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Feature and Benefit Selling: Big Hat No Cattle

To help prevent customers from commoditizing their offering, conventional sales people rely on feature and benefit selling, or as I like to call it death by feature and benefit. This ineffective form of Chinese water torture is simply a weapon turned against itself. It is comparable to a blind taste test that no one can differentiate. It defeats the whole purpose.

Customers are presented identical product attributes by all sales people so they do not know if they are getting a junkyard with gems, or a junkyard with junk. When it comes to your information, less is more. When it comes to your customer's information, more is more. Feature and benefit firebrands are so focused in glorifying their product they do not glorify and honor the customer's agenda and their most pressing issues.

Feature and benefit selling seems like the perfect anecdote to commoditization. Yet it is simply an act of retreading and recycling. Everyone is doing the identical cut-and-paste. Everyone is selling the exact same differences resulting in everyone being unique just like everyone else.

The delivery mechanism of this strategy is enthusiasm, which adds insult to injury by putting customers on guard, resulting in grand gestures of excitement that ultimately ring hollow with customers. In Texas they would call it big hat no cattle; lots of big talk, little substance.

Traditional selling is all about going for the kill (sale). Since traditional sales people come out swinging (selling), there is no give-and-take, or room for balance and compromise. The blitzkrieg is all about their goals and their agenda. The feature and benefit style of selling is all about playing your best and only cards right away. It is a real scarcity mentality way of selling. There is none of the necessary slow romance, consequently sales people often are left high and dry early on in the process, totally surprised that no one is returning their calls, emails and texts.

Feature and benefit sellers are unabashedly positive, self-referential and self-promotional. Losing is not an option. The idea of poorly qualified prospects does not even enter their realm of optimistic thinking. They treat their Dead Sea scrolls as self-evident and self-realizing facts. Instead of engaging customers, they detract. Instead of being a differentiator, their product becomes an equalizer.

Product exceptionalism is not preordained until the customer defines what is of value to them. From the predawn of time, feature and benefit sellers have relied on absolutism. They have believed, through their actions, that their product and their pitch was absolute. Well the gold rush is over. Sales people's pot of gold (features and benefits) no longer carries the day in the new information economy.

What business are you really in? Are you in the product business, or are you in your customer's business? Keep in mind the more product oriented you are, the further you travel away from your customer's business. Information carpetbaggers feverly pitch features and benefits that customers only pretend to care about. Your product is simply a means to an end to address business challenges. Your product/service has no real intrinsic value. Your product/service is the equivalent of a walk on recruit, and the customer's business issues are the equivalent of an All-American star athlete. Deemphasize your product and your features and benefits, and focus all your attention on your customer's business.

The twin evil forces for information sellers is being self-absorbed and not being self-aware. Over reliance on selling with information falls into a scarcity mentality and is perceived often as needy and desperate. Enthusiastic and passionate information selling might be empowering your own confidence, but does little to empower the confidence that customers need to believe that you understand their business and their most pressing issues. There is something so self-satisfying and self-congratulatory about information seller's sales approach that puts customers off.

Information sellers think that customers do not get it, they just do not understand their message, they just are not on top of things. No: Conventional sales people do not get it. They have a firm grip on their own selling strategy, but an awful grip on the customer's buying strategy. Information selling is basically a free and easy ride on the front end, and then it is an ugly scene after all the hype and excitement cools off and customers come face-to-face with the inconvenience of change.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com