Week 06 – Find out What Your Client Really Needs – Chapter 02

Feature, advantage, benefit—these terms seem to belong together, but mean very different things. In order to negotiate successfully, you have to separate the apples from the oranges and establish what counts for you at a given moment—and why.


Find out What Your Client Really Needs © Fotolia 2015 / Ivelin Radkov

Find out What Your Client Really Needs © Fotolia 2015 / Ivelin Radkov

You buy something because it holds the promise of a benefit in return to your investment. But as soon as you use the product your expectations are dashed – the benefit that was expected isn’t there. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Now let’s look at this situation from the perspective of the sales professional. She has no influence over the quality of the product or the service. Here it is only a question of one thing: How does it benefit the customer?
First it is important to draw a clear distinction between a feature, an advantage and a benefit. A motorcycle for example: It has two wheels and it is about three feet wide. But these are not things that make the motorcycle attractive. They are simply features.



A Feature doesn’t have to be a Benefit

A feature describes a characteristic of the product and from the salesperson’s perspective, it is not that important, since it is not a motivation for its purchase. It can even trigger unpredictable thoughts, for example: If you sell a car by promoting its horsepower of 300, the customer might think either, “That’s going go give me some cool acceleration.” Or, “What a waste of gas.” And if you say that your company is successful since 1958, the reaction might be “Great, I can expect reliability and sustainability.” Or, “This is a washed-up medium-sized company. We want a modern partner.”

Your Client Needs Advantages

Having said that, relevant features can be effectively formulated as advantages. A motorcycle, for instance, takes up little room. This is very practical in big cities. Even when you have to commute every day from the suburbs to the city, the motorcycle offers the considerable advantage of being able to dodge traffic and take you to your destination more quickly.
A good marketing department knows how to reformulate all statements concerning features in a sensible way. But keep in mind that pure features belong on a fact sheet and should have no place in a sales pitch.

But what good is a motorcycle if you don’t have a license or you don’t need to commute from the suburbs to the city? Here is the difference between an advantage and a benefit. An advantage is a potential benefit. And this can only be established once you know the costumer’s situation.

People have various reasons to buy a motorcycle. The sales professional can only identify the individual benefit for the client through a direct exchange. And that is something that can only be done if it’s not the product that’s in the focus of attention, but the needs of the client. This is often a difficult task, because the client himself doesn’t always know what he wants.

This is also referred to as “autobiographical listening.” You’ll probably be familiar with the following situation: You’re at a party or a business reception, and you’re telling an anecdote. It won’t take long until someone says, “Oh yeah, that happened to me, too. But…” What follows is another anecdote that may or may not have something to do with yours.

That’s how the human brain works: People always look to size up and assess their environment through familiar patterns. You as a salesperson should file the first references that the customer makes to his benefits into a familiar pattern, like in the following example:

Customer A says that he expects to save. Instantly you’re itching to point out that Customer B who is in a similar situation was able to save three percent in material expenses. Costumer A, however, is talking about saving something different. He wants to save time and thus become more productive.

As you see, the tasks of figuring out benefits for your customer is one that deserves a lot of attention if you want to be successful in the long term. It is extremely difficult to put yourself into the position of your costumer, without instantly reverting to your own experiences. It takes great discipline to put away your ego for a moment instead of flaunting your expertise. And surely; it takes a certain composure to keep probing your customer’s needs when he begins by saying, “So, tell me what great things you have to offer me.”

Next week, I will discuss another key-aspect of modern sales organizations: A good assessment of your sales potential is yet another foundation of successful business.

Best wishes,
Stephan Heinrich