February 10, 2024
Features tell, benefits sell
"People don't know what they want until you show it to them." This quote from Steve Jobs profoundly illustrates the underlying complexities of the relationship between products and consumers.
To some, this quote reads like it's Steve's way or the highway—that he's got some crystal ball to see into the future and pull us collectively into that space. And in many ways, that's what he and Apple have done.
But I've always read this quote a little differently. In my mind, Steve's commenting on the intersection of innovation and customer behavior—and if you want to know where the puck is headed, you have to be hyper-aware of the consumer's needs and the problems they're experiencing.
It sounds easy, but man, it is not. The art (and yes, I think it is an art form) of selling a product's benefits over its features involves many things, but the most important three to me are:
- Actively listening to your potential customers.
- Identifying their specific problems.
- Positioning your product as the solution that can make a significant difference.
And that last point is the key—offering a product or service that actually solves the customer's problem.
But how do you do that? Let's break it down.
Products should solve problems
At the heart of every successful product is a solution to a customer's problem. Calling attention to the problem is the first phase of benefits-driven selling.
Your offering's attributes should have clear, beneficial purpose, addressing their pain points and frustrations.
In my experience, the best-selling products are those that identify, define, and communicate the problems to your potential customers.
So, how do you set yourself up for selling success? Ask yourself, "What problem does my product or service solve?"
Can you answer that question in one sentence? If not, you need to dive deeper into the customer's mindset to pull out more benefits-driven examples of how you can be the answer to their problems.
Positioning the product as the solution
Having pinpointed the problem, it's time to showcase your product or service as the solution. Detail the benefits of your product in a way that connects both logically and emotionally with buyers.
Here are four ways you can connect with your potential customers:
- Social value: Does your product resonate with a particular group of people? Does it foster a sense of community or connection that is valuable for people?
- Practical value: Does your product save people time, energy, or a combination of the two? Saving people hours in a day or extended effort can solidify your services in customer's eyes.
- Monetary value: Does your product save people money? If put in front of the right audience, your product will be a no-brainer.
- Psychological value: Does your product improve people's mental well-being? Do they feel better about themselves or others by using your product?
There are more ways to make a customer connection, but addressing any or all of these is a significant step towards positioning your product as the solution your customer needs.
The art of selling benefits
We've identified problems and positioned our product or service as the solution to the customer's problem. Now, all that's left is to close the deal. That's where selling benefits over features comes in.
Highlighting benefits over features is powerful
Features are factual statements about a product, while benefits explain how those features offer you a favorable advantage or outcome.
Here's an example: You're a salesperson at the Apple store, and the latest iPhone just came out. It has the longest battery life of any iPhone to date. That's a feature of the phone.
The benefit of the phone (and how the salesperson should frame it) is that with longer battery life, you'll have peace of mind knowing your iPhone won't die in the middle of an important call.
See the difference between the two? Benefits-driven marketing sells the outcome (reliability), while feature-based marketing merely states its capabilities (long battery life).
Social proof and storytelling
Once you've closed the deal on a few products or services, you'll want to leverage social proof and storytelling to reinforce benefits-driven marketing and selling.
Showcasing testimonials about how others have benefited from your product is one of the best ways to influence potential buyers. This also reinforces the "seeing is believing" method—if it helps one person, it can help others.
Storytelling is another incredible tool to reinforce benefits-driven marketing. Through storytelling, you help the consumer visualize the experience of using your product. This helps them relate more to your product if they see themselves in the person you tell the story about.
But what if you don't know what problems to solve?
Up to this point, I've only written from the perspective of a digital business owner with a product or service to sell. But what if you're starting out or looking to make the leap to a product or service-based business model?
Well, you're in luck because there are a lot of great places to find problems to solve—you just have to look around and get involved.
Start with your existing network.
Reach out to your personal or professional network and see what people are up to. Is anyone creating/building anything interesting? If so, what problems do they keep running into? Look for real-world examples where digital products or services could make their lives a lot easier.
Not only will you increase your understanding of product needs and wants, but you'll also be able to work on and refine your sales pitch with a friendly and warm audience.
Engaging existing clients
If you have existing clients and you're trying to broaden your offering beyond your current products and services, start here. Have extended conversations about things they might be struggling with besides what you're already working on together. Send out periodic surveys or questionnaires to find their pain points and challenges.
This is a great way to strengthen your relationship as a vendor while showing that you're proactive about their needs and are eager to help if possible.
Another great place to look for problems to solve is on social sites. Two of my favorite places to go are Reddit and X to see what people are talking about (and, more importantly, complaining about.)
This gives you a real-time market snapshot, allowing you to leverage your skills and abilities to solve their issues. Don't be afraid—jump right into the conversation and offer value. You'll be surprised how many people will share openly!
In the blue corner, we have Benefits, and in the red corner, we have Features. Hopefully, by now, you can see that the blue corner will almost always emerge victorious.
And it makes sense—when you position your products and services in ways potential customers can see themselves in the outcomes, it's much easier to build trust and articulate your value.
Every great product solves a problem. Make your solution so good customers can't ignore it.