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Marketing Spotlight

The ‘Features vs. Benefits’ Marketing Debate

By Jonathan Ward

Selling features versus benefits is an age-old marketing debate. Many marketers feel you should sell only benefits. Often called the “solutions” sell, selling benefits normally encompasses telling how customers have become or will become more successful using your products or services. When selling features, companies focus on the more detailed and often technical aspects of promoting their products.
But the question remains: “When do you sell features and when do you sell benefits?”
The answer is you should employ both features and benefits in your marketing activities. Now the hard part – when do I sell features and when benefits? The answer lies in whom you are talking to and where the potential customer is in the sales process. Here is a quick summary of when to use each:
1) The Visionary Sell – When selling to the executive level at any organization, such as presidents, vice presidents, consultants, etc., you should stick to the benefits or solution sell. Visionaries are interested in the longer term viability and success of engaging a vendor. In marketing, this is achieved by using case study examples showing how companies are achieving success with your products (in order to decrease risk and validate your claims). Your corporate brochure and website should focus primarily (60%-70%) on selling to this group. Include upper-level product line information and simple language that illustrates how your products are used, and which products or product line is a best fit based on customer goals.
2) The Functional Lead Sell – When selling to people who, for instance, run day-to-day operations at a facility, you should focus on the benefits of working with your company (responsiveness, customer support, product reliability, etc.), as well as have available product specification sheets with detailed features of each “point” or single solution.
3) The Information Technologist and Engineer Sell – When selling to people with IT and engineer titles, you should provide information to allow these teams to spec your products as well as to demonstrate how your products would be a solution, and will work well with their infrastructure and existing systems. You should not lead with the technical sell, but it must be available (normally on your website) so that technical decision-makers can research the more technical aspects of your solution.
Another approach to solving this marketing quandary is to make sure that you have marketing materials and messaging tied to steps in the sales cycle. Here are the basics for achieving this:
1) Information Gathering – In order to be considered as a solution provider, people have to know who you are, and the benefits you offer, at a high level. Therefore, print advertisements, direct mail and trade shows are great ways to get the word out and to show your commitment to the industry you are trying to sell into. At this stage, you also need the more technical features information in order for a parking operator or end customer to build you into their spec.
2) Establish Short List of Potential Vendors – In order to get on the short list, you need to make it easy for a customer to investigate not only your products, but also how you support customers to achieve success. Therefore, you need a good website that provides “the basics,” as well as a good PowerPoint sales presentation that highlights the benefits of working with your company.
3) Vendor Selection – In order to win the project, your RFP, or request for proposal, needs to include both the benefit sell (highlighting your product development vision and how the company you’re selling to will become more successful using your products) and the feature sell (focusing on the technical and product details that make up a total solution). Also note that each RFP should begin with a personal cover letter. The worst thing you can do is to have a standard cover letter for all of your RFPs! This is a great opportunity to grab the interest of the recipients and differentiate your company from the competition.
4) Marketing to Customers – Now that your customer knows who you are and how you do business, you should communicate both new strategic directions (solution sell) and new product offerings and enhancements that could provide an upgrade to existing customers. E-mail and direct mail are the best ways to keep in touch with them. If you want to get more sophisticated, establishing user groups and having monthly “webinars” for customer provide excellent customer retention.
As you’ve seen, the solutions versus features debate will continue, but it is truly solved by understanding the needs of your customers (often based on title or functional responsibility) or where a potential customer is in the sales cycle. You simply need to ensure that your company is ready to provide product benefits and features at the appropriate time and to the appropriate person. Therefore, by listening to customer needs and requests, you can measure how much of your response to an inquiry should highlight benefits or solutions versus the more detailed product features.

Jonathan Ward, President of Onward Inc., has been a marketing consultant to the parking industry since 2002. He can be reached at jward@onwardmarketing.com.

Article Abstract from September, 2008




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