Jane contacted me on behalf of her community arts company to ask my advice about selling arts activities to schools. An ex-teacher, and passionate about the arts, Jane was running her own business, taking artistic projects into schools. But her sales technique wasn’t working. She would bounce into the offices of head teachers, enthusing about the arts, talking passionately about music or theatre, and showing her portfolio of amazing artistic projects. To me, it was a classic case of her falling into the trap of emphasising features not benefits: talking about process and not results. She was failing to convey what these projects would do to benefit the head teacher, whom she was asking to pay for the project as a customer.
We needed to turn her sales pitch round. Instead of starting at her end of the story – and eventually getting to what the customer was interested in – we had to start from the customer’s end. This was perfectly logical to me – and indeed to her when she thought about it rationally – but it went against the grain of her instinct, and was contrary to her passionate approach. Nevertheless, we did it. We forced ourselves to take the customer’s view and imagine ourselves in the shoes of a head teacher. The head teacher would be under pressure to deliver results, as measured by the school’s inspectors, whose criteria were academic achievements and the development of each individual child free from the risks of bullying, racism and sexist prejudices.
And of course the head teacher would be under pressure financially, with very little budget to spend on things perceived as unnecessary extras. Because Jane talked about ‘arts activities’, the head teacher classified them as something that would be ‘icing on the cake’ but certainly not a priority. By looking at things from the point of view of the head teachers, we recognised that we needed to solve their problems. We needed to offer them the benefit of achieving a more satisfactory inspector’s report, helping them to change the culture of the school so that students could excel academically within a culture free of racism, sexism and bullying.
And so a much more effective approach started by recognising the challenges facing the school and by offering a solution.
Instead of selling the arts, we began to sell a solution to problems. We offered a number of projects that addressed the issues highlighted in the unsatisfactory inspector’s report and asked the head teacher if they would be willing to invest in them. Of course they would. Jane then quoted examples of how she had achieved similar results in other schools. Now, the sales pitch was working. Eventually, head teachers started to agree that some projects were necessary and trusted Jane’s company to deliver results. Only at the end of the conversation did the head teacher ask about the details of the projects, the methods, the techniques, and specifically how Jane would manage the projects in order to achieve the results required. Only now did Jane talk about the arts. Despite her passion for the arts, she recognised that – from the head teacher’s point of view – the arts were simply a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Art was a feature, not a benefit.
In our enthusiasm, we talk too much.
There’s a danger that we give unwanted information to the customer. I’ve lost count of the number of business presentations that start with the founder giving a potted history of their business: when it started, how it started, where it started. ‘Get to the point!’ I’m thinking, as they go through the chronology, slowly leading into the present and the real point of their presentation, which might be a sale, a bid for an award or a pitch for investment. The history is important to the business owner, and from their point of view there’s a logic to starting at the beginning: how the business started; how it’s developed; leading nicely into where it is now, what it’s offering, and what it needs.
But who cares?
The fact is, nobody cares about you and your business. They only care about what’s in it for them.
So… the audience wants it the other way around. The customer wants you to start with what’s in it for them. Then, if they’re interested, they might want to dig deeper and look at the history of the business, its internal workings, and other such details.
One of the most important factors in marketing communication is to make a distinction between features and benefits. There are features (facts) about a product or service that we, as the business, know well. And there are benefits – in other words, what the actual product or service will actually do to help, serve or delight the customer.
The customer wants to know about benefits.
And yet we persist in talking about features, because they’re the things that interest us. We look at the product or service not through the eyes of the customer but through our own eyes. In doing so, we fail to express benefits and we can even alienate the customer.
The acid test is whether or not the customer says in response to your sales pitch: ‘So what?’ It’s what I call the ‘So What?’ test of features and benefits.
We need to start from the customer’s end of the story, not our own – start with benefits and talk about features only as required. Don’t fall into the trap of starting with features and hoping that we get to benefits before the customer loses interest. The customer’s only question is: ‘What’s in it for me?’
The customer wants to know what’s in it for them. They don’t care about you, your business and what you find interesting about it.
What to do next
• Use as a starting point the customer’s question ‘What’s in it for me?’ and design your marketing communications to answer this question.
This is an extract from David’s marketing book ‘Chase One Rabbit: Strategic Marketing for Business Success. 63 Tips, Techniques and Tales for Creative Entrepreneurs’.
Read this and 62 more inspiring and practical marketing techniques on your smartphone by downloading this strategic marketing book as an eBook. It is also available as a paperback and as an Audiobook. This highly-acclaimed marketing book is also available in Spanish and French.