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Selling features? It can lead to failure.

When it comes to high-tech start-ups, here's a story that's very familiar and all too common. A new company has a great idea for a product or service. It builds a plan, gets funding and creates its offerings. A sales team is hired, and it starts selling. Life is good. Then, before they know it, sales slow as the sales cycle goes into a spin, prospects get tougher and the sales team seems to have "lost" its magic touch. What happened? Did a good product go bad? Did the sales team lose its edge? Did this new upstart get outmaneuvered by the competition? The answer is probably "none of the above."

Nearly all companies are founded with the goal to solve a unique set of business problems. However, and far too often, as a product is developed companies lose sight of their original goal and take an obsessive, inward focus on the product's features.

Sadly, the focus on features is to the exclusion of what potential clients are looking for, namely benefits--a solution to their problem.

How can this be? Well, it doesn't take long for a start-up to get deep into the building of a product or service. It's a long, stow grind developing the product and the myriad features that make it do what it's supposed to do. Along the way, a great new product gets developed, but everyone in the organization begins to see the product as a great big collection of features.

This situation is further compounded within high-tech companies. They sell to technically sophisticated customers and feel that reciting cutting-edge product features are what make the sale.

When you begin your marketing, and sales activity, the challenge is maintaining the customer benefits and solving your prospect's business pain. By focusing on features, the original flash of brilliance that gave birth to the company--and held the promise of solving so many business problems--is often shuffled off to the side.

Back to basics

Sure, initial sales might have been hot. But that's because so-called early adopters were willing to wade through the features to find the true benefits your new offering provides. But once the early adopters get their fill, sales slow as more pragmatic buyers begin to circle the new product. They want to see the big picture. How will the product solve their business pain?

That's when management has to step in and shout, "Look this way" as they point back to the original benefits the company was founded on. For many high-tech companies offering software or Web-based services, sorting through features versus true benefits can be an uncomfortable task, making the path back to true benefits a difficult journey.

It often takes some serious inward searching that begins with internal conversations: management, engineering, sales and marketing need to refocus on the business "pain" your product solves and the core benefits the company provides. This includes interviews with existing customers--especially those early adopters who took the time to figure out product benefits on their own.

One of the hardest things to do is to get the benefits down to a few short, simple sentences that resonate with the senior management of your client prospects. But once this is achieved, the dynamics of a company quickly begin to change. Marketing suddenly has breakthrough messaging with which to develop advertising, PR, brochures and a more meaningful Web site.

With unified, benefit-oriented messaging, the sales manager can train his sales force to communicate the same benefit-rich messages. Sales get back on track, margins go up because salespeople are no longer inventing their own benefits (and their own product promises which may or may not be achievable at a profit). The entire sales force will be working toward the same end result--more sales, better margins and happier customers. Wasn't that the whole point of building the company (and the products) in the first place?

Does your company sell on features?

Consider a product with these features: A. light that goes on when the doors open; it comes in five colors; it has a motor and door handles; it's made of steel, plastic and rubber; it has been upgraded over the years to reduce global warming; there's a new model every year, and it's indispensable to the modern family.

If you're a potential customer looking for something to drive your kids to school you'll be disappointed to find that the feature-laden product above is actually a refrigerator/freezer.--RN

Rudy Nadilo is a sales and marketing expert who lives in Stratham. He can be reached
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Author:Nadilo, Rudy
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 25, 2008
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Next Article:We can always learn from the best.

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