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 loan.
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 the manager.
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 consistently.
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 sales knowledge.
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 features.
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 members.
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.