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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

Why Not Lead with Features?

The irony is that leading with features—operating in the comfort zone, as described above—can also cause a salesperson to lose control.

How? Once a specific offering (it) is mentioned, many buyers ask a very logical question: "How much does it cost?" But this is often too early in the conversation to discuss pricing, because no goals, problems, potential usage, or value have been established in the buyer's mind. A stick of gum costs too much, no matter what it costs, if you haven't decided that you want or need a stick of gum.

The traditional sales technique at this point—when price comes up too early—is to attempt to provide waffling kinds of responses ("Your mileage may vary") in an attempt to dodge the question. This can create a negative impression, and sometimes causes the seller to conform to the pervasive, unflattering stereotype of a "slippery salesperson." But there's an even worse scenario: Particularly among traditional sellers, there is also a powerful desire to hang onto this buyer at all costs, which can prompt the salesperson to quote unrealistically low numbers. If the sale progresses, the buyer will remember the unrealistically low figure quoted in the initial meeting. Eventually, it can become a barrier to moving toward a buying decision.

Yes, price is a qualifier, and it should be shared with buyers relatively early in the sales cycle. But until the buyer begins to understand the potential usefulness of the product, his or her reaction is very likely to be, "Hey, that seems expensive." And once that conclusion is drawn, the seller faces an uphill battle to regain mind share. And while there is no easy way to prevent buyers from requesting pricing information earlier than the salesperson would like to divulge it, discussing the potential usage of the product can defer these discussions until later in the sales cycle. The more valuable the usages that are discussed before cost is shared, the more reasonable that price is likely to sound when it finally is disclosed.

So again, this makes a case for discussing uses rather than features. But that's rarely what gets discussed in traditional sales calls. Given their training, their enthusiasm, and their formidable quotas, traditional salespeople feel compelled to present each buyer with every possible feature.

Assume a buyer is exposed to twenty-five product features, but needs only five of them. The buyer is very likely to draw the conclusion that the product must be too complicated and too expensive. In other words, it looks like overkill for the buyer's requirements. Buyers will object to having to pay for features that they believe they won't ever use. (No matter that they may be wrong in this; it's what they believe that counts.) Some traditional salespeople have been trained to believe that selling begins after the buyer says no, but the fact is, it's extremely difficult to turn someone around after he or she has voiced an objection about a feature. The traditional school of selling holds that an objection is a selling opportunity. We strongly disagree. Once a buyer has voiced an objection, the salesperson has to get the buyer to change his or her mind, and this is something that most people are reluctant to do.

The fact is, although traditional salespeople lead with their product to head off potential objections, they are far more likely to generate these kinds of objections when they take this approach. Part of the problem is a control issue. Who is controlling the conversation during a "spray and pray" session? The salesperson? He or she is doing all the talking, and the buyer is in the unenviable position of passively listening. Most human beings like to be in control, and buyers are no exception. In fact, they may be fully accustomed to being in control of most of the conversations they have in the workplace. So they may feel a strong need to seize control of this conversation—and the easiest way to do so is by offering objections. This job is made far easier if a seller generates a tidal wave of features. All the buyer has to do is wait for a bad feature, and then pounce.

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