Not long ago, we were working with a group of highly technical professionals who had recently moved into a sales role. While these folks are excellent in their technical work, their ability to be persuasive when talking with clients was lacking.
One of the topics we discussed was the need to lead with benefits. That is, when you’re describing a product or service to a buyer, it’s best to begin by talking about how that product or service will benefit them. Then, back up that benefit with a description of the product’s features.
For example, if I were trying to sell you the mousepad I’m using right now, I might say, “This mousepad is more comfortable to use because the padding supports your wrist.” The benefit, comfort, precedes the feature, padded mousepad.
This is a more persuasive statement than an explanation that begins with how a flat mousepad puts strain on the wrist or the history of mousepads. The most important thing the buyer needs to know is that this mousepad is comfortable.
Features are Proof of Benefits
By leading with benefits, you quickly place the product you’re selling in the buyer’s context. In my example, their wrist is sore, and they’re looking for relief. It’s not that the features of the mousepad are unimportant. They are. It’s just that they serve a more persuasive function after the benefit has been established.
For example, let’s say that your buyer needs hundreds of mousepads for people in her organization. She may need to explain to her skeptical manager why the mousepads are necessary. To do that, she needs to present the benefit, then talk about the features of the product—why flat mousepads cause wrist strain and how ergonomic mousepads relieve it. Those bits of information support the claim that the mousepads are comfortable to use.
Step Back, Shift Perspective, and Focus Your Message
All business communicators, not just those in a sales role, can be more persuasive by using a benefits-first approach. Here’s why:
- It gets you out of your head. All of us spend a lot of time thinking about the “what” and “how” of our jobs. We focus on how a process can be streamlined, what the budget numbers need to be, or when the new product should be rolled out. When it’s time to make recommendations about our work, it’s important to step back, shift perspective, and think about the people we’re talking to. How does your recommendation benefit them? Begin there. When you do, the features that follow serve as supporting evidence, not the point of the interaction.
- When that happens, you’re able to simplify and focus your message. Do your listeners really care about how the new procedures were developed? Possibly, but only as it relates to why the new procedures are a good thing.
Leading with the benefit is a good habit to develop because it reminds you in every situation to break free of your habitual way of thinking about things and adjust to your listeners.