The Monday Morning Memo: Shadow of an Unspoken Question

Monday-Morning-Memo-Logo1By Roy H. Williams

Every sales presentation should answer the customer’s question, “What’s in it for me?” This question is often unspoken and may even be unconscious in the customer’s mind, but it’s always there, casting a shadow of disinterest and doubt.

Most sales presentations are focused on the features of the product. But customers don’t care about a feature until they know what it will do. So why is it that we always name the feature first?

When a sales presentation is made one-on-one, it’s the job of the salesperson to uncover the felt need of the customer and then speak directly to that need. My friend Brad Huisken tells a story about looking for a personal computer in the 1980s: “In every store I went into, they talked about MEGs and GIGs, and I didn’t know anything about MEGs and GIGs so I went home thinking, ‘I’m not qualified to buy a computer.’ Then one day I met a salesperson who asked, ‘What do you plan to do with it?’ I answered, ‘My wife wants to be able to store recipes she got from her mother, and I want to be able to play Pac-Man with the boys.’ He said, ‘This is the one you need, right here. It’s got enough megs to play PAC-MAN and enough gigs for your wife to store all her recipes.’”

When Brad found a salesperson that was interested enough in him to ask, “What do you plan to do with it?” and who was confident enough to say, “This is the one you need, right here,” he felt he had finally found the right computer at the right price. But it wasn’t the computer that gave him this confidence. It was the salesman. And he did it exactly backwards from the “features-and-benefits” method we’ve long been taught. Weren’t we told to name the feature first and then the benefit it delivers? But this salesperson named the benefit first — “This computer will do what you want.” It was only afterwards that he named the features (megs and gigs) that made the benefit possible.

If your goal is to powerfully persuade, you must cause others to imagine themselves enjoying the benefit you describe before you explain the feature that makes it possible. This “name the benefits first” technique will not only make your sales presentations more productive, but your ads more convincing, your speeches more compelling, and your seminars more enjoyable.

Those who have heard me speak publicly will remember my first words to the audience: “In just three short hours, you’re going to leave this room knowing more about advertising than anyone you will ever meet.” But that statement would be mere puffery if I didn’t immediately explain the features of the seminar that were going to deliver the benefit that I promised: “Together, we’re going to take a look at the anatomy and architecture of the human brain. Then we’re going to hear what the world’s leading neuroscientists have to say about the unique qualities and abilities of this creature called ‘man.’ I’m going to teach you how thoughts are formed and travel through the mind, and you’re going to learn what makes people do the things they do.”

Win the heart (big picture focused right brain) and the mind (detail focused left brain) will follow. Name the benefit first — then name the feature. You’re going to be amazed at the difference it makes.

PS: Yes, yes, yes I know that in chapter 43 of The Wizard of Ads I told you to add the words, “which means” every time you named a feature, thereby forcing you to always remember to add the benefit the feature delivers. At the time I wrote the chapter, I thought I was right… but I’ve learned a lot since then.

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