How to work out what are you really selling

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In fact, no-one buys anything just because they need it.

Buyers are only vaguely interested in any particular product or service for its features. They need more than that to get their credit cards out.

It all starts with a character and a problem

Photo by mari lezhava on Unsplash
  • When Captain Ahab discovers he doesn’t like whales much.
  • Or when Robin Hood decides to take up against the Sheriff

There are two fundamental levels of problem

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The Pleasure Principle

The old features and benefits debate

Even now, businesses still try to sell purely on features.

But features are the building bricks, not the house.

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Features are standard and generic

You have to have them because your pitch will sound like empty waffle if you don’t. But few people care about them.

Benefits, on the other hand, are things we can get excited about

They’re personal (when done right), they apply to a specific set of customers — sometimes even, a single customer.

The link between the ability to do something and a problem or desire turns a feature into a benefit

So at each stage of the sales process, ask yourself, “So what?”.

You’ll be happier. It always comes down to being happy

That’s obviously a crude example and there purely for illustrative purposes. But if you pepper a pitch with features your buyer will feel you don’t really understand the situation they’re in because you’re not addressing the real problems.

People just wanna be better versions of themselves

Aspirational advertising was born.

It tapped into a basic human need. A desire to be better. The pleasure principle.

But look at my great qualifications, my great product … oh, wait a bit

  • As a personal trainer, your clients will care less about your qualifications or your Boot Camp than how they’re going to look and feel after six sessions with you. They want the rewards of feeling great. It’s not about losing weight, it’s about feeling great.
  • Someone that buys a weight loss product doesn’t want to lose weight per se. They want the feeling of having clothes that fit, to enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror or feeling proud of themselves for having achieved a goal.

The Apple question

When Steve Jobs return to Apple in 1996, all computer advertising was based around features. RAM, disk size, processor speed. If you knew what that meant, you were on the inside.

  • The Zune is probably best forgotten. Most of us have.
  • Sony should have been well placed to clean up with a digital Walkman. But their mp3 player, like Betamax, was sidelined by a better message (and this time, by a better product).

In a different way, Disney is the same.

We are all selling something or other.

Even if it’s not in exchange for money. We sell ideas, points of view or anything else people have to be persuaded or moved to do. The techniques needed for getting someone to vote for you are pretty similar to those used for getting someone to buy something for you.

But this is what it’s really about. This is the important bit.

Ask yourself one question, what does my customer get out of this? This isn’t just a question of features and benefits, it’s about outcomes.



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Mike Garner

Mike Garner

Copywriter, London exile interested in human communication and targeting your ideal client. Lived in France 20 years. Get emails at