It seems that every new sales training program is touting them as the best thing since… well, the last best sales training program. They all claim their system is proven, modern, and different from other systems that have come before them.
So has selling really changed that much between the 1990s and 2000s, and 2010s?
The answer is both yes and no. Buyers in general are more informed today with the ability to access information at their fingertips. They don’t want to be sold, but want to be part of the sales process. The one common theme that many of these new sales training systems have in common is their belief that features and benefits selling is dead or old school.
If you aren't familiar with features and benefits selling, it is simply selling your prospect on a feature about your product and service and the benefit it provides them. For example, this car has 8 air bags (feature) so you and your passengers will be safe in the event of an accident (benefit).
Another example could be, ABC Insurance Company offers online claims reporting (feature), so it will save you time in getting your claims processed (benefit).
Sounds simple enough right?
To be clear, I am not here to bash on any sales programs. In fact, I believe there are many programs that are fantastic and provide a solid foundation for the sales process. My challenge specifically has to do with the many programs that proclaim they are the latest and greatest sales program while stating that features and benefits selling is dead.
The truth of the matter is that the foundation of any sales success is still based on features and benefits. When you peel back the layers of most of these programs, they still rely on the principals of features and benefits. In fact, some of them will actually tell you that features and benefits are still important. They may just call them a different name.
What most of these programs are absolutely correct about is that selling is a systematic process. Gone are the days when you show up and throw up. The notion you need to have the “gift of gab” to be a good salesperson is as outdated as the saying. You simply can’t just show up and “feature/benefits” prospects and close them repeatedly until they give up or keep you out.
The key to selling is identifying what your target market is looking for. It is asking good questions to understand what your prospect is looking for and what needs they have your solution can solve. The solution is features and benefits.
Once again, using the car sales example, instead of starting off with featuring the 8 airbags of the car, what if the salesperson starts by asking a few basic questions? For example:
Think of how the salesperson would continue the sales process based on the responses the prospect provides? How would the approach differ if the car were being purchased by a retiree looking to drive for pleasure, vs. a parent buying a car for his/her 18-year-old child heading off to college?
Salesperson – “Are you looking for yourself or someone else?”
Prospect – “It’s for my daughter”
Salesperson – “Great! What is your daughter going to use the car for?”
Prospect – “She is heading off to college so we need a car for her to get around and come home when she wants to.”
Salesperson – “Since this is the car for your daughter heading off to college, what are the most important things to you that this car must have?
Prospect – “Well… I want the car to be reliable. It needs to get her around for the next few years and I won’t be close enough to help out if it breaks down.”
Salesperson – “So, you are looking for a car that’s reliable. What else?”
Prospect – “The car needs to be safe. She needs to get around safely.”
Salesperson – “Got it. The car needs to be safe and reliable. Anything else?”
Prospect – “That’s pretty much it. She would say fun and cute, but I think what I said are the most important”
Salesperson – “So what you are telling me, you need a car that’s safe and reliable so she can get around at college and commute home when necessary, and ideally a cute and fun car at the same time? Does that sound right?”
Based on this example, the salesperson now has a much better idea of what the prospect’s needs are. In this and other sales situations, the salesperson can go even deeper and ask second level questions to further understand the prospect’s needs. For example:
Salesperson – “What would the car need to have to make you feel that it’s safe?” Or “Are there specific features the car must have for you to believe the car is safe?”
Once the salesperson has a better understanding of the prospect’s needs, he/she can now start the selling process through the utilization of features and benefits that specifically focuses on those needs.
For example: “You mentioned the car must have great safety features for you to feel that the car is safe for your daughter. This car has 8 airbags in its cabin that surrounds the driver and passengers, fully protecting your daughter and her passengers in the event of a crash, keeping them safe. In fact, this car has a 5 star driver and passenger crash rating.”
Even though we are back to the airbags, this becomes much more powerful as a features and benefits statement once you know what the prospect is looking for. Whether it’s airbags, claims, or another feature, whether it’s safety, money savings, convenience, or another benefit, feature and benefits selling becomes much more powerful when they are applied directly to the prospect’s needs.
Unfortunately, if you have ever gone car shopping, you know that these questions are often ignored. We tend to get the salesperson with the “gift of gab” that wants to close us instead of one that is trying to understand us.
In the end, features and benefits selling isn’t dead or old school. It just has its place in the order of the sales process. It isn’t about the latest and greatest sales system that claims to be better than the rest. It really is about creating a solid foundation for your sales process that helps you better understand your prospect’s needs before you start selling the features and benefits of your solution. You will not only be more effective at selling, you will also make your clients much happier because you understand their needs and are helping them resolve their problems.