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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Feature to Benefit to BENEFIT!

Emory and I were talking yesterday. He is a thought leader at a prestigious boutique management services company. We came to the point where we were in violent agreement that the benefit of a product or service has to keep constantly changing for the better…if you let it.

Typically we start with a feature, something the piece was designed to do. Then someone from marketing defines what they think the benefit is for an imaginary customer. That feature/benefit combo is the norm.

The magic occurs when a prospect corrects you on what they see the benefit is for them. Often I have seen the provider push back with, “Oh you don’t understand…” and try to force the conversation back to what they expect.

My experience is that when the customer prevails, the transaction gets bigger, the competition is left behind, and the supplier has the opportunity to push through to a new level of play.

Years ago, during Y2K, we were selling a tool that would automagically parse COBOL code and identify the areas for a Y2K conversion.

My technical partner and I were invited to NYC to show it to the Postal Service. The product did what it was supposed to do and they were impressed. Then they told us that their real problem was another flavor of code. Would we try our tool on that?

Wayne got excited and set up an experiment on the spot. It wasn’t a demonstration because neither the prospect nor the sales team had any idea what would happen.

Lights flashed, drives hummed and in a half hour we had the results running through a projector to show on the wall. It wasn’t perfect, but the customer said not only was it better than anything they had tried, just the graphic representation gave them a much better understanding of what else they would have to do.

Now our services organization was insulted and protested. That tool was not designed to solve that particular problem. We should not let the (now) customers use it. We should tell them to find something else.

We went through a half dozen rounds internally before we were “allowed” to help our customer solve their problem.

An unintended consequence was that the news spread through the market, and I was getting calls to create cross platform analysis of large software portfolios, which led to making recommendations for getting more use out of their COBOL in over a dozen enterprises.

We were using our tools and products for things we had never imagined. No one else had imagined those uses either so there was very little competition for the work.

In a perfect world, the seller should know the features and work with the customer to define the real benefits.

Can I get some "Amen" in the comments?