Why Clients Buy—and It’s Not What You Think

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Last week, I said if a prospect asks, “Why should I choose you?” you ought to respond with how you make your clients feel. There was a time, however, when I thought all clients cared about were results—and my website proudly proclaimed so. But when a professional copywriter looked it over, he told me, “All you talk about are ‘results, results,’ but where’s the story? Where’s the drama?” At the time, I had no clue what he was meant.

(Well, I wasn’t completely clueless. I did remember a famous perfume-maker once saying, “We don’t sell perfume, we sell romance.” But this is only web design we’re talking about, after all.)

Any good sales person or copywriter knows you don’t focus on features. Features are just facts, and facts only tell—they don’t sell. That’s where benefits enter the picture.

The benefit is how that feature improves the customer’s situation. A timer that turns my thermostat on at certain time is a feature. The benefit is that I won’t have to crawl out of a warm bed into a cold room at 6 AM when my alarm sounds.

Yet, unless an emotion is attached to it, a benefit can be as dry as a feature. When it comes to selling your services, you must get to the underlying buying motivation. In his book, Honest Selling, sales consultant Gill Wagner tells this story:

In 1998 I closed a $40,000 engagement at a bank. The CFO gave me the typical reasons his bank wanted to hire us, but, when we finally got the conversation to the bottom line, he said, “I’m tired of missing my son’s evening ballgames to manage this project.” Once I learned that was a bottom-line issue for him, I assured him that, if he hired us, I’d be the one working evenings, and he’d have time to watch his son play ball. (I even put that as an objective in the proposal I sent him to sign.)

When the CEO learned that ours was the highest bid submitted, he told the CFO to fire us and pick someone cheaper. I found out on the first day of the engagement that the CFO refused to do so and spent four hours arguing his point, until the CEO gave in. When I asked him why he fought so hard to keep us on the project, he said, “Because you’re the only one who promised me I’d make my son’s games.” I addressed his bottom line.

– Honest Selling, p.50

That “bottom line” was the client’s buying motive. And it had little to do with the technical issues an IT consultant could solve. Getting to the client’s buying motive requires the rest of the “features and benefits” story.

Feature: “What the Product Has”

What does the product have? What does it do? A hyperlink is a website feature that allows you to connect individual web pages to other web pages.

Advantage: “What the Feature Does”

What advantages do those features provide? In the case of a website, what behavior does a feature like the hyperlink cause the user to take? For the website owner, features can drive usage. So the Advantage is how his customer uses his site as a result of its features.

Benefit: “What the Advantage Means”

The hyperlink allows the user to move from page to page within the site. But what does that mean for your prospect? A benefit is the payoff or the value it provides to the prospect. Value must be aligned to your prospect’s goals. If his goal is to generate leads, then the features must be designed in such a way as to achieve that.

Motive: “What the Benefit Satisfies”

What needs, wants, and desires do the benefits satisfy? If the benefit is “generating leads,” what emotional need or desire does that satisfy?

The reason logic is so ineffective when selling is due to the physiology of the brain. The part of the brain that controls emotions also happens to be the part that controls decision-making. That’s why the Latin word we get the word emotion from means “to move out.”


It’s also where the word motivation comes from.

So if you’re looking to motivate your prospects to buy—or choose you over the competition—logic alone won’t get the job done. It’s not what you know that lands you the job. It’s how your prospect feels.

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John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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