Benefits sell features tell. Why do you dress?” I usually ask participants during my workshops. Almost always, there’s an awkward silence, with participants wondering the absurdity of the question; and then the answer follows to rub home the queerness of my question. “To cover ourselves, of course!”

“Really?” I press. “So why not wear skin then?” And they realise there must be something I’m driving at. Slowly a hand goes up and admits the truth: “We dress to look good, impress, feel good about ourselves or to suit the occasion.” There is always an emotional aspect attached to dressing. Why else do we ask our significant other, “How do I look in this?” or, say, “I don’t feel good in this?” or “I was told red suits me,” or such other sentiment?

These sentiments are the real reasons we dress. And the truth is, we won’t readily admit this to a stranger — least of all a salesperson. When you buy a shirt it is not because you want to cover yourself. In fact, that very reason sounds as absurd as the question posed at the opening. This is why it is better to sell benefits rather than features.

Sell features, not benefits

Likewise, when selling a product or service the prospect doesn’t buy it because he wants to “cover” himself. He buys it because it makes him feel good, or because he was told it is good or he sees it as solving a problem he has. Drumming your presentation on how the shirt will cover one’s back and torso and has sleeves long enough to cover his arms won’t get you very far. Crafting your effective presentation around how he will look, what his peers will say, or how he it will feel, will more likely sink home.

People buy benefits, not features; the former are emotional and must be unearthed through the salesperson’s presentation, if he is to make a long-lasting mark on the prospect. Unearthed because, just like it takes time to admit to strangers why you are really clad the way you are, it takes time for the prospect to warm up to you sufficiently enough for you to understand how your product benefits him.

Benefits selling examples

As obvious as this seems, today I still see salespeople selling the features of their product or service as opposed to the benefits. Yet, benefits sell features tell. For instance, telling me that the account you are selling me has free standing orders means nothing to me. But telling me that with it I’ll be able to pay my rent, DStv subscriptions and other bills at no cost or effort, paints a picture I can relate to.

Insisting that I place a bumper sticker advertising your mall will probably bounce off me. But informing me that with that sticker I get free parking in your mall and any other mall touches me. The hawker who tells you to buy the dark glasses because they complement the colour of your skin will most likely get a sale from you than the one who pushes them in your face, inanimately stating, “Sunglases!”.

For some reason we rarely say what we really want or mean. The challenge for the dynamic salesperson is to find out how his or her product or service matches the needs of the client and then show this. Those adept at it will do so without mentioning the features at all.

Benefits sell features tell

Don’t sell features sell benefits

For instance, “this printer will fit well into your busy schedule. You don’t need to spend time standing over it. You need only email your work to it in the manner you like it to print and it will do so in a quarter of the time it currently takes you, and with three times the clarity you currently enjoy.

“It’ll even bind the work and send a text message to notify the person concerned to collect the printouts.  The savings in time you make will astonish you. It will feel as if your day just gained another four hours.”

Compare this to: “This state-of-art digital printer has 1440dpi, 200 cpm and has 512MB of RAM. It has a 7,000 duty cycle and integrated wireless, for use among several wirelessly connected computers plus standard and optional feed and multipurpose trays…. Huh?”

Let’s start again: “Why do you dress up?”


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