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It's a Bird, It's a Plane, No It's a Feature

September 18, 2006
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Superman is faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, but what's in it for me (WIIFM)? Just because the man of steel can fly through the air with the greatest of ease, does that mean I get to go along for the ride?

WIIFM?

Millions of customers ask themselves that question every day as an exuberant salesperson, somewhere, touts the latest and greatest features of a wonderful product. In our own industry, many products have become so similar that HVAC salespeople resort to defining the powder-painted cabinets and the galvaluminum-coated screws. I know. I not only sold this way to my contractor customers while working for Lennox Industries, I also wrote the features and benefits statements for the products when I later helped to redesign some of the same products I had once sold.

Yes, I realize that for some of you who are aware of my mechanical ineptitude - that was a frightening revelation. However, Lennox has recovered nicely and is healthy in spite of my past transgressions.

Feature selling is what it's all about for too many HVAC salespeople. It takes a while to truly understand that the customer only cares about those aspects of the product that produce benefits for them. A red car is only a red car unless it's someone's favorite color. Then, it's a benefit. An air conditioner is only a box to most customers unless it's not working during the dog days of summer. Then, it can become the most important chunk of metal that they own.

So, how does a chunk of metal benefit its owners?

BUT WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?

First, answer the question that is ever-present in their minds - WIIFM? And, make it easy to understand.

Listening to John Madden, NBC co-anchor on the opening night of NFL football, I realized what makes him so popular among football novices. The network ratings place him at the top of his game nearly every year. He speaks in language that anyone can understand.

When you hear that the "punt returner should have let the ball go over his head and into the end zone," you may know exactly why Bob Costas said that, based on your past experiences.

If you haven't any experience either watching or playing the sport, however, you appreciate the fact that Madden explains thusly:

"When we played we had the 10-yard line rule. If you're standing on the 10-yard line and the ball goes over your head, don't touch it, and when it goes into the end zone, it comes back out so your team can start from the 20-yard line. Now, maybe the 10-yard line rule isn't in vogue any more, but San Antonio Holmes was standing on the four-yard line and if the ball landed in front of him he should have grabbed it for a fair catch and everybody's happy. Instead he tried to catch the ball behind him, almost lost the ball, and now they start from the three-yard line. You can bet Pittsburgh Steeler coach Bill Cowher is talking to him right now about that mistake."

Avoid all the jargon and assumptions that come with HVAC and talk to customers in language they can understand. They may have never purchased a system before in their entire lives. Be their John Madden.

LET BENEFITS DO THE TALKING

The benefits of the product answer the WIIFM question, not the features. Luckily there are more distinguishing features available on some products these days, but it still doesn't matter if the customer can't relate that Superman quality to something that is important to them. If the feature can't be related to safety, comfort, or money savings, then you might as well hope that it's their favorite color.

Sure, there may be a few other important benefits that I've left off the list, but the list of benefits is usually shorter than the list of features.

Not to dis anyone's powder paint or galvaluminum screws - but those are really a stretch to turn into a benefit. Don't get caught rattling off a bunch of features that you can't relate to some key benefit. Pick the most important features that you can tie to benefits that you can reasonably expect the customer will care about.

Maybe you can fly through the air, and you might be faster than a speeding bullet, but that armload of features you're holding might as well be kryptonite if you can't translate them into something that your customers can understand, and something that they care about.

Publication date:09/18/2006

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