Is That a Feature or a Benefit?

Article by C.J. HaydenYou’ve heard it many times before: you need to sell benefits to your clients, not features. Whether you are writing copy, talking about what you do, or engaged in a sales presentation, it’s the benefits and results of the service you provide that you should emphasize, rather than its features or how it works. But it’s not always easy to get this right.

A feature is a fact, detail, or description about your services. A benefit is the positive result your client gets as a result of working with you. The distinction seems simple when you read the definition, but sometimes features can sound suspiciously like benefits.

Consider this example from an IT consultant: “I help small businesses that are losing time and money due to computer problems.” Feature or benefit? Although this might sound as if a benefit is being communicated, it’s actually just a description of the consultant’s target market: businesses with computer problems. That’s a feature of the consultant’s business.

Here’s another from a graphic designer: “I produce creative and attractive logos, business cards, and brochures.” Feature or benefit? While the designer is naming a tangible result he or she produces, there’s no benefit to the client stated here, simply a fact about the designer’s work.

Or this example from a management consultant: “I conduct team-building sessions using the innovative Delarosa system.” Feature or benefit? In this case, the consultant is describing the process she uses to produce results, not the results themselves. Again, this is a feature.

So, what is a benefit? It’s your answer to the crucial question every client asks, whether they say it or not: “What can you do for me?”

A benefit of working with a small business IT consultant might be that he or she will: “take care of your computers so you can take care of business.” A graphic designer’s benefit might be to “make your marketing stand out from the competition.” Benefits of working with a team-building consultant might include “boost productivity, reduce conflicts, and improve communication.”

There are three keys to communicating what the true benefits of your services are:

1. Determine the essence of what your clients want and need.

Look at your business through the eyes of your ideal prospects. What needs and desires are they seeking help with? Do clients go to a chiropractor because they want a spinal adjustment? No, they go because they want pain relief. Do businesses hire a technical writer because they want instructions written down? No, they hire one because they want employees to make fewer errors, or customers to find their products easy to use.

2. Connect those wants and needs to what you deliver, as directly as possible.

If the clients of an image consultant want mostly to take more pride in their appearance, telling them they’ll “save money by avoiding wardrobe mistakes” is a much less effective benefit than “look like a million bucks at a price you can afford.” When a business is seeking help for underperforming managers, an executive coach should be selling them “improved performance and increased motivation,” not “higher job satisfaction.”

3. Tell them not just the results of what you do, but why those results matter.

While it’s true that hiring a professional organizer might result in “an organized office,” a much more powerful benefitwould be “find any piece of paper in less than 10 seconds.” The result of working with a sales trainer might very well be “better sales skills,” but a much more attractive benefit would be “close more sales in less time.”

Is there ever a time to talk about features? Certainly. Describing features can help you attract the right clients and let them know you have what they are seeking. A copywriter who specializes in direct mail and ad copy should say so, to distinguish his or her services from one who writes primarily for websites and brochures. An accountant who primarily serves business clients rather than individuals should make that clear.

But once you’ve covered the basics of who you serve and what you provide, it’s time to tell your prospects what they’ll get from working with you. In a competitive marketplace, communicating benefits can get you hired.

Would you be more likely to hire a web designer who offered simply “Flash and Java programming” or one who promised a site that would “convert visitors to customers?” Would you choose a disc jockey for your wedding with just a “wide variety of music” or one who assured you of a “completely stress-free experience?”

Selling benefits instead of features can make you stand out from the competition, connect your services directly to your clients’ wants and needs, and persuade lukewarm prospects to take a closer look at your business. If you’re not sure whether what you’re offering are features or benefits, here’s the ultimate test.

Do your words describe what you do and how you do it, or do they focus on what your client wants and gets? When you talk about yourself or your work, you are almost always stating a feature. When you talk about your clients and their desires instead, odds are that you are naming a benefit.

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