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New & Improved White Paper Archive

Date: 1/11/2015

Title: Features Aren’t Value

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Features Aren’t Value

Why selling your idea/product/service requires more than a spec sheet


Once again, we were frustrated. Frustrated at a client’s inability to see the importance of letting people know in simple terms the value that his new service provides to the organization. Frustrated that he wanted to list solely a description of how the service does its work. This listing of their features is intended to justify their existence and big budget to the organization. The biggest frustration is that our typical first draft of a proposal does the same darned thing. Okay, so maybe part of our frustration is with ourselves. Yet please note that we’re frustrated in a well-managed, curious and appropriate way.

What your customers don’t need to know. Yet.


Our angst stems from the fact that too many otherwise smart people get tunnel-vision and lose sight of the fact that the features — characteristics — of a product (like size, weight, buttons, appearance, functionality) or service (what is done, the offerings, what you see people doing) are not important to consumers until they are deep into the decision-making process.

The challenge is that it’s too easy to get sucked into the tunnel, seeing only WHAT your service/product does rather than WHY you do it for your customers. Until you’ve identified the WHY, you haven’t distilled down the importance of your product/service/idea, you’ve only described it. When that happens, it’s unnecessarily harder to convince people to buy or support your offering. Remember, “The true purpose of business is to provide ongoing and recognized value — and to continue to stay in business by providing it. ” So say Margaret King and Jamie O’Boyle of Cultural Studies and Analysis — a company that is outstanding at figuring out the value of a service/product



What’s the value you provide?

What customers — the people who will shell out money for your product/service — want to know about is the benefit — the value — that the product or service provides. What’s the point of funding a project, why hire a service provider, why buy a product? It’s not because of the characteristics, it’s because of WHAT it does, or the value it provides to the user. You don’t initially go into the grocery store looking for the “King Sized Isle” or the “Easy-Open Container aisle,” you look for “soup. ” You don’t go looking for a project that uses “service providers with consultants and proprietary software,” you look for a way to solve your business problem. To paraphrase King and O’Boyle, it’s not the business/service/product that makes you successful, it’s your customer. And for customers to pony up the big bucks for your offering, they must understand WHY they need it, which is far more important than WHAT it is. Sure, the features — the what — are important at some point, but only once your customers are deep into the decision process, after they’ve been convinced that what you provide delivers them value, which means it’s worth them giving you something of value (e.g. payment for services, funding for an idea, etc. ). The Main Event: Features vs. Benefits.

Here are some examples of products or services, the features that describe them, and the benefit that they might provide a potential buyer.

Product/Service Feature Benefit
Car stereo 12 speakers and a 600 watt sub-woofer Sound quality like sitting in the recording studio
Italian designer suit Made of the finest silk available, single needle tailoring You look like a very successful business person wearing it, and you’ll impress people
Computer information solutions Customizable dashboard covering all of your business functions with weekly reporting You know how effectively you’re using resources so you can tell whether or not your business is profitable
Voice mail Password protected with date stamp, auto-dial features, and auto-save functionality You can stay connected to your most important people even when you can’t take their phone call.


Why is it bad to start talking about features before communicating value? And why is it not effective to merely describe the service? Well, for one thing, you can describe a car stereo to me until you’re blue in the face, and until you let me know the benefit of all those woofers, tweeters and watts are, I don’t care. Especially since I’m not an audiophile. If I really knew car stereos and truly understood your product benefits, then that’s a different scenario. But for conversations early in the “sales” process, features are irrelevant. Here’s a different way of looking at it, lifted from our friends at Cultural Studies and Analysis.


A child-like approach to value

 Do you have children? Are there children in your life? Or do you only know people that have children? If so, you know that kids are wonderful, albeit challenging, which makes it all that much more important for parents to be convinced of their “value” every day! Young children are constant sources of joy, wonder, amazement, love, and bring great meaning to our lives by reaffirming our faith in the power of love. Ask any parent what they love more than their children. It’ll be a non-existent or VERY short list. Clearly, children are wonderful, and are greatly to be prized.

Yet why? What do young children bring to the parents? Is it the fact that they weigh a certain number of pounds, wet their diaper a number of times per day, drool a lot, cry intermittently, have little arms and legs, fuzzy heads of hair, or smile at you occasionally? You’ll notice that those aren’t the things that parents talk about when they discuss the joy of parenting. They don’t spend much (if any) time describing the “features” of their children. Parents never talk about the joy of their children by describing the prodigious amount of “bodily output” they emit, or how loud they can cry, or how much they eat. More likely when you ask parents to talk about their children as newborns, you’ll hear great stories about the emotions that it brought up in them (positive and negative), about how it changed the meaning of their lives, shifted their priorities, helped them understand why their parents did what they did, and caused them to re-evaluate what was important in their lives. Those might be considered the “benefits” of having kids. And if you wanted to convince someone of the value of a child in their life, you’d focus on benefits, not features. The same is true in the process of trying to convince someone of the value of your product or service. Focusing solely on the features ignores the point that until they understand the benefits, features are irrelevant.



How to find benefits

 So how do you get from “features” to “benefits?” One way is to take a look at the features or offering and ask the question, “why is this important to our customer?” Then ask again, “Why else is this important to our customer?” Ask a few more times and ask it about all of your features or offerings, and even about the response you gave to the “why’ question. For example, our car stereo has six woofers. “Why is that important?” So you can hear every note of music clearly. “Why else?” So you can hear the sound of the music instead of road noise. “Why is it important to hear every note of music clearly?” So that you get sound as good as you would if you were sitting next to the musicians. “Why else?” So that you hear music as it was intended to be heard. Each time you answer the “why” question, you move farther away from features and closer to benefits to uncover the true value of your offering. To go in the reverse order, from benefits to features, ask, “How do we do it?” For example, “how do we deliver music as it was intended to be heard?” By using six woofers in the car stereo. “how do we hear every note of music clearly?” By using six woofers. See? Back to features.

The Innovation Imperative

In our work, we get to see thousands of great ideas to improve businesses and thousands of really cool new product concepts. Frequently they come with a free “frustrated idea owner” right in the box. The frustration is often that the potential customer “just doesn’t get it” yet, as we listen to these frustrated owners, we frequently here them tell us that their potential customers don’t really seem to listen. Hmmm. Could it be that what they talk about the most with their potential customers is “feature stuff?” Yup, that’s been our experience. When we challenge them to talk about benefits, they seem to be better able to get to YES! Now That’s innovation: applied novelty that is useful.



Benefits have benefits!

So, when it’s time for you to start talking to your potential customers, buyers, or funders, talk about benefits first whether it’s in person, electronically, or in print. To ignore benefits and go straight to features is to assume that people understand the joy that your offering will bring to their life. Yet if people don’t know the value of your product, they won’t give you anything valuable in response, no matter how many features you have. And that’s frustrating!

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