If you have ever received sales training you are probably very
familiar with the saying, “Features Tell – Benefits Sell”. In fact, it’s likely
the only thing you remember from the training. It’s a catchy phrase that just
seems to stick with us. But is it really true?
A number of years ago, I started working in our credit
union’s outbound call center. My job at the time was to call members who had
recently financed an auto or RV loan indirectly through a dealership. On top of
thanking them for their business, making sure they knew when their payment was
due, and helping them set up auto pay, I was also tasked with selling
additional products and services.
GAP was one of the ancillary products to which my manager wanted
us to pay particular attention. If the dealer didn’t sell it on the loan, it
was our job to try to get the member to purchase it from the credit union.
I had previously worked in the credit union’s training
department. One of my main roles on the training team was to be a product
expert. In addition to other tasks, as a product expert I would create and
maintain all of the product knowledge training for the credit union. Needless
to say, I knew just about everything there was to know about our GAP product. So,
when it became my job to sell it, I expected it to be easy.
After a bit of sales training, I started making calls and
had success selling small ancillary products like e-statements, online banking,
and autopay. Then, a member who hadn’t purchased GAP from the dealer came up on
my list. I called the member and began telling her all about our GAP product. I
mentioned that if she totaled her vehicle or if it was stolen and not recovered,
GAP would pay the difference on her loan. I told her how it would also pay her insurance
deductible and give her $1,000 as a down payment on her next car.
When I was finished laying out all of the amazing details of
our GAP product, I asked for the business by saying, “Is that something you’d
like me to add to your loan? It will only add about $5 a month to the payment?”
Then I paused. In my mind, this approach seemed flawless. There was no way, I
thought, that she could say no to a polished and informative presentation like
this. But she said no…
“No,” I thought. How could she say no? I laid out
everything GAP offered and what it cost. It made so much sense to me. When I
got off the phone, I went to my manager to share my shock and frustration. I
asked him why would she say no? His favorite quote hung on his door. It read,
“You can’t fix stupid”. He pointed at the quote and said, “Go try again.”
So I went back to the phone and tried the same thing again.
I did this over and over hoping to get a different result with the same
approach. That month, I sold zero GAP policies and I couldn’t understand why.
I didn’t realize what I was doing wrong until a member on a
certain call said something poignant that caused me to consider my approach in
a new light. When I told him that GAP paid the deficiency balance, he spoke up
and asked a question. He asked, “If I were to total the vehicle today, what do
you think I’d have leftover on my loan after the insurance company pays?” It
was a few thousand dollars. He then said, “Wow, so you will pay that for me,
and my deductible, and give me $1,000! I get all that for only $5 a month?
Yeah, that totally makes sense to me.” And he asked me to add it to his
It was a revelation to me. It was at that point I realized
that in order to sell GAP I needed to help the member understand why GAP’s
features actually mattered to him. I wondered if it would work with other
members. So I took an hour to write out a basic script where I would share the
feature, then talk about its benefits.
With that finished, I made my next call. I used the script
and the member said yes. I tried again and again getting more “yesses.” I
didn’t always get a yes, but I was selling it more times than not. By the end
of the month I had sold GAP on 25 loans. This total crushed the previous record
of 10 or 12 GAP sold in a single month, which, incidentally, had been set by
When the month was over and the sales totals were shared
with the team, the other agents on the team asked me what I was doing differently
and my manager asked me to do a short training on the script I had written.
In a nutshell, I taught them that GAP’s features really
don’t sell. I shared with them my discovery that members don’t really care what
GAP offers, they only care about what GAP does for them, or the problems it
solves. Shortly after this, others on the team started selling GAP more
This principle applies to every organization that desires to
increase sales. They must ensure that employees talk very little about the
features and spend their time asking probing questions to discover what the
member values most and how the product will help them get what they want.
In our training program here at SalesCU, we teach employees
to look at their products differently. We do this by creating what is called a “Product
Profile.” We first begin by listing the product’s features. Then we look at
each of those features and answer a few questions like these:
How does this feature:
- help save money or time?
- help make things easier?
- improve convenience?
- solve a need?
- help the member obtain a desired goal or reach a
dream sooner than later?
By asking these kinds of questions, our students begin to
understand why a member would want to buy the product or service. It also helps
them to see products and services as tools and resources necessary to help
members reach their financial goals.
While most credit unions train on product knowledge, this
process of breaking down features into tangible benefits is called product
Product sales knowledge is critical to the success of any
credit union’s sales initiative. As employees learn why members buy,
they better understand how to sell. They understand what questions to ask, they
grasp what information is important and what is irrelevant, and they are better
equipped to connect member needs, wants, and dreams to specific product
When sales managers understand product sales knowledge, they
become better equipped to coach employees through sales conversations and
address sales challenges. Why? As they observe sales conversations, coaches
will better understand what to listen for, what information the member is
giving about his or her current financial situation, and if the employee is
picking up on those cues. When an employee does get a “no,” the coach will
understand why. Did the employee ask the right questions? Did the employee only
explain the feature, or did he or she illustrate what the feature does for the
member and answer the questions listed above? If the employee missed helping
the member to see value in a particular feature, the coach will also be able to
take the employee back through the process of identifying benefits in which the
member will be interested.
Direct sales departments are not the only ones that can
profit from a grasp of product sales knowledge, marketing strategists can also
gain much by learning how to promote the benefits of a product’s features. By
understanding how products benefit the member, marketers can better promote
them in their direct marketing campaigns. Additionally, marketers can segment the
credit union’s membership base to identify members who meet a specific profile
and have specific needs that will be filled by the credit union’s various products
as well as the services based on the benefits they are likely to offer their
Finally, understanding product sales knowledge will help the
product development processes. By asking specific questions, like those listed
above, and surveying members to understand which needs, wants, or dreams are
most common, products and services can be developed and improved to offer those
features that will do more for the member.
Your credit union may not use the phrase, “Product Sales Knowledge,” but do you look at your products this way? Do you teach employees to simply memorize features, or do you specifically help them see and share how features benefit your membership? I would love to hear from you and the unique ways you teach sales at your credit union. Please feel free to engage me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/salescu or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.