If you’ve ever cooked noodles you know that you can determine if they are done by throwing the noodle against the wall to see if it sticks. If it does, then it’s done. When I think of ‘features and benefits’, I think of someone throwing a whole pot of noodles against the wall to see what sticks.
What is ‘features and benefits’? Well, Dale Carnegie would say that by listing all of the features of your product and all the benefits that will come to you as a result of using this product, that you’ll finally say enough and hit on something your prospect may find important.
When I hear a sales person start up with features and benefits, I immediately peg them as old-fashioned and get turned off. It doesn’t work anymore. We’re too sophisticated and we’re used to people trying to sell to us. It’s about as effective as throwing a pot of pasta against the wall. It also has the unfortunate side effect of making the sales person seem smarmy and outdated.
This brings to my mind the character of Gil Gunderson on ‘The Simpsons’–a hapless, nervous, paranoid, salesman who uses old-fashioned techniques (by the book). He sweats, begs, lists off reason after reason without paying any attention at all to his customers, always just positive he’s not going to make the sale. He always ends up failing because it’s all about him, never about his potential client or their desires.
The main reason features and benefits doesn’t work is because it focuses on you. It doesn’t focus on the important part of the equation–what your client or prospect really wants. Secondly, it puts you in the frame of continuing to have to ask the wrong questions.
What can we use instead of features and benefits? Criteria. Whatever you do in life, business, love, criteria is the answer. Through the process of criteria elicitation, you know exactly what to focus on for each individual prospect, friend, family member, romantic interest. . .it works across the board. You improve your odds and the predictability that you will also get what you require from the situation.
If you throw enough stuff on the wall, you’ve got dirty walls. Features and benefits, for the most part, are not effective, and they simply mark you as someone who is unskilled and unprofessional.
With all that said. . . there is an exception to the rule. When your prospect knows absolutely nothing about what they are there to buy from you. Say they’ve never seen or heard of the product or service and they have come to you to learn about it. Under these very specific conditions, features and benefits can be helpful. But even then, it should still be considered the second step. Elicit their criteria first and then give them your features and benefits.
Give yourself the ability to aim directly into their heart, straight into their emotions, their deepest desires. If I can speak directly to you about what it is you want, if I can talk about persuasion, and about the benefit to you of being able to master it, all of the sudden I might start having a little bit more of your attention.