Sales presentations: Why more ISN’T better when it comes to benefits
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Sales presentations: Why more ISN’T better when it comes to benefits

You’re a savvy sales professional, and you know it doesn’t do any good to trot out product benefits that don’t interest your buyers. You make sure to align the benefits you present with definite needs that the customer has expressed, or that you’ve teased out during discovery.

If, for example, your buyer is interested in four things — ease of maintenance, scalability, user-friendliness, and reliability — you explain the attributes of your product that will benefit the buyer in each of these areas. Job done, right?

Nope. Instead of persuading your buyer, you may have left the door open to competitors. How?


The problem lies in what psychologists call “cognitive overload.” Research studies based on behavioral experiments have concluded that too much information can make an offer seem less compelling and reduce your chances of winning a deal. That’s the case even if the information is relevant and well-presented.

In our opening scenario, you presented four main product benefits to address the needs expressed by your customer. But taking into account cognitive overload, this may have been too much information. Your buyer is overwhelmed and confused, not convinced to do business with you.

What you could have done to avoid overload was challenge your buyer to rank the four benefits in order of importance. Once you’d done that, you could have spent most of your presentation discussing that aspect, and talked about the other three benefits as nice add-ons.

‘Resonating Focus’

A group of marketing professors, writing in the Harvard Business Review, formalized this idea as a selling methodology to combat cognitive overload.

They concluded that an effective value proposition focuses on a limited number of benefits that resonate most powerfully with the buyer’s key goal or goals. And they dubbed this approach “Resonating Focus.”

But how do you actually get buyers to reveal which benefit matters most? Buyers often have trouble articulating their Resonating Focus for themselves because they haven’t rigorously prioritized their needs. You can help them do that, using the “What If” technique.

The conversation

Let’s imagine you deploying the technique to dig deep into your buyer’s most compelling need:

You: “So the product attributes you value most are ease of maintenance, scalability, user-friendliness, and reliability. Right?”

Buyer: “Yes.”

You: “Which of them matters most?”

Buyer: “They all matter.”

You: “If you had to rank them, what would be number one?”

Buyer: “That’s hard to say.”

You: “Okay, I’ll ask you some ‘what if’ questions. What if our product weren’t easily scalable? What would be the impact?”

Buyer: “Scalability would be nice, but to be honest with you, we won’t scale up for several years.”

You: “Okay, what if the product weren’t particularly user friendly?”

Buyer: “Our team is experienced. If you provide good training, it’s not a big problem.”

You: “What if the product weren’t reliable?”

Buyer: “Deal breaker.”

You: “Why?”

Buyer: “Because every hour of down-time results in tens of thousands of dollars in cost, delays deliveries and hurts customer relationships.”

It’s a plan

It’s an overly simplified example but you get the idea. Now you have a clear Resonating Focus, because you know which benefit will have the greatest business impact. You have a clear plan for your presentation, where you’ll spend the bulk of your time on reliability. You’ll provide reliability data and assure the buyer that if the product does break down, your maintenance team will repair it quickly, minimizing costly downtime, delayed deliveries and customer defections.

It’s something of a paradox: Instead of trying to create value through more and more benefits, Resonating Focus subtracts benefits. It focuses a value proposition on just one or a few key benefits, eliminating the distraction of marginal ones.

And that allows the buyer to consider, with a clear mind, just how much your product or service will do for them.

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “Resonating Focus: The Key to Creating High-Value Proposals That Win the Sale.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following research studies:

Lurie, N. (2004) Decision Making in Information-Rich Environments: The Role of Information Structure. Journal of Consumer Research, 30, 473-486.

Anderson, J.C., et al. (2006). Customer Value Propositions in Business Markets. Harvard Business Review, March 2006.

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