Quarter Inch Holes: Focus on the Customer Value, not the Product Features

Sales and marketing often forget to focus on the unique value proposition they offer their customers.  They focus on product features instead of customer benefits.  There is an oft-repeated saying in marketing which captures this logic perfectly:

People don’t buy quarter inch drills, they buy quarter inch holes.

A product/technology focus emphasizes the features of the drill and not the benefits of quickly making holes of specific sizes as needed.  Marketers need to translate many product features to a distinct set of customer benefits and roll them into a unique value proposition that differentiates their product in the mind of potential customers.

Understanding the needs of customers is also important for the product and engineering teams.  Otherwise, they will view both the competition and the market too narrowly.  If you are selling quarter inch drills, you view your competitors as quarter inch drill manufacturers.  If you view your product as on demand tools for boring holes and attaching objects, you recognize a broader set of competitive and complementary products including bores, glues, solder, welding supplies, nails, screws, bolts, etc.  You would also recognize that electromechanical torque can be applied to screws, bolts, and nuts, expanding your product line into adjacent markets.

Focusing on product features is also a bad practice for sales reps.  As with marketing, emphasizing features prevents them from communicating the unique value proposition of your products and services.  If your sales reps are too often complaining about losing on price or the need to constantly discount off list price, then either your prices are too high or your sales reps are engaged in too much feature-speak and failing to communicate customer benefits and value.  Of course, these reasons are not mutually exclusive.  You could have two root causes to your pricing difficulties – your prices may be too high and your sales reps may be failing to communicate value.

Another problem with focusing on features is it treats your product as little more than a commodity.  A differentiated service is less subject to price erosion and heavy discounting.  This is one reason I tell my clients in the sales intelligence space not to compete on database size.  While there are benefits to larger databases, users aren’t usually purchasing big databases [feature], they are purchasing sales insights [value proposition] that make them more effective at building prospecting lists [benefit 1], qualifying leads [benefit 2], managing accounts [benefit 3], and selling deeper into organizations [benefit 4].  Thus, it isn’t the size of the company and executive files, but the breadth of data insights that help reps more efficiently and effectively sell.

So as you hold your weekly sales meetings, make sure to reinforce your product’s value proposition to your salesforce.  Likewise, evangelize your company’s vision during new hire training, product road mapping sessions, and all hands meetings.

Michael Levy
Michael R. Levy is a contributing writer to our blog and the principal of GZ Consulting, a market research and competitive intelligence consulting firm based in Massachusetts. Michael founded the firm in February 2012 after leaving Infogroup where he was the Manager of Strategy and Competitive Intelligence. Michael focuses on information services including sales intelligence, CRM, data hygiene, and marketing automation.
Michael Levy
Michael Levy