Benefits before features? It’s about value to the customer

Introduction by video: it’s all about the features to the measurable benefit to the customer

What is the toughest problem in B2B digital marketing and sales? I’m guessing a lot of professionals would agree that launching a new product or service, which stands a fighting chance of picking up sales from new and existing customers ranks in the top three. And the associated challenge of getting sales and marketing working together for best results?

What I can share are my insights grappling with these twin beasts from my last growth marketing role at an established B2B software business. And with the added benefit of then being able to apply these key learnings and tools to creating a marketing plan for an award winning entrepreneur.

What I’m saying is simple and practical so you can make it work for your business with the minimum of fuss and the maximum benefit.

Where to start?
Sometimes the hardest thing is making a start on your marketing and sales. Well, consider that for most small businesses you’ll already have got off the ground through selling to existing customers, and in thinking about expanding tried out approaches to get new business using tactics ranging from one-off business events to regular email marketing.

But the overall business challenge remains, how to you take it to the next level, create an approach which stands the best chance of success, that’s grounded in good marketing practice, but also gets results? So please allow me to go back to marketing basics with the ‘FAB’ approach, helping the business owner understand a new product or service in terms of its features, its advantages, and of course it benefits (end results) – after all it’s the results which the customer buys – as detailed in the Crazy Egg blog piece on FAB in the context of SaaS:

“What is a Benefit? A benefit only exists when a feature matches a need. You cannot make up benefits – you CAN express advantages. [Actual] benefits are personal and specific to the customer.”                                                                                   Source: https://leadspeak.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/customers-buy-benefits/

Looking at what your service or product is (features), separate from what it actually does for the customer (advantages), is particularly helpful exercise if you are already up and running as a business. You can take a step back from the frenetic business activity confident it’s going to be worth your while.

Benefits are personal and specific to the customer

The other key point made in the image above is that “benefits are personal and specific to the customer”. But you can do a few things to generalise benefits when creating marketing material to capture new customers.

Firstly create case studies from existing customers which demonstrate the measurable benefits they have achieved – an example below from TSS Facilities which I worked on at Causeway Technologies.

Plus you can aggregate the benefits in an average figure, as show in the Salesforce example below.

Finally, in a data driven industry (such as fleet management, but any sector where you are capturing key data points), a powerful third approach is to create a data model of expected outcomes drawing from average of customer outcomes. Display this either as an ROI calculator, or offer to crunch data for customers to show them the likely benefits.

Using an appropriate blend of these three generalised benefits types is obviously more persuasive for new prospects, especially when you publish new examples via LinkedIn or Twitter which remind prospects that you can deliver measurable benefits to customers.

But first an exercise: looking at a Microsoft CRM advert using FAB
For this exercise check out this advert from Microsoft Dynamics.

MS Dynamics advert

Here the text starts with a key advantage – “Microsoft Dynamics business solutions energize and empower customer engagement with real-time information and collaboration…” before in the second paragraph going into detail about the high level features within MS Dynamics: “From customer engagement solutions powered by customer relationship management (CRM) software to enterprise resource planning (ERP)…”

The third paragraph takes a different tack, linking key features, the availability of Office, Skype and Yammer along with Dynamics, to advantages: “With Microsoft Dynamics, you can add collaboration and productivity to any device, anywhere.”

The lower section of the advert is actually the benefits to the customer, combined with a call to action “Get started with sales productivity”.

After such an analysis does it make better sense to start with the benefits first, after all they are what the customer should be most interested in? With just a little cutting and pasting, removing the first feature-led paragraph, leaves an amended benefits-led version of the advert looking like this:

MS Dynamics advert 3

I’m sure a designer could do better, the point is to explore the difference when the products’ benefits lead, rather than features!

A practical exercise with the help of a whiteboard

A good exercise to test out how well you understand your customers’ needs and how they relate to your product or service is to borrow a whiteboard and divide it into 3 columns. The left hand will be features, the middle with the advantages, and the right hand one the benefits. Chances are if you are already selling you know the features pretty well, probably have a list of 15 – 20 key features you can say off the top of your head no problem. It gets trickier when you try to connect the key features with the advantages, and even harder to align those with benefits, particularly measurable benefits. But the pay off is that the result of the team exercise is much greater clarity as to what you are trying to convey to customers in terms of the benefits to them. Plus if you have already started your business this is a great way to stand back and take stock for one further significant reason – capturing measurable benefits.

Salesforce_benefits

Salesforce’s page for small business – contains both features and benefits – have they got it right?

Download ‘Your FAB tool’ (Google Sheet format) for your business here

The value of measurable benefits to marketing

In B2B marketing when you are trying to show a positive Return on Investment it obviously helps if you can evidence existing customers who have proven business gains, whether reductions in cost, or increases in revenue. One of my small achievements at software for the built environment creators Causeway was working with the sales executive to get a nice example of measurable benefits from a client of one of our key software products. The result even got a mention in the end of year company blog piece:

“Such technologies deliver significant improvements in efficiency while also helping to drive down operational costsTSS Facilities, for instance has reduced timesheet administration from seven days to three hours per month, with financial savings in the order of £6,000 with the Vixen e-Timesheet solution.”

What this means for your business is that now armed with the need to communicate to new customers with benefits you should be going back to existing customers and asking them how they have benefited from your business. You can even design that call as part of the account managers’ monthly schedule, armed with a set of specific benefits questions to existing customers, to find out the invaluable benefits. And with some customers they will only be too glad to talk about them, whether as part of a white paper, or in a short video.

Meanwhile with new customers you make sure you set a schedule for calling them at certain agreed points to find out when and if they are accruing the benefits. And you know what if they aren’t getting the benefits then this is a great way to reduce customer attrition rates, to find out why customers aren’t getting the most out of your product or service before it’s too late. In fact the benefits calls could surface some valuable clues in terms of positive content marketing, for example a series of how-to-guides to help customers maximise their benefits, as well as serve as a great way to attract new leads into the top of the ‘marketing funnel’.

Download ‘Your FAB tool’ (Google Sheet format) for your business here


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