The Death of Feature, Function, Benefit Selling

IBM spent three solid months teaching us young, starry-eyed recruits feature, function, benefit selling waaaay back in 1976.  It was leading edge then.  But so were a lot of things you wouldn’t be caught dead doing now (Streaking anyone?  The first Rocky movie?  Starsky & Hutch???).

The real joke with FFB selling: it was old when I learned it.  Exhibit A:


So, why does it creep into most sales presentations and sales copy today?  Beats me.  But the why isn’t important.  The let’s-change-it is.

What’s wrong with feature, function, benefit selling?

Simple.  It was invented when companies actually had technological advantages.  Most of what I sold for IBM you couldn’t get anywhere else.  So you better believe we sold features (this unit comes with 50 separate memory channels), the function of those features (so, if you are a lawyer, for example, you could store 50 different standard parts of a will) and the benefits (which means to you less time spent producing the standardized parts of legal documents and more profit in your pocket).

Sort of brings back the magic that of newly designed brake pedal from the video, doesn’t it?!  Today, with few exceptions, technical advantage is measured in months.  Maybe.  Competing on features is an arms race nobody wins.

FFB selling is fundamentally manipulative.  It, by design, takes the sellee down a path toward the logical conclusion that they need to buy what you’re selling.

Plus, it tends to be one-sided, pitting the salesperson against the prospect.  Information wasn’t that available; at least you had to work much harder to do your homework than the few clicks required today.

All the reasons this type of selling worked are gone.

What’s replacing it?  Fundamentally, two ideas: it’s your story, stupid; and free.

Story

As I said in the video, if you don’t have features to talk about, what are you left with?  Your story!!  The thing you should have been talking about all along.  The thing that, IF understood, connects you with your customers.  The thing or things you can say nobody else can.  That which is truly unique about you.  I have an entire site devoted to story.

Free

It’s hard to find a piece of software that doesn’t have a free trial or free version.  The basic idea behind free is to reduce the barrier to use your product to almost zero.  This does two things.  First, it doesn’t require as much selling up front.  And two, it gets you using the product so the product can sell itself; AND so the company can focus its efforts on “qualified prospects” (the people who are in the free trial period or using the free version).

Not everything can be free.  But how about risk-free (send it or bring it back if you don’t like it)?

Okay, okay, so what does this mean if you don’t sell software or you already have a risk-free return policy?  It means increasing your footprint beyond your website.  So bloggers are writing about you, customers are talking about you and you are part of the conversation in the places where the people who buy what you sell are spending time.  Online and off.  It means striving for a new level of engagement with people in the social space.

It means asking yourself THE BIG QUESTION:

If my sales revenue was based on how well I educate (for free) people who want what I sell and how many of those people I educate, what would I do?

Breathe that in a while.  Because I believe that basically this is where we are today.

3 thoughts on “The Death of Feature, Function, Benefit Selling

  1. JHLundin

    While I agree that there are alternative methods in selling what I sell every day (technology products and services… and I used to compete against IBM in the very days you are mentioning), FFB moves most techies to discuss the *business* motivation for their products/services *and* it educates the customer about the space *and* it works to exclude the competitors for specific features. So, in short, FFB isn’t dead, but could use some polish and examples (the ‘story’) and a better pricing strategy (the ‘trial’) to insure benefit realization and satisfaction…

    I run into examples of self enamored techies who talk features, features, features and *never* get to any benefit. Rookies in the technology space would do well to use FFB as a foundation and polish it other techniques as needed… Technology sales need to educate the customer and translate the technology into what organizational benefit is derived.

    Long live Feature, Function, Benefit…

  2. hamilton Post author

    Thanks for your insight. FFB is better than nothing, or, at least, better than FF. But it needs a heavy dose of story to get people to stick around long enough to get the message.

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