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Library: Stuggling with your sales message


by Harry Goldstein

When you start out, as the founder of many a new business enterprise will decide on their business offering based on two factors:

  1. What they are good at and enjoy doing, and
  2. What they assume customers will want to buy.

The good news is that the founder's assumptions are often correct. But as time goes by, the founder may wonder why more people are not buying his/her great product or service. It's a common mistake to assume that prospects will understand why they should buy your offering - just because they've been told about it.

Many businesses fail to market effectively by communicating only the features of their product or service to their prospects. Features are distinctive characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from similar items.

There are circumstances where describing only the features may be effective - but these tend to be in the fields of medicine, certain cutting edge technology, and where the prospect has knowledge about what they want.

In most cases, when all you do is sell the features of your offering - you are making your prospect do all the work in figuring out why they want it.

The commonly held view is that you should sell benefits rather than features. Benefits appeal at a deeper, emotional level. Benefits are desirable attributes of a product or service, which a customer perceives he or she will get from purchasing.

But there is a problem with this. If you only offer benefits, without reference to the features, then your prospects are likely to be suspicious about how this is achieved, and they may feel that they are being manipulated. It's like being offered a 'big juicy worm' - but with the suspicion that there's a hook attached to it!

Instead, my advice is to slow down and preface a benefit with the feature so your prospect can see the logical link.

To gain a prospect's perspective, approach your own offering as if you had never seen it before (easier said than done). Have you ever tried to assemble something where the instructions were lacking clarity such that the only person who could be reasonably expected to understand the instructions is the person who designed it? Use a sample of people who are completely unfamiliar with your offering and get their thoughts - you could be in for a number of surprises which could challenge your assumptions!

You need to answer the questions asked by your prospect "What's in it for me?"; "Why would I consider buying or changing?" "What results would that bring for me?" Focus on results. So, then you can bring this together to present the features, outline the benefits, & highlight the results:

  1. List everything your product or service does or it's 'features'.
  2. For each feature, list the 'benefit' that the prospect is likely to perceive.
  3. For every 'feature + benefit' - list what 'result' is satisfied.

Here's one example for a toy car:

Batteries included.
The product is ready to use out of the box.
I never have to see the disappointment on my child's face when his toy won't work because I forgot to buy the batteries.

Buying decisions are often made at an emotional and sub≠ conscious level. If logic plays a part, it's often used to justify buying decisions later on. So how does a prospect respond to your marketing message - perhaps something they've seen in an advert or brochure?

In the first 4 seconds - This is your chance to get the interest of your prospect. If what you say is not sufficiently intriguing, entertaining, and informative in under 4 seconds - then you will be filtered out. People don't have time to pay attention to things that don't interest them. Even if they would love your offering or benefit greatly from it, if you can't communicate something to catch their attention quickly they won't listen.

The first 4 seconds cannot include details. If you try to provide too much information in your initial attempt to get attention, your prospect is likely to reject it. You haven't earned the right to subject them to detail.

You only have time to present one idea, which should relate to the main 'feature + benefit + result'. To be memorable the idea has to be emotionally engaging. To be effective it has to be informative. To be both memorable and informative is your goal.

If you do catch their attention in those first few critical seconds, they will stop and pay attention to see if you continue to interest them. This means that you have their permission to tell them more.

In the next 10-20 seconds - At this point your prospect is evaluating whether they want to dedicate a few minutes or more to your message (a significant amount of time to the average busy person). Your message still has to speak to them in terms of entertainment, interest, or intrigue.

During this time, you can include another 'feature + benefit + result' or two. You are not trying to make the sale at this point. You are giving them reasons to investigate your offer.

If it sounds good to them, you now have the opportunity to give them details. The prospect is now prepared to allocate significant time to your message. They are interested and want to learn more.

You now have a few minutes to present the features, outline the benefits, and highlight the results....

Harry Goldstein
Harry Goldstein is a business coach for people who want to improve their focus, make the best use of thier time and grow their business and their profits to their full potential. Contact Harry at

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James says: 
Harry, a great article. I have always struggled a little with the FEATURES/BENEFIT statement and how it translates. Lets assume for the moment, you own a business selling delicious coffee beans. What is your typical features/benefit statement? I can give you a feature in that it is delivered free, and the benefit is that your enjoying award winning coffee, but thats disjointed. Is the benefit free delivery at all, or is that a feature?

16 Nov, 2010
Harry says: 
Hi James,

Have to reply via comments as it's a guest spot.

Enjoyment (and in this case satisfaction) is very much a benefit and why most people buy coffee I guess and I would also classify the free delivery as a benefit (when compared to buying online and having to add delivery fee). The features would more intrinsic to the coffee beans, like the roasting process, or fair trade certified etc.

Another well used example is a drill bit the features are itís made of high speed steel but the benefit is being able to have holes of that diameter in whatever you made need / want to have the holes.

For features think what it has and benefits what is does or delivers.
16 Nov, 2010

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