Clients Buy Benefits, Not Features

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Too often, the process of selling professional services emphasizes features and not benefits. In other words, practitioners push features such as, “We offer retirement planning services,” or “We have a disciplined investment process.” When selling features and not the value contained in the resulting benefits, a practitioner’s services become commoditized and the target market diffused.

Diagnosing the Need-Feature-Benefit Relationship
Language development begins first by learning nouns (i.e., a product’s features are like nouns) but the meaning of a sentence relies on verbs. In persuasive communication, we latch onto a product’s feature (the noun), but the verb-based benefit statement tells the listener what it means (or why it is important). Moving from selling features to benefits orients the message to the, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) question that underlies every purchase. As consumers, we all want to know the value received for the costs incurred.

The selling process flows over time from the general to the specific. During those first interactions with a prospect, he or she appreciates general benefit-based statements such as:  “A client just like you was worried about running out of money, but our planning process identified a strategy that provided a secure retirement income stream; they moved from worry to excitement about the future.”

In diagnosing this statement, we see a strong structure.

  • Need:  “. . . worried about running out of money . . .”
  • Feature (noun):  “. . . our planning process . . .”
  • Benefits (verbs): 1. “identified a strategy” 2. “provided a secure retirement income stream” 3. “moved from worry to excitement about the future”

You’ll note the benefit statements all begin with action verbs.

Deeper into the sales process, after you’ve discovered the prospect’s needs, anxieties and aspirations inventory, a general benefit statement will be viewed as a platitude and be unconvincing. The prospect has given his or her time to you and divulged a lot of personal information, and they expect to hear what you’ll do for them with specificity.

“[Client name], when we first met, your known retirement income was $X and your instinct told you this would insufficient. Through our planning process, we identified that your anxiety about shortfall risk was well founded, and we have put together a plan using [investment strategy] to produce additional annual income of $X. This plan meets your retirement income needs and you can now release your worries and feel confident about the years ahead.”

Here, the diagnosis goes further:

  • Stated need:  “. . . your known retirement income was $X . . . would not be sufficient.”
  • Validated need:  “. . . your anxiety about shortfall risk was well founded . . .”
  • Feature (noun):  “. . . our planning process . . .”
  • Benefits (verbs): 1. “put together a plan using [investment strategy] . . .” 2. “produce additional retirement income of $X . . .” 3. “meets your retirement income needs . . . 4. “release your worries . . .” 5. “feel confident about the years ahead.”

In this diagnosis, the same persuasive structure holds, but there are two key additions based on a now developing relationship. First, what was initially a conceptual need is validated from analysis; state this validation clearly as it illustrates your active listening skills that lead you to apply your expertise to the prospect’s needs/anxieties/aspirations inventory. Second, your analytical evidence is used to tailor the benefit statements that enable the prospect to see how he or she can own each benefit’s value.

Leading the Prospect to the Benefit Treasury
Two types of benefits fill your prospect’s treasury: (1) financial and (2) quality of life. Because wealth management focuses on money, it’s natural to identify a solution’s financial benefits. However, don’t lose sight of the quality-of-life benefits—comfort, peace of mind, confidence, excitement, fulfillment—that generate enormous value for the solution you propose. The sum of the financial and quality-of-life benefits is the benefit treasury.

Net Benefits
Applying monetary and quality-of-life values to the total benefit package shifts the focus from costs to net benefits (like net profits to a business). In this context, your services’ costs (planning fees, product fees, ongoing AUM fees, etc.) are compared against your solution’s benefit treasury. This side-by-side view reveals that the client is literally richer from working with you than not. A profitable relationship sells much faster than one that only reveals costs.

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey

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