Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

What’s in it for me?

You might be selling complex solutions or everyday FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) deals, making two-minute pitches on the telephone, or be part of a procurement process that can takes weeks and endless bits of paper. Whatever your situation, there will be areas of interest that will help you improve the way you deliver a solution to customers so it is compelling, persuasive and focused on them!

The focus here is on how to persuade with conviction and clarity, and answer some important questions:

  • How do we use benefit selling that does not sound contrived?
  • How do you identify what to focus on when you sell?
  • What should be included in a written proposal?
  • How do you prepare effectively for a formal sales presentation?
  • What does a persuasive delivery look, sound and feel like?
  • How do you handle a genuine objection effectively?
  • What has closing got to do with modern selling?

There has been a lot written about features and benefits in selling. The intention here is to cut through the fluff and focus on what really matters when it comes to positioning a product or service. Take time to communicate clearly the benefits to your target market; this will create a message that will resonate with your buyers, leading to increased sales of your product or service.

Definition

Below are some important sales definitions.

Feature

A feature is any characteristic of a product or service that remains the same, whether the prospect or customer buys or not. These characteristics can include size, quality, payment terms, specialisation, technical details, factory location, product specifications (including size, weight or colour), or anything else to do with describing the details of your product/service or company.

Key differentiator

A feature that is better than that of the main competitor in some way(s).

Advantage

An advantage is the performance characteristic of a service that describes how it can be used or will help the customer. Advantages are what some features provide. Examples of advantages are a photocopier that copies two sides of a page at once, or a coffee shop that offers wireless internet access.

Benefit

Benefits are the favourable results that the buyer receives from the service/product because a particular advantage has the ability to satisfy a customer’s need/want. Benefits are statements which explicitly demonstrate how your service/product meets the needs of a customer. A benefit describes the specific value the advantage has for this particular customer, as defined by his/ her unique goals and priorities.

USP

Unique selling proposition – something you or your company has that no other company has.

Example 1
Feature: Power steering
Advantage: Fluid is pumped into a cylinder that helps make the wheels turn with less effort
Benefit: Makes parking easier – reduces the time it takes to get into a tight space
Example 2
Feature: Wrist watch
Advantage: Tells you the time accurately
Benefit: Ensures you are not late to important appointments

Buyers want benefits

Think about it – what is important here is the benefit, not the advantage or feature. Too often, we promote features when it is benefits that our customers are buying. We buy petrol to go places, not because of the value of the liquid itself. Nobody who bought a drill wanted a drill: they wanted a hole. Here’s a revelation: skydivers don’t need parachutes; what they need is what the parachute does for them. Specifically, they need a tool to slow themselves down before they hit the ground. If there were a better way to soften the impact, the parachute’s days would be numbered.

Although we sometimes seem to get attached to certain products, it is, after all, the benefits of the product that we seek and not, generally, the features or the advantages.

Whether you are in business to business sales, business to consumer sales, internet sales, retail sales or are selling professional services, features and benefits are what sell your product or service. The trick is to orientate your presentations and sales conversations, either face to face or on the telephone, so that you present selective benefits – not features – to the customer. Selective, because buyers are now more sophisticated and will get turned off by poor use of the feature-benefit model, which was born out of the transactional method of selling.

As you develop sales presentations, you can help yourself to differentiate between features and benefits by stating a feature and then linking this with a benefit (‘which means’ and/or ‘so that’). For example: power steering helps make the wheels turn with less effort which means that it makes parking easier and reduces the time it takes to get into a tight space.

The focus of your communication should be on how your product/service can solve, address, improve or reduce any area of difficulty that the specific customer/prospect outlines. It’s often helpful to ask these sorts of questions:

  • How will my product or service solve a problem for the customer?
  • How will my service fulfil a client’s want/need?
  • In what way is my product better than the competition’s?
  • How does my price compare?
  • Will my service improve the customer’s life? Make her happier? Reduce risk? Make him more productive? Reduce costs in the long run?
  • Does my product last longer than the competition’s?

The key point here can be positioned in one sentence:

Key point

Most buyers will buy because of the benefits to them of your product/service (and because a problem is being solved), not for the specific features that are part of the product/service.

If you really think about it, you can link most benefits at the highest level to

  1. Money: the product or service helps the buyer make or save money and so improves competitiveness
  2. Time: the product or service helps the buyer save time or frees up time for doing other things and so increases efficiency
  3. Ego: the product or service in some way makes the buyer feel good or increases work/life balance.

But forget about selling generic benefits. The knack in representing benefits is to focus on the specific problems and issues of the customer in front of you. Make all benefits customer focused. You will lack credibility if you focus just on generic benefits. Specific benefits must be supported by features. A benefit statement such as, ‘Our new software will improve productivity by as much as 20 per cent, saving you £29,000 per year and paying for itself within fourteen months’ must be accompanied by the features that bring about those benefits or your target market won’t believe the benefits – they will have no credibility.

Even business experts from major organisations may include these sorts of things in sales presentations:

  • When the business was established
  • How many offices they have
  • Multiple service offerings
  • Organisation of the sales force.

In reality, none of these are particularly relevant unless they are linked with the buyer’s interests/problems.

Where there are several decision makers

Most products or services have many features that could be attractive to a buyer. The trick is to align what you say with the interests of the prospect/buyer. The importance of benefits will change, depending on the target audience. In many cases, there are several decision makers (and influencers) involved in a purchase decision, in which case you must tailor your promotional materials and your sales presentation to each one.

Focus on USPs and key differentiators

In many sales situations, you know who you are competing against. One step to take before deciding your sales focus is to identify what areas are likely to be of most interest to the buyer. You can do this by completing this table:

 
USPs vs the competitor
Key differentiators
Same as
Worse than

 

 

 

     

Basically, you will be focusing your sales efforts on the ‘USPs’ (if you can think of any) and the ‘key differentiators’. Where there is fierce competition, it may be that you can find no ‘USPs’ – so you will need to focus on your ‘key differentiators’, from the point of view of the customer.

The ‘same as’ and ‘worse than’ features are likely to be some of the objections you may face. Try the following exercise.

Exercise
Step 1: Describe your product or service in 25 words or less.
Step 2: Specifically identify a customer group with which you want to communicate.
Step 3: List the problems your product or service solves for the above customer group and/or the needs and wants the product or service meets for the group.
Step 4: With the above information in mind, complete the table below.
Step 5: Test each feature and benefit statement, using the ‘So what?’ test. One of the difficulties in crafting our own feature and benefit statements is that the benefits of a particular feature are so clear to us that we assume they are evident to our target market as well. A dangerous assumption! If it is really not persuasive, then eliminate it from the sales presentation.

You will now have the basics of how to position your product or service.

Compared to the competition, here is how I stack up:

USPs vs the competitor
Key differentiators
Same as
Worse than