I’ve spent about 17 years selling a product – wine – that doesn’t deliver measurable benefits. In addition, one’s ‘need’ for it is based upon learned lifestyle or cultural preferences. We drink wine because we’ve grown to like the taste of it, and probably also because of the mild intoxication that follows from drinking a glass or two. When our brains get involved the interest leapfrogs to another level, where we are drawn to the great variety of wines and wine styles, not to mention the rarity of those that are truly excellent.
Compare this with selling airline seats, which offer the obvious benefits related to air travel; or, selling a cure for cancer. Selling wine is very much more taxing, which is perhaps part of the reason why the majority of people selling wine get hung up on features.
The features of any particular wine (i.e. all the technical stuff related to its production) may well be interesting to the serious wine drinkers, but is more likely to have the opposite effect on casual drinkers because it increases the perceived complexity.
I wouldn’t say this entire argument flashed through my head this morning when I fielded an unsolicited telesales call from someone at Telkom. And, perhaps I am just very curmudgeonly when it comes to telesales, but the sound of someone reading a script just switches me straight off.
What she was trying to sell me was a package that would save me money. I didn’t stick around for the whole thing, but the story goes along the lines of “pay this fixed monthly amount and you’ll be able to make a whole bunch of lower-cost calls at predetermined times of the day”. All the very well, but I’m sure that I signed up for something similar a few years ago.
So I asked her if she would kindly do an analysis of my call patterns relative to the package being offered. If there was, indeed, a saving I’d happily buy the package. All of a sudden the shoe was on the other foot – she couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough.
I’m assuming that she’s on some kind of incentive programme. I bet she’d get fantastic results if she first analysed the call patterns of her prospects, so that when I answered the call it would go something along the lines of: “Hello Mr Foulkes. This is Rowena from Telkom [with genuine warmth, then switching to a confident, more professional tone], I’ve analysed your account, and I’ve found a way that can save you x rand per month.”
The benefit has been spelt out. In addition, I’d probably be impressed that she’s done her homework.
This strategy would work for her individually because her calls would have a high conversion rate. Telkom would perhaps be less impressed that customers yielding a high margin are suddenly less profitable.
I was thinking about all of the above while sprinkling Maldon salt on my poached eggs this morning. Salt is a need item; we can’t sustain our lives without at least some of it in our diet every day.
In the case of Maldon, the flakes are a feature (and also a status symbol!) that they’ve convinced consumers deliver a better salt experience, which is an excellent case study in converting features into benefits. Salt is a low-cost commodity, but the likes of Maldon have turned it into a premium product.
That a wine is made in a certain part of France is a feature, but French producers have managed to convert that into a benefit. In many parts of the world wine drinkers will pay a premium for the perceived benefit of drinking a village Burgundy, even if it’s inferior to an estate Pinot Noir from Otago or Walker Bay.
The real benefit is offered by the New World Pinot – a better experience at a lower price. But, as with all things, benefit is in the eye of the beholder. That’s a feature of marketing.