Any good salesperson worth his salt knows that no one buys anything on the basis of a product’s features, that to communicate value you must translate the feature into a benefit.

“Features versus benefits” is Marketing 101. Yet, even if you are a master at translating features into benefits, you still may fail in the final and most crucial step of the buying process—triggering the need or desire that causes your prospect to act.

You see, it’s not the benefit per se that motivates a person to buy—it’s emotions. Emotions are what motivate us to spend our time, money, or energy. In other words, people buy because of the emotions associated with the benefits, not the benefits themselves.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my oldest son’s Boy Scout troop did its annual popcorn sales fundraiser. We set up (with permission) in front of a local gas station/mini-mart and arranged two-hour shifts of two scouts each. When our turn came, I instructed the boys on some basic etiquette: “Stand up straight,” “Allow people to enter the mini-mart; don’t block their path,” “Speak firmly but politely,” etc.

Forgetting who I was for a time and what I do for a living (hey, it was the weekend), I didn’t pay much attention to the boys’ canned pitch (“would you like to buy some Boy Scout popcorn?”) to which most people politely replied, “no thanks,” or completely ignored them.

It wasn’t until one customer asked, “What’s this for?” to which the boys replied, “It’s for the Boy Scouts!” that my sales-trainer radar finally engaged. After telling the woman that they were raising money for a trip to Gettysburg, I took the boys aside and presented a new approach. I instructed the boys to say the following:

“Would you like to buy some popcorn to help us earn money for a trip to Gettysburg?”

You see, their original pitch did not address prospective popcorn-buyers’ unasked question: “What’s in it for me?” The additional “help us earn money for a trip to Gettysburg” provided something beyond the (questionable) benefit of over-priced, average-tasting popcorn. It triggered a desire that caused people to act. In other words, it provided a buying motivation: a desire to help the Boy Scouts. Buying the popcorn satisfied that desire with the good feelings everyone got from helping a worthwhile organization.

The result? Over the next 45 minutes, until our shift was over, every single person that walked by either bought popcorn or gave a donation towards the trip. In the words of the boys after their first sale using the new approach: “It works!”

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