A Challenge: Sell Features, Not Benefits

Written by Ian Landsman · 02.12.2021

Focusing your marketing copy on benefits instead of features is pretty much considered common knowledge these days.

I’ve been caught up in it myself over the years, redoing our website to include a more story-focused approach, or honing in on end benefits over the actual features HelpSpot provides.

In the last 12 years though, never once did the benefits-focused website or landing pages outperform a more features-oriented approach.

There’s probably a few reasons for this. I’d like to explore them and push back a bit on conventional wisdom.

Reason #1:

I suck at telling stories.

Try as I might, I just don’t have a passion for it. I like building software, selling software, and working with customers, but I just can’t get into crafting a tightly-woven narrative.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m probably not alone. I suspect a lot of you out there also stink at this. If you do, it’s going to be very hard for you to take a benefits-first approach to marketing your software.

You’re going to have to take a hard look at who you are and if you have the skills in the short term to market your product this way. If not, I’d suggest taking an alternate approach.

Reason #2:

Benefits-first assumes your target market doesn’t know about or understand your software.

For some markets, this is undoubtedly true. If you have a first-of-a-kind bit of software, you’re going to have to educate potential customers. They’re not going to understand the importance of your features.

However, this is honestly a very small percentage of software companies. The vast majority of us are selling software in an established space. That changes the equation.

For example, imagine Stan is a help desk manager who moves to a new job. At this new job they don’t use a help desk software application and instead do all their support via email. Practically on Day 1, Stan is going to be out researching help desk software solutions, most likely starting with whatever he used at his last job, along with other potential options.

Stan is very well aware of the benefits of help desk software. He doesn’t need to be sold on why they should use it. He may need some tools and guidance on getting his boss to buy into it, but that’s not exactly the same thing, and it happens at a different phase of the sales cycle.

Assuming your customers understand your software space at least somewhat also comes with other benefits. How it impacts your SEO keywords and paid search ads is a great example.

In our case, we can optimize for the keyword help desk software () over more generic terms someone might be searching for if they just have general problems managing customer service. Things like “customer service help,” “customer service tips,” “customer email management,” etc. Those are good words for us also, but the tightly focused help desk software keyword is the best for a features-based approach, as I know the person searching that term already knows what the general benefits are to such a tool.

If you’re a small software company, your very limited resources make the ability to focus on existing knowledgeable customers manageable and cost effective.

Reason #3:

I want the best customers, not just any customers.

There is a huge difference between acquiring the best customers versus any customers. The best customers (IMHO) will become valuable additions to your business. They’ll promote you, they’ll champion you internally to other parts of the organization, and they’ll stay committed to you over the long term.

I’m not saying a benefits-first approach can’t get these kinds of customers, but a features-first approach will attract the kinds of customers who know exactly what they want. When they see you have it, they’re all in and an easy sale.

There is less convincing, less educating, less reason to switch away later, because they picked you for the exact tools they need. They could see that in 5 minutes of viewing the site, and the rest is just conversation.

But, wait.

Are you saying I should only show features?

No! Finding the right mix is important. Headlines are a great place to highlight benefits. You can also mix and match. Here we have a nice section of the marketing software page on HubSpot. Left side benefits, right side features.

In the end…

Play to your strengths.

We’re so overrun with advice in software these days that we are often left simply copying what other experts are doing. All too often that doesn’t actually work for you.

You always need to analyze this advice in the context of your product, your market, and most importantly your ability to execute an idea. Be honest with yourself!

Your time is ALWAYS better spent executing a good idea at a high level than a great idea at a low level.

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Ian Landsman
Ian founded HelpSpot in 2005 with the goal of making every interaction with your customers simple and efficient.
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