroke their egos by mimicking their requests.

      Finally, I would say that not all “expressed needs” or “value” is created equal. Again, a school teacher may “expressly need” a red permanent marker, but the impact and urgency of a surgeon’s need for the same product may be much more intense.

      Or the reason for an “expressed need” may be different. Some people want fuel efficient cars because of the cost savings, others because of the environmental impact, and still others to reinforce and self image and/or impress others. The WHY and HOW MUCH of a product value is much more important that whether or not a perceived need has been expressed.

      Again, a certain amount of semantics, but at the same time, these are fine but very real distinctions when understanding a buyer’s perspective.

      • Ultimately, benefit, expressed needs and value is defined by the customer and we have to present what we can do in delivering benefits/value in that context. Thanks for continuing the conversation Kurt!

      • Brian MacIver permalink

        Hi Kurt,
        I’ve spent 30 years working with Evidence Based models of selling.

        There is little Evidence Base to most Sales Models, they are, in the main, simple Folk Psychology.

        13$ gets you Evidence Based Sales Research you couldn’t do for $500,000

        https://www.amazon.com/SPIN-Selling-Neil-Rackham/dp/0070511136/

        SPIN(r) is that rare exception, I declare that I have No interest in HRG the Copyright Holders.

        To those 50 out of every 100 Sales People who claim to have been SPINFAB ‘trained’, go back and READ the Book, because in the thousands of sales calls I have observed, you didn’t [usually couldn’t] use the Skills.

        Which meant that it wasn’t the “Benefits” that didn’t sell, it was YOU!

    • Well said Brian, I always love the depth of experience you share. The sentence that really resonates is “Salespeople lack the skill…..” Thanks for sharing Brian!

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