Customer value: winning hearts, and minds

Paul Stead looks at the vital difference between ‘product push’ and ‘pull’; getting customers to desire what you manufacture by focusing on the benefits – not the features – and crucially, avoiding too much of a good thing.

Dr Paul Stead - Brewery Group - Design Matters
paul.stead@thebrewerygroup.com //  www.thebrewerygroup.com

You’re passionate about your business. You love talking about your products and services. But are passion and knowledge enough to grow your sales? Imagine you are thinking about getting fit or spending some leisure time outdoors.

You haven’t ridden a bike since you were a child and you don’t know much about them. You visit your nearest store and tell the assistant you want a new bike for weekends.

He tells you enthusiastically that a hybrid would be ideal and shows you a few models. This one has 16 gears and fulcrum wheels. That one has a Shimano chain set and brakes. And here’s a model currently on offer with a carbon frame and hydraulic shifters. He says nothing about how it will help your fitness – he hasn’t even asked why you want one.

All too often this is what dominates websites, product brochures and presentations. The sales pitch is overloaded with features, specifications and technical details, but it fails to tell potential purchasers what’s in it for them: the benefits. In other words, it fails to pass the ‘so what?’ test.

Features vs benefits

Features are facts about products or services; they add credibility and substance to a sales story. But benefits give customers a reason to buy because they explain how products or services improve their lives. They explain ‘what’s in it for them’.

To turn a feature into a benefit ask the ‘so what?’ question. This test works in any industry and especially manufacturing. Read through your sales collateral and for each statement ask, ‘so what?’ And keep asking to find real benefits.

Real benefits connect to buyers’ aspirations

What do your clients really want to achieve? What are their aspirations? You can only sell real benefits if you really know your customers. Endless positive information becomes monotonous.

The secret is to introduce a few problems – people want help to avoid these just as much as they want the positives. Have a mix of both, such as saving time, reducing costs and cutting waste; as well as motivating staff, increasing productivity and gaining sales.

Feature fatigue – too much of a good thing

If features can be translated into benefits that make customers buy, then the more features the better, right? The reality is that most customers don’t use anything close to the full functionality of a complex product. For them, more functions actually mean lower usability.

Research by the Marketing Science Institute and Harvard focused on the trade-off companies face between making their products more feature-rich and making them more usable. The study found that when it’s time to choose, features win.

However, it went on to compare consumers’ ratings before and after use. Before use, capability mattered more to the participants than usability, but after use usability drove satisfaction rates. As a result, satisfaction was higher with the simpler version of the product, and in a complete reversal, most participants rejected the high-feature model.

So, why do manufacturers persist in making monstrosities of their products? To begin with, adding features costs next to nothing. It’s also cheaper to produce feature-rich products that can satisfy the needs of many consumer groups than to produce targeted products with fewer features.

This is what lies behind feature fatigue. Put simply, what looks attractive in prospect does not necessarily look good in practice. Consumers often become frustrated and dissatisfied with the very cornucopia of features that attracted them at the outset.

Products that do too much

So, what should you do? If you give people what they want, they will suffer for it later, and that has follow-on effects:

  • Many customers will return the product
  • Dissatisfied customers will take their business elsewhere, bad news for growing customer equity – the lifetime value of customers. A company looking for repeat business should hesitate to pit its features against its future
  • Frustrated product owners spread the word of their dissatisfaction – the power of word of mouth is immense

In light of these consequences, how should companies design products?  How much of a good thing is too much?

Finding the happy medium

To achieve lasting prosperity, companies must find a way to resolve the dilemma. The first step may be to take stock of the complexity built into products and the toll it is taking on customers.

Too many companies endanger their brands, and their customer relationships, by adding feature upon feature to products. They increase product capability at the expense of product usability and fail to strike the right balance between those two.

If you care about making your customers happy, and maximising their value to you over the long term, then stop exposing them to feature fatigue.

Your biggest asset is empathy – be a challenger

Let’s imagine you’ve narrowed down the number of features and translated them all into benefits – things that fulfil your customers’ wishes or save them trouble. The final step is to get into your clients’ minds – be a ‘challenger’.

Challengers teach their customers. They focus the sales conversation not only on features and benefits, but also on insights, bringing a unique (and typically provocative) perspective to customers’ businesses. They come to the table with new ideas – often opportunities the customer hadn’t realised existed.

Challengers tailor their message to the customer. They have a finely tuned sense of individual customer objectives and value drivers and use this knowledge to effectively position their sales story to different types of customer stakeholders within the organisation.

When you connect your know-how and enthusiasm to your clients’ desires, the magic happens. Your business will grow. And you’ll have more fun!