The sales mantra goes that we must sell benefits, not features. To explain what I mean, read the following extract of an online advertisement for Miele ovens.

“The Miele fan forced cooking system, for example, enables you to cook on up to three levels. Rather than just circulating hot air with a fan we use a mini-turbine together with a ring heater element to force hot air evenly throughout the oven interior. This reduces cooking time and thus energy consumption – above all providing perfectly even cooking results.”

In this advertisement, the feature, advantages and benefits are:

Features: Fan forced cooking system, mini turbine, and ring heater element
Advantages: Cooking on up to three levels, hot air forced evenly through the interior
Benefits: Reduced cooking time, reduced energy consumption, perfectly even cooking results.

In sales speak; features describe the sales item in technical terms. Advantages describe the sales item in terms of what the feature does. Benefits describe the sales item in terms of the benefit to me, the customer.

It is a fairly simple concept and should be easy to do. Sales people should be able to get this right every time. Right?

Well, perhaps not. Determining the benefits of a product is not as straight forward as it may seem.

Whilst features and advantages are a function of the product or service, benefits are solely in the mind of the customer.

To explain, I offer these four examples.

Example one: I have a hot water system. The system sprang a leak last night when the glass cylinder lining the tank cracked. I have family about to arrive on my doorstep for Christmas holidays and the house will be full.

In this example, the benefit uppermost in my mind is hot showers for everybody. The advantage is that you can install it before my family gets here. The feature I am interested in is your installation service. Which brand, gas or electric and what level of temperature control I can have are secondary to my desperate need to have a new system installed quickly.

Example two: I am, for all intents and purposes, a geek. I love technology. I know what technology can do and so do all my friends. I am about to buy a new computer.

In this example, the features themselves drive my bragging rights benefit with my friends.

Example three: I am a mining maintenance manager. My finance manager has been very vocal in the need to reduce costs and wants me to reduce our maintenance schedule. I know this will result in higher levels of breakdowns and eventually higher costs and lower production. My professionalism will not allow me to reduce the maintenance schedule, but it may cost me my job if I don’t lower costs within the next six months. I am about to let a tender for the lubricant supply for our company.

In this example, your ability to supply lubricants that really do reduce metal wear and fatigue will give me the benefit I need of reducing maintenance costs without compromising my integrity.

Example four: I am a busy working mother. I have to get up at 6:00 am in the morning to water the garden. Then I have to get the kids ready for school and myself ready for work. I am considering putting in a watering system.

In this example, an automated system will deliver the direct benefit of an hour extra of sleep.

Whilst it is true that we should sell benefits not features, or even advantages, it is dangerous to develop benefits based on the features and advantages of a product or service.

In the hot water example above, demonstrating the dual temperature control and continuous flow of hot water is not as compelling as saying, “I can have it installed this afternoon”.

In the mining example, you would have to show me a case study where your products had lowered maintenance costs by reducing metal wear. Also you would have to help me make the case internally with the finance manager.

Develop benefits from your knowledge of the target market.

As a sales person in a consumer market, this means asking probing questions to uncover the benefits the customer seeks.

As a sales person in a commercial market, this means perhaps, uncovering the benefits several people in an organisation seek.

An example I know well is selling to the mining industry.

In general, in an open cut mine, for example, the finance manager worries about the cost of the supply contract. The mining manager worries about overall costs of producing a tonne of ore. The maintenance manager worries about the cost of maintenance. The mine planning manager worries about the available time of the serious equipment – draglines and electric shovels. The environment manager worries about run-off into the environment. The operator worries about not being inconvenienced by downtime and by personal discomfort and also about safety.

Selling and following up to the mining industry requires communications which target all of these decision makers and influencers each with a different benefit.

Benefits sell products. They are derived not from the product, but from the customer’s environment and mind set which may change at any given moment.