A few days ago, I sat in the 1970’s-like office of my family’s auto mechanic, waiting for routine work to be completed. While I sat there, flipping through a random assortment of magazines, in walked a salesperson. His golf shirt and khakis stood out in the shop’s sea of dirty, oily denim. He had a small duffel bag from which he handed out several cheap, plastic cups adorned with his company’s logo.
I continued to skim through a magazine as Golf-shirt chatted up the shop’s office manager while he waited for the owner. He was affable and professional – a true salesperson. He wasn’t overbearing, but spoke nonstop, barely allowing the office manager a chance to speak. Golf-shirt’s focus changed the moment the shop owner appeared and directed him into an open-door office only a few feet from the lobby. This proximity allowed me to hear the meeting play out in its entirety.
Strong Off The Tee
After a few light-hearted, ice-breaking comments, Golf-shirt got down to the business at hand. What followed was an example of where the business development process often breaks down: explaining ad nauseam the features of a product instead of its benefits. Golf-shirt’s pitch involved an in-depth review of a collection of tools he was selling. This review covered the full gamut of features and technical specs, along with his description of how they were top-of-the line, world-class products. Clearly, this was an impressive array of power tools, and any mechanic would be lucky to get his hands on them.
From the type of material used in the construction of the tools, to the speed with which the tools operated, Golf-shirt’s pitch only described what the tools could do. It lacked the more important part: what the tools could do for the prospect. Not surprisingly, the marketing materials (which I glimpsed at the counter during checkout) he left behind also had a singular focus on features.
In doing so, Golf-shirt never addressed how the new power tools could help (benefit) the shop owner. It wasn’t hard to imagine the owner’s glossy-eyed, disinterested look. It struck me while I sat there overhearing this conversation: like he did with the office manager, Golf-shirt did all of the talking. With such a one-way exchange of information, how could he possibly understand the shop owner’s pain points and thereby position the benefits of his products? A kindly older man, the shop owner was courteous enough to allow Golf-shirt to finish his pitch, before ushering him out of the door and returning to work.
Play From The Fairway
Business development is challenging.
Why make it harder on yourself than it has to be? Golf-shirt, had he taken the time to listen and understand some of the shop owner’s issues, could have translated product features into benefits in a way that would resonate with the shop owner.
- Will the new power tools help the shop owner work on more vehicles, thereby improving his income?
- Or, will the new tools help the shop owner improve productivity, by doing more, faster?
While these are examples from Golf-shirt’s meeting, the same concept (focusing on benefits) applies to any company, in any industry. Software firms have extensive technical specifications describing the architecture supporting their products. While these are both necessary and useful in front of the right audience (IT, Development), this level of detail is overwhelming and less helpful to other key stakeholders.
Features describe the product or service, and may not mean much to a prospect. Benefits describe how the product or service can help the prospect. Successful business development professionals know that identifying, understanding and solving your prospect’s pain points is key to building trust and winning new business.
Putt for Dough
Marketing materials play an important role in the business development process. One-page and two-page product flyers often list features, rather than the benefits that can be realized from using the product. A few examples of features listed in the marketing collateral Golf-shirt left behind, along with others I’ve seen firms (such as software companies) use:
- Titanium chassis
- 1500 ft.-lbs. of torque
- Web-based or server architecture
- Accepts external data feeds
- Numerous import/export tools
- Custom reporting platform
The above list of features, rewritten as benefits, to show value to prospects:
- Strong, tough and durable; built to last
- Power through difficult jobs with ease
- Flexibility and scalability to meet needs of companies of all sizes
- Eliminate data quality issues by seamlessly combining multiple data sources
- Get the information you need, when you need it
- Save time, money and resources by automating reporting tasks with one click
Being able to recognize and understand your client or prospect’s challenges, and use this knowledge to focus on benefits in all of your marketing communications (pitches, RFPs, collateral) helps business development efforts. It establishes credibility, builds trust and fosters partnership. Further, it leads to your prospect visualizing using the product or service and having a visceral reaction where they see themselves benefitting from it. Once you’ve done this, you’ve created significant value. As business development professionals know well, creating value for prospects is a surefire way to convert them into clients.
Benefits = value. Value = new business.