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By David H. Sandler

It sounds heretical for a sales trainer to say, "Stop selling features and benefits," doesn’t it? Traditionalists have been preaching features-and-benefits selling for ages. Apparently they think it gets results, but I think it’s a lot of unnecessary hard work. It’s merely a safe way to sell unproductively. At best, it’s arm’s-length selling, and it’s not effective today. Features and benefits do not lead people to make buying decisions. Features and benefits may sometimes confuse the issue.

Try this exercise: On a piece of paper draw a vertical line down the center of the page. At the top left side, write your company’s name. Across the page, on the top right side, write the name of your major competitor. Down the left side of the page write the numbers 1, 2 and 3. Do the same thing on the right side of the page. Now, under your company’s name, list the top three benefits of the product or service that you’re selling. Be sure these benefits explain why people buy from you. Is it because your product or service generates increased profits? Does it maximize effectiveness or efficiency? Is it easy to use?

I’ve got bad news and good news. If you’re like most people, you want the bad new first. Here it is: You’re fired.

Now the good news: Your competitor (whose name you wrote in the exercise above) just hired you!

It’s your first day at work for your new boss. Go back to the right side of the paper. Under your competitor’s name (now the company you work for) record the top three benefits of the product or service that you’ll be selling. When you’re finished, you’ll probably discover that it’s difficult to distinguish between the left and right sides of the page. The benefits of your former product or service are probably not all that different than the benefits of your new product or service. Same benefits and same features.

Can you imagine sharing the results of this exercise with your clients? In truth, traditional salespeople do it every day. Prospects are used to hearing the same features-and-benefits presentations day after day. Chances are, each time you make a presentation, the prospect already has heard everything you’re going to say . . . from the competition! If you’re selling in the traditional way, the only thing setting you apart from the competition is the company name on your business card.

If features and benefits don’t convince people to buy, what does?

Emotions!

Technically, there are five emotions that lead to buying decisions when they’re aroused in prospects. Here they are:

  1. Pain in the present. The prospect tells you, "It hurts now."
  2. Pain in the future. The prospect tells you, "It’s going to hurt if I don’t fix it." (In a word, we call this fear).
  3. Pleasure in the present. The prospect tells you, "That will make me happy now."
  4. Pleasure in the future. The prospect tells you, "I can’t wait to buy it."
  5. Interest/curiosity. The prospect tells you, "Interesting. Tell me more."

People make decisions intellectually, but they buy emotionally. Benefits such as increased profits, maximum efficiency, and ease of use appeal to the intellect, but not to the emotions. Try all you want to sell intellectually; most of the time, it won’t work. And when it does, it’s hard work!

I suggest you choose the easy path. When you sell, pursue only the pain! All the other emotions aren’t as strong, so ignore them. Cut below the surface, uncover the prospect’s real motivations, and expose the pain.

Pain is such a strong emotion that prospects will do anything to avoid it. When you get your prospects to feel pain, especially pain in the present, and then demonstrate that you can end their suffering and hurt, you’re a step closer to the sale.

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Excerpted from the book, You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar, © 1995 by David H. Sandler. All rights reserved.

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