Features and benefit selling – a new look at an old friend

Features vs. Benefits

Most large companies in the B2B market space have a substantial range of capabilities. Because of the breadth and depth of the capabilities and product portfolios even existing customers often have an incomplete view of how their selling partners can be of help.  They think only in terms of the support they presently receive.

In the end, the potential value can only be seen when the customer makes the link between their partner’s capabilities and their mission, priorities, and challenges.

The first step in achieving that goal is developing a comprehensive understanding of the customer’s needs which is why asking questions and active listening are such important core skills. The second step involves talking about your capabilities in a way that helps the customer make the connection between their needs and your capabilities. A distinction that can be useful in helping make that connection is the one between Features and Benefits.

The Feature-Benefit distinction has been around for a long time.  Time of course can be a double edge sword when it comes to bring clarity to any construct – so is the case with this distinction.  Re-visiting this important old friend from time to time is therefore a useful exercise.

By way of definition, Features are the characteristics of your company and products and what you do and how you do it. Benefits focus on the value those Features can bring to a customer. In talking about your capabilities in a more compelling and impactful manner, it is helpful to remember the following about Features and Benefits.

  • Features have no inherent value. Any given Feature, regardless of how unique that Feature, brings value to a customer, and hence is a Benefit, only when that Feature addresses a need that matters to that customer.  If the customer does not see the connection between their needs and your capabilities, they will see no “benefit” in your solution.  This is why it is so important for the sales person to take the responsibility for making that connection versus leaving it up to the customer.

This is also one of the reasons why it is so risky to have an extended discussion about any given capability or solution without a comprehensive understanding of the customer needs.  Without that understanding, it is easy to do a really good job of talking about the wrong things.

  • Value is positional and situational. For any business development opportunity, the perceived value of a particular capability varies by the position held by the person on the other side of the table.  A scientist may consider a specific Feature of a solution to be of tremendous value; whereas an administrator may feel it is worth very little.

Perceived value is also situational, what constitutes value tends to shift over time.  Whether you analyze it from the perspective of an individual, a project, or an entire customer organization, the expectations about value are dynamic.

It is best to assume there are no generic customers.  The discussion of capabilities should be fined tuned to every customer and to every situation.

  • Benefits are both tangible and intangible. Because of the diversity of capabilities in major companies, the variety of potential benefits is substantial.  The payoffs to the customer can be financial, strategic, operational or even societal.

In many cases the Benefits in these categories are intangible.  Although intangible Benefits can bring as much or greater value than tangible ones, customers often under-value intangible Benefits because their impact is difficult to quantify.  So, the sales person needs to assume the responsibility for helping the customer develop a clearer picture of the payoffs of intangible Benefits.

Here two best practices are:

1. Take into account that the definition of success may be different for different stakeholders so get the customer involved in creating the metrics for quantification.

2. A particularly effective technique for crystallizing the payoffs of intangible Benefits is the case example.  A well crafted story of a case example told in a manner the customer can relate to is one of the most powerful techniques for bring the conceptual or intangible to life.

There is no question that bring extraordinary value to the customer requires great products.  However, even great products don’t sell themselves and talking about versus selling products are two very different things.  Mastering the skills to ask, listen, and then talk still is a great old fashion way to get the job done.

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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2 Responses to Features and benefit selling – a new look at an old friend

  1. Nice to see an Old friend again, Dick.

    But, where is their sibling “Advantage”, perhaps it was not truely understanding Advantage and confusing it for a Benefit which brought “Benefits” down?

    Thanks again!

    • Richard Ruff says:


      Thanks for the interest and comment. No fear the sibling is alive and well – just wanted to focus on parents.


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