By Adam Hall, Partner, Teeming Ltd

Have you ever noticed when in the company of a group of business owners that regardless of what their company offers their sales pitch has a similar patter? This is because most people are using the tried and tested formula of feature and benefit (F&B) selling.

In fairness, F&B selling makes sense and many people have used it successfully in the past. So much so that when buyers make initial contact they often ask what the benefits are of a product or service right up front. This technique is based on the assumption that the buyer knows what they want and it’s up to the seller to convince the buyer why their product or service is the best solution. I believe this approach is flawed because the focus is based on the seller’s offer rather than the buyer’s requirements and people buy for their reasons and not the sales persons.

My aim is not to condemn F&B selling but to highlight some of its shortfalls and to suggest another technique, which could work so much harder for you and could ultimately lead to more sales.

Who’s really benefiting?

Everyone believes that their product or service has certain features, which will have a particular value to the buyer. The key point here is who has determined these benefits? Sometimes we forget that people buy for their reasons and not the sales persons. When my wife wanted a new car all she wanted was a convertible in a certain colour. However, during the test drive the sales guy talked passionately about fuel consumption, top speed and something called a split differential. While the salesman thought theses features were important, my wife didn’t. In fact his technical language put her off as he made her feel ignorant and uncomfortable.

Not the real problem

The whole premise of F&B selling is that you, as the seller, are presenting to a potential buyer. And therein lies another problem. There is nothing wrong in presenting per se but if you’re presenting then you’re not listening and if you’re not listening then you’re not learning about the real problems the buyer has. While you may still be able to sell your product to a prospect you may be missing out on a potentially bigger opportunity. F&B selling is by nature a transmit form of communication; it might be more fruitful to listen and evaluate. You will be able to assist a buyer better and probably charge more if you get to the nub of the real problem.

You all sound the same

Many sellers complain that it’s getting harder to differentiate their offering and search for features that make their product or service unique. The issue is that all companies are trying to do this. Try this simple exercise. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and on the left hand side list all the unique services your business offers. Then imagine for the moment that your company suffers financially and has to close the business and you join your major competitor. On the other side of the line list all their unique characterises. In most circumstances the list will look very similar. Therefore, if everyone is using F&B how can the buyer tell the difference? In most cases they can’t and then the seller is left with the worst scenario of all - pitching on price, which is a race to the bottom.

So what’s the alternative?

At a recent round table meeting an MD of an advertising agency stood up and told his audience what problems he solved for his clients. The shift in the room was palpable; this pitch was particularly powerful because he described the types of people he helped and then referred to problems that these people were having.

He said: “Hi my name is John and we recently helped a marketing director from the food and drink industry who was having the following issues:

•He couldn’t sustain current sales levels and had to discount whole product lines in an attempt to keep market share

•The brand was tired and was loosing visibility to newer entrants who had more marketing power

•He was struggling to grow his brand in lucrative youth market

The strength of this pitch comes from the fact that the seller is focussed on the buyer’s needs and not trying to explain what his product does or how it does it.

So rather than telling your prospect or audience what your company offers, why not discuss the kind of problems your clients have.