Seeing What Sticks: The Problem with Features and Benefits

People will teach you how to sell them if you’ll pay attention to the messages they send you. Source Unknown

Dear Persuader,

There’s an old wives’ tale that suggests you can tell when dinner is ready by throwing a piece of spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks. If it sticks, it’s done. If not, keep cooking. Whenever I think of ‘features and benefits’ selling, I think of someone throwing a whole pot of spaghetti noodles against the wall and trying to see what sticks. Stupid, right? I think so.

Dale Carnegie would say that you have features and benefits, listing all the features and benefits of your product or service in the hopes that if you say enough you’ll finally hit on something of importance to your prospect and they’ll scream out, “Ooh! I want that one!”

Features and benefits is the quickest way to expose yourself as an old-fashioned sales person. Does it work? About as well as throwing a whole bunch of pasta against the wall. And as an added bonus, it makes you seem smarmy and outdated.

It brings to mind the character of Gil Gunderson on ‘The Simpson’s’ who is a hapless and nervous salesman who uses old-fashioned techniques to no avail. He sweats, he begs, he lists all the reasons why you should buy the product he’s selling or the house he has listed or any number of things (he’s had dozens of jobs), and he always ends up failing because it’s all about Gil. It’s never about his prospect or their needs.

Features and benefits doesn’t work, first and foremost, because it focuses on you. You’re not the one you’re trying to sell. Secondly, features and benefits puts you in the perspective of continuing to ask the wrong questions.

What’s the antidote to features and benefits? One word: criteria. In whatever you’re doing, whether it be sales, whether it be real estate, whether you’re working this in terms of relationships, or whatever you’re doing, if you throw enough stuff on the wall, the old theory goes, some of it will stick. Maybe. But using by using criteria, you’re laser focusing on exactly what the prospect wants and thereby significantly improving your odds and the predictability of sales.

So my new theory says, if you throw enough stuff on the wall, you’ve got dirty walls. Features and benefits, for the most part, are baloney, they’re not effective, and they simply mark you as someone who is unskilled and unprofessional.

The exception to the rule is when the prospect knows absolutely nothing about what it is that they’re there to buy from you. They’ve hardly ever seen or heard of the service or product, and they’ve come to you to ask you about buying it. Under those conditions, you might use some features and benefits, to help them to learn about the product, but even then, I’ll tell you, that would be the second step, not the first step.

The first step is giving yourself the ability to target straight into their heart. Straight into their emotions, into 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.

Until Next Time,

Kenrick E. Cleveland

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Jack - November 15, 2007


Can I get your perspective on something? What are your thoughts on SPIN selling (Neil Rackham)? How does it mesh with your approach?


Kenrick E. Cleveland; Affluent Activator - November 16, 2007

Hi Jack,

Some of the things talked about in that book I agree with i.e. not making small talk etc.

The thing I disagree with is going primarily after the “pain” (moving away from). Call it spin selling, “submarine metaphors” or what have you, anything that is that formulaic will be something I will probably take issue with.

It’s true people will buy quickly when they experience a pain but what about those products or services that people buy because they want them not because there’s pain? Trying to manipulate someone to always experienced the pain is unwise in my opinion.

I address how to think about this kind of thing, what to do instead of using old-fashioned formula type approaches and how to make persuasion an ongoing part of your personality in my program The Persuasion Factor. Check it out at http://www.persuasionfactor.com .


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