Features inform. Benefits sell. 

People got problems. People got needs. People buy stuff to meet their needs and solve the problems in their lives. When you are marketing your services, you must know your customer’s needs and connect the benefits of your offering to meeting them. Sadly, too often we try to sell what our service is, instead of what it can do for our customer.

Your target agencies always have specific problems that they need help solving. One reason I’m successful in federal contracting is that I like to identify their problems and find ways to solve them.

Problems can be of all kinds:

·       An agency hiring freeze that has no end in sight

·       A 20% cut in the office’s communication budget

·       The Director believes the agency website users are frustrated

·       A GAO report says your national survey uses an outdated telephone methodology which results in the survey sample not being representative

Now, there is no way that I as a contractor could make the GAO report go away, lift the agency’s hiring freeze or get the budget restored. My challenge -- and yours – is to listen to how the problem is affecting the my customer’s office and break it down into solvable needs that can be addressed in a contractor work statement. Needs like these:

·       Because of the hiring freeze, the agency must onboard contractor staff in the next 60 days who can the maintain relationships with state governments through 12 field offices

·       How can the agency meet the same metrics for the annual communication campaign with less money?

·       The agency needs to make their website more user friendly, so constituents can find the information they need

·       How can we help the agency re-design their survey to get a more representative sample?

Now, you may look at this list and spot one or more needs for which your company can offer a solution. But even when you know you have the solutions that can meet these needs, you need to get the government’s evaluation team to agree with you. Now I will tell your why we fail to win the work that we in our heart of hearts believe we should have won.

Clients are always in a hurry and haven’t the time to do a deep-dive into competing proposals to determine which service offerings will meet their need. To be a successful contractor, YOU must do that for them. It is up to YOU to figure out what the customer’s needs are, grab the evaluators by their lapels and connect their needs to the benefits of your service – all in clear and concise, yet vivid English.

Now here is why we struggle with this. You have an offering that has certain attributes or features. You are in the business of perfecting that service. You know everything about how it works and what makes it great. The people who are writing your proposals are the engineers and specialists that live and breathe your solutions. Unlike the people evaluating your proposal, they spend all day hanging out with people like them that just love to do whatever it is that you do, whether it is meeting planning, public relations, or survey research.

Unfortunately, just because you know all about how the product or service works, you cannot close the deal until you show the customer how your solution will solve their problem. Making that connection is critical to your marketing success. We tend to think of our service offering in terms of how to describe it, how fast it is, how big it is, how remarkable it is. But your customer doesn’t have time for that, and doesn’t care all that much about it, unless it solves their problem.   

Clients don’t buy features.  They buy benefits that meet their needs which in turn solve their problems.

Here is an example from consumer marketing. Which is more compelling if you are in the market for a new car?

·       The ZR1 boasts a hand-assembled LT5 small block 6.2L V8 engine capable of a staggering 755-horsepower and 715 lb.-ft. of torque.


·       This baby blasts you from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds.

Now, if I am a muscle car lover and really into the power of the engine under my hood, the first bullet point might be -- eh-h, motivating. But if I’m are looking to merge into traffic on the Beltway in a big hurry, four times a day, horsepower and torque don’t matter unless I can understand it in terms of acceleration to highway speed. Does this make sense?

Yet we do the same thing when we talk about the features of our solution without demonstrating their value to the customer, connecting the dots between their needs and the benefits of our offering.

We all have a list of offerings. I see them on contractor websites every day under “Services” or “What We Do”

·       Staffing solutions for government

·       Public relations and advertising

·       Usability testing for websites

·       20 years of experience with national survey design and implementation

These bullets might also include certain features. I’ll bet I can find language like the following in one of your recent proposals:

·       We can recruit for 125 USG labor categories and candidate resumes, organized by geographic locales.

·       Our cutting-edge marketing strategies seamlessly integrate paid, earned, shared and owned content

·       We use current industry-standard methodologies for testing your website

·       We employ mixed recruitment methods, exploiting the strengths of each

But these statements are hardly compelling, because they do not connect the benefits to the customer’s stated or unstated needs. Take a look at the following statements:

·       With this infrastructure we can narrow the field quickly and get the right candidates in front of you for review and hiring: In 2014 we on-boarded 25 health communications specialists for 6 CMS field offices in 4 weeks

·       Using our content marketing methodology we re-use the same material in multiple venues, saving significant staff time. We cut the cost for the Office of Women’s Health bone health campaign by 10% while doubling the exposure and engagement metrics

·       Based on the insights from our usability testing, we can provide specific recommendations for changes that you can act upon. The implementation of our recommendations for the US Fish and Wildlife website on boating safety resulted in a doubling of downloads and a 5x increase of newsletter sign-ups over 6 months

·       Our mixed recruitment methods complement one another so you get a fully representative sample of your target population.

See the difference?  If you were an evaluator, which version would draw your favorable attention?

So when you talk to customers, listen for problems that you can break down into specific needs.

The Customer: has problems and those problems can be broken down into specific needs.

You, The Contractor: have a service offering, that has certain features which offer benefits to clients.

Next time, let’s talk about how to differentiate your service offerings from those of competitors, and how to present “proof points.”

For now, go forth and help your clients solve their mission-critical problems!