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WINNING, Incorporated | Boston, Massachusetts

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It sounds heretical for a sales trainer to say, "Stop selling features and benefits," doesn't it? Traditionalists have been preaching features-and-benefits selling for ages. Apparently they think it gets results, but I think it's a lot of unnecessary hard work. It's merely a safe way to sell unproductively. At best, it's arm's-length selling, and it's not effective today. Features and benefits do not lead people to make buying decisions. Features and benefits merely confuse the issue.

Try this exercise: On a piece of paper draw a vertical line down the center of the page. At the top left side, write your company name. Across the page, on the top right side, write the name of you major competitor. Down the left side of the page write the numbers 1, 2, and 3. Do the same thing on the right side of the page. Now, under your company's name, list the top three benefits of the product or service that you're selling. Be sure these benefits explain why people buy from you. Is it because your product or service generates increased profits? Does it maximize effectiveness or efficiency? Is it easy to use? Whatever you know the benefits to be, record them now.

I've got bad news and good news for you. If you're like most people, you want the bad news first. Here it is: You're Fired. Now for the good news: Your competitor (whose name you wrote in the exercise above) just hired you! It's your first day at work for your new boss... Go back to the right side of the paper. And under your competitor's name (now the company you work for) record the top three benefits of the product or service that you'll be selling. When your finished, you'll probably discover that it's difficult to distinguish between the left and right sides of the page. The benefits of your former product and service are probably not all that different than the benefits of your new product or service. Same benefits and same features.

Can you imagine sharing the results of this exercise with your prospective customers and clients? In truth, traditional salespeople do it every day. Prospects are used to hearing the same features-and-benefits presentations day after day. Chances are, each time you make a presentation, the prospect already has heard everything you're going to say... from the competition! If you're selling in the traditional way, the only thing setting you apart from the competition is the company name and your business card.

If features and benefits don't convince people to buy, what does?

Emotions! Technically, there are five emotions that lead to buying decisions when they're aroused in prospects:

  • Pain in the present
  • Pain in the future (fear)
  • Pleasure in the present
  • Pleasure in the future
  • Interest/arousal/curiosity

Traditionalists particularly focus on interest, arousal and curiosity. Why? They think it's expedient. Traditionalists appeal to the prospect's intellect. They seek a prospect's interest to arouse curiosity about what their product or service can do for the prospect. That's feature and benefit selling.

When people make decisions, they either move toward pleasure or away from pain. People make decisions intellectually, but they buy emotionally. Benefits such as increased profits, maximum efficiency, and ease of use appeal to the intellect, but not to the emotions. Try all you want to sell intellectually; most of the time it won't work. And when it does, it's hard work.


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