When I launched my career as a wide-eyed engineer in the early ’90s, the information revolution was just starting to transform people’s lives and the rate of change was phenomenal; in just five years, mobile phones the size and weight of a house brick were reduced to something you could keep in your pocket.
Features were everything.
As brand-new engineers, we didn’t always stop to think about how our customers would use these features, what value they would deliver, until someone from Sales or Marketing said, “So what?”and we discovered that “Because it’s COOL” wasn’t good enough. That’s when we started to learn the difference between features and advantages/benefits:
Features are the facts about a product or service – the what-it-says-on-the-tin bits – colour, size, weight, compliance, functionality; datasheets are often peppered with them. While they are important to customers – particularly the technically minded, who will have a checklist of features they’re looking for – they’re not likely to close the sale. They will, however, help to keep you in the running.
Advantages are the reasons that a customer or prospect might want to buy your product or service. At the early stage of your sales process, you will want to capture the advantages of each and every one of the features on offer to show their potential to deliver savings, increased revenues, or to delight your customers in some other way. When writing sales collateral, always ask yourself, “so what?” and you will unearth advantages you may not have realised existed.
So what then are benefits? (…this is the really important bit)
Benefits* are advantages that meet the specific needs of a given customer. As you move on from an initial engagement, repeating generic advantages could become an annoyance. By focusing, instead, on advantages specific to your prospects’ business model (ie benefits) you’ll demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of their requirements and give them confidence in your organisation when they enter the decision-making process.
*The words ‘benefit’ and ‘advantage’ are often used interchangeably and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t talk about ‘benefits’ in your top-level collateral. The important thing is that your prospects receive the right message at every stage of the sales process.