When I grew up in sales, to be successful, you had to follow the mantra, which was ‘Feature – Advantage – Benefit’. Example – I sold Desktop Calculators and there was a ‘nipple’ on the 5 key. (Feature). This means that a user could locate the 5 key and all the other numbers around it without taking their eyes of their work (Advantage). Which means the (professional) user could work more quickly and get the results more quickly(Benefit). Bingo. The key to success. Sadly it was never that simple and it certainly isn’t that simple today.
It seems to me that even today all marketing follows the same model fairly closely. Talk about your product and service, it’s advantages and the benefits. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place for that, but if you’re trying to win new business or new customers then it may not be what they want to hear. It’s so ingrained in Sales and Marketing culture, especially amongst managers, that it is extraordinarily difficult to shift this mentality. “And if that doesn’t work”, they say, “Just do more!”.
If Feature, Advantage Benefit is all you know how can you change? Results will usually work and that’s why you should try to make a change in small steps and not attempt the big huge strategic programme in one go. If you try a big change then you will fail and you will revert to type. Of course, by the same token if your first attempt goes wrong or doesn’t provide the results you need you may just revert to type just the same.
I’ve been talking about change without really defining what that change is. I should mention that I’m talking about moving from a traditional ‘outbound’ approach to more of an ‘inbound’ approach. So what does that particular meaningless jargon mean?
The Outbound approach is typically defined as sending messages out into the market place via email, advertising, social media and other methods talking about yourself or your products in order to get customers to purchase, whether they want something or not.
The Inbound approach takes a somewhat different route to customers by developing relationships in a different way. The Inbound approach advocates using stories, knowledge, information, tips and tricks, and useful content that demonstrates that you know what you’re talking about and builds confidence in potential customers and develops trust. There is no trust in a transactional approach like Outbound.
There are several thousand articles on the Inbound approach. It was primarily developed by the founders of Hubspot who saw what wasn’t working and decided on a new approach to marketing. I’ve added some links at the bottom. But this article is not about the Inbound method, this article is about why it’s so difficult to change marketing behaviour away from a failing style to something that nowadays we know works.
The nipple on the 5 key says it all. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a nipple on the 5 key, but telling people about it definitely is, especially if they don’t know what a calculator is for.