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When you are making a hard sell, having a solid plan for going about your process is essential – something that many new salespeople are not trained to do is the “feature benefit tie down”. Salespeople too often go on about the various accolades that their company, product, or service have received, and neglected the basics of the sales process. Understanding the difference between features and benefits, and how to apply these to your customer’s needs (the “tie down”) will help evolve and perfect your sales skills.

Below, we break down features, benefits, and tie downs, and use a real world example to put these into perspective.

Features

A feature is anything that your product or service has or does. You can think of this as anything pertaining to the thing-ness of an object or the functionality of a service: they can typically be broken down into basic statements. This house is made of bricks. This is a dog walking service. While features can be instructional to customers, they often do not have apparent meaning associated with them, hence why we must translate these into benefits for the customer.

Benefits

A benefit is the outcome or results that one experiences from using a product or a service. These are the selling points that you will use that will resonate with customers to interest them in your product over the competition. Consider the two examples used above. This house is made of bricks, but what makes this special? Brick is fire-resistant, aesthetically pleasing, and provides better temperature control than wood or metal. This dog walking service is great because it saves you time that you don’t have in your hectic job and allows your dog to socialize so it will stop destroying your couch. Features are the facts, benefits are what makes these facts great for the customer.

Feature-Benefit Tie Down

A tie down is a statement or question that explain the benefits behind a feature and relate them back to your client’s needs. Typically they will elicit a yes, a no, or an objection. These statements allow salespeople to control, understand, and continue the conversation until a deal is made. This is where the strategy of deploying benefits comes in, and there are several ways to use tie downs to close a deal. We utilize a system called “the Sales V” to do this, which is outlined below.

Uncovering Pain – A customer’s pain points are problems, real or perceived, that a customer is experiencing. They can be related to business needs (maximizing ROI), persona needs (inefficiency in the workplace, making more work), or personal needs (sending kids to college, putting food on the table). Discovering what these pain points are essential to leveraging a sale, and most people will be forthcoming about their issues once you get them talking. In the Sales V, uncovering the pain consists of the left side of the V to find out the nature of their true objection to your product or service. Think of this step as “digging the hole to find the treasure.”

Transitional Tie Downs – Before you get the big Yes (making a deal) you have to earn the little yeses. A transitional tie down is a simple statement that provokes a response out of your customer. These can be very simple questions – “Do you agree with that?” “Isn’t that a great feature?” “I’m sure you can see how that would work for you, right?” Ultimately, these questions are used to build the value of your product in the eyes of the customer, and should be deployed when you are explaining the product to your customer.

Closing Tie Downs – Once you have found the pain points of your customers and built up the value of the product, use tie downs to close the sale and net a deal. These are direct statements that will initiate the end of the process, such as “Are you ready to move forward?” You’re not going to be able to close every deal that you make, but without asking this question, you will never make a deal. While impossible to ask without the previous tie downs, this is arguably the most important one you will ask.

Putting It All Together

The iPod is a fantastic example not only for understanding features and benefits, but on how to tie these back to the customer to pique their interest. Essentially a brick in your pocket with a scroll wheel, this groundbreaking music player changed the way that we listened to the tunes we like – before the advent of the .mp3, we were largely bound to extremely physical means of listening to music. This often meant lugging around your Walkman with a folder of a dozen or so CDs, listening to the radio, or watching MTV.

On October of 2001, Steve Jobs announced the iPod to the world. Clunky and ugly by our standards, he had to sell a white brick with a scroll wheel and a tiny monitor as a revolutionary product to the world. To understand how he made this sale, let’s first consider some of the features that the original iPod had, and see how he was able to take these and turn them into selling points.

Features:
5GB Hard Drive
2” Monochrome Display
Lithium Polymer Battery
Scroll Wheel
“Earbud-Style Headphones”

While these features may initially seem unappealing, Apple was able to create ways in which these features are able to resonate with a customer. Most notably for the time was the tagline “1000 songs in your pocket” which bundled many of these features into a single phrase that appealed to a mass audience. Telling a customer that your iPod has 5GB initially might mean nothing to them until they have a metric to measure it against. How big is an .mp3, anyways?

Bundled with iTunes, the iPod provided users with a rechargeable, portable device that could fit their entire music collection into the palm of their hand. The scroll wheel allowed functionality in one hand and, although the original display was only in black and white, allowed them to view their entire library at a glance. These features that we now take for granted were a major upgrade from the competition – understanding this will allow us to see how the iPod’s features and benefits could be tied down to learn consumer’s pain points.

Say that I were going to try to sell an iPod to a customer – what sort of tie downs would I look to ask? In the early 2000s, the competition was slim – although the Zune was developed as a counterpoint, it failed to have the same storage, battery features, iTunes functionality, and brand appeal. At the time of its inception, pain points may have been more tied to the Walkman. Asking questions like “How do you listen to music?” would have pointed out that people had to lug around CDs and batteries everywhere they went. iTunes meant that customers were able to make music purchases online rather than at stores, and wouldn’t have to buy a CD if they only liked one song. This enormous appeal reshaped the music industry, and the product practically sold itself – the main barrier was the $399 price tag.

Ultimately, the feature benefit tie down relies on a solid understanding of both your product/service, the needs of the customer, and the grit to stick the sale to them. Put these together, and the sales will follow.

Peter Wear
Sales Executive