Mind's eye, courtesy Microsoft ClipArt

Benefits going the same way as Features

… and Value is close behind

Change how you do it not what you do!

Some decades back a common approach to selling saw the sales person running down a list of the features of their product or service expecting the prospect to stop them at some point saying “Ah, that sounds interesting, tell me more”.  By the 1970s, the more sophisticated suppliers, Rank Xerox being a good example, had come to realise this approach probably lost more customers than it created and the practice was given the derogatory term “spray and pray” or “doing a features dump”.

The next evolution involved teaching the sales people to apply their questioning skills to uncovering the prospect’s issues; then they would mention the features that were relevant to addressing those issues. This worked for a while but over time prospects wised up to the approach and expected the sales person to put in more effort by demonstrating that they actually understood their business.  This led to the idea of sales people telling prospects the benefits they would gain by using the supplier’s product or service.

The problem with the benefits-driven approach is that it puts the sales person in the position of stating things they typically cannot know about the individual prospect’s business.  The sales person can learn about the general issues of a particular business type, industry or market place but before engaging with each prospect they cannot appreciate the specific and individual issues.  As a result, most benefits are taken from a generic list based on assumptions such as everyone wants to save money or do things faster.  We call this the “faster better cheaper” approach.

Things have since moved on and the current fashion is for suppliers to express what they do in terms of the value it will deliver if the prospect buys from them.  Unfortunately, in many cases, the expression of value is basically a re-badging exercise as it involves using the same benefit statements but giving them a new name ‘value’.

Mind's eye, courtesy Microsoft ClipArt

In their mind’s eye, how do they see their world?

So, what is the poor supplier to do? As is often the case with problem solving in business the answer has been around for a long time but it got swamped by the desire to do something different or just new and by knee jerk reactions to short-term problems; “we need more orders!”  The answer is really simple; sales people must learn and apply the techniques of structured questioning, empathetic listening and interactive conversation.

If you do want to employ an approach based on benefits and value here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Do the research to understand the generic and common issues that companies in your target market sectors have or will soon have. This work is often done by the marketing department or perhaps the sales enablement function if you have one.
  • Before attending a first meeting do specific research; the individual prospect, their market, their competitors, relevant news/web items, and from the common and generic issues, identified above, which ones might apply that businesses like theirs have to deal with now and in the future.

You can now begin to create a profile of the prospect and identify what you need to find out so that you can design a solution that will really excite them.

  • Use the profile to plan the first meeting especially; the questions you will ask to start finding out what issues the prospect actually has, what they might consider as beneficial, and how they will evaluate and measure the value of a solution.  Note I said “start” the process; building a profile of a prospect, especially where your proposition is complex and the sales cycle long, cannot be achieved in a single meeting.
  • At various points during the engagement journey check with the prospect that you have understood what matters to them; the benefits and value they want to enjoy.  Approach this using a process of trial closing – “if we were able to do this for you and as a result you were able to (reduce stock levels, increase your customer satisfaction score, etc.,) would you go ahead with our proposed solution?”  If yes, good you can move forward and if no, excellent; you can explore why not and this will provide further insights into what the prospect really wants, needs and values.

Using a feature-based approach to selling and doing it well will actually deliver better results than a benefits or value based approach done badly. However, if all you talk about is features, the other party typically thinks about price and discount and the basis of negotiation will be crude haggling which will probably get you the deal but lose you margin.

So, isn’t it better to learn how to do the benefits/value approach properly?

We’re here to help.

Asking "what do you do?"

How do you answer the question …

“What do you do?”

This is a question that many people struggle with and getting the answer right is ever more pressing as networking events are increasingly popular aspects of business these days. It is also a question that is being asked in the on-line world of LinkedIn.

Add to this the situation where you might be commenting in a discussion thread on LinkedIn where you want to communicate what you do as well as contributing information to the discussion topic. This requires a more subtle approach where you are effectively answering a question that has not actually been asked but may be implied in the original discussion topic.

In answering decide what effect you want to create – just answering, commencing a conversation, or perhaps the very early stages of starting to prospect for business.

Here we provide a few tips on the way you might respond to the question “What do you do?

Context. It is very important that you consider the context in which the question is being asked. For example, if you are at a conference where the topic is data security on mobile devices, it is reasonable to assume all attendees will have an interest in some aspect of that topic. This should be used as a guide and your answer should focus on what you do in the context of the conference topic/focus. Be aware of course, that if you are a supplier in that field, you maybe conversing with a competitor.

You also need to be aware of other contextual factors that might help you provide a meaningful answer. For example; it may leave the other person cold if they come from a banking background and you tell them all about what you do in the shipping industry.

Clues. Under context I provided a couple of examples of information that might condition your answer; conference subject matter and the industry of the person asking the question. These and other clues can help you make the answer meaningful and personalised. Some other examples are; location, company size, job role of the person asking.

If you know the location of the person asking you can include in your answer a word of two that positions you as having a footprint in the area or understanding specific regional issues and challenges. Being aware of the size of the enquirer’s company means you can further personalise your answer demonstrating that you understand the challenges of; start-ups, SMEs, global or public companies. In crafting your answer, knowing the other party’s job role is also very useful; a CIO and FD are each likely to have their own perspective (field of interest) which your response should address.

Tips to build your own answers:

  • Decide on the tone you want to adopt; formal/informal, serious/humorous, provocative, audacious, etc.
  • In an attempt to be clear, people try to provide so much information that their message is lost because it becomes too complicated. Keep it short, sharp and sweet.
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms, or big words. You may think it sounds smart but in many cases it will be a turn-off. Beware of acronyms in particular; their interpretation may not be the one you intended. Simple is better and less is more are good guides to keep in the back of your mind.
  • Avoid drivel such as “I have a passion to understand your pain points so before answering may I ask you …?. Much too Uriah Heep-ish!
  • Avoid words such as unique or claims such as “we are the leading …”unless you can prove it. I once met someone at an event who turned the standard company message into a point of humour which proved to be a great conversation starter. I asked what he did and he replied “We are one of the top 5 … this of course means we are fifth!
  • Avoid making unsubstantiated claims such as we save time and money. Unless you absolutely know you can do this in every case it is a dangerous claim to make when you do not know their circumstances; even if it is true it is unlikely to sound very credible to someone you have just met.
  • When thinking about your answer it is good to have it in mind as a newspaper headline or a tweet – you have limited space to get your point over. What you say in answering the question is a very high level summary of what you would say if you have 30 minutes to answer the question but typically; if you can’t answer in 30 seconds you probably can’t answer in 30 minutes either. Your answer should work at every level.
  • James Potter (The Linked In Man) recommends that you effectively answer this question in what you say about yourself in the headline of your professional profile on LinkedIn. This makes the information available with any contributions you make on LinkedIn.
  • Remember they have asked you what you do. They may be asking just to be polite or they may really want to know so whatever you choose to say it must attempt to address the what. Even if it was just a polite conversation piece you may have the opportunity to turn it into something valuable for both parties so make sure your answer piques the interest that may be lying dormant. To achieve this, your answer could tell them ‘what you do for them’ in terms of the results you have achieved for others in a similar circumstance.
  • You need to be concise and try to structure your answer so that it is the beginning not the end of the conversation. If you are able to answer what but preface with some how that will help to create the impression that you are someone they should have a longer conversation with. For example; “We do … and, as a result, our SME customers typically gain … improvement in customer satisfaction”. By focusing on the potential outcomes gained it is less likely to sound like a generic answer. You have managed to tell them what you do, the type of customers you work for and the benefits they have gained from working with you.
  • The key is to be brief, show your value, and open up a conversation. One way to open up the conversation is to follow the answer you have provided, such as that in the previous point, with an open question such as “How do you measure customer satisfaction in your business?

Here are a few examples of ways you might consider structuring your answer:

  • “I work with [your ideal/typical customers] who want more [result types] with less [resource types]”
  • “I [action verb] for [target market] so they can [benefit].”
  • “I [action] for [your ideal/typical customers] who [cause/impact] to [effect/result]”
  • “You are familiar with [the problem], well I [what you do] so that [the value you provide].”

All of these will be more useful to both parties when built around the concept of Feature : Benefit : Incentive and followed by an open question, for example;

Customers that use our [what you do/feature] typically gain from improvements in [what they gain/benefit] leading to [what that gain helps them to achieve/incentive]. How do you handle/manage/support [what you do/feature]?

First published on LinkedIn Pulse