adult-1260380_640“They go right to features and functionality. I can see our prospects’ eyes glazing over while our sales reps wax on about the technical details of our product. At least half the time, our prospects don’t even care. This is costing us sales!”

This is probably the most common complaint I hear from my tech startup clients. Somehow new sales reps have gotten the idea that if they can just show how the features and functionality of their product outstrip those of the other guy, they will win the sale. Unfortunately, instead of dazzling their prospects, they end up sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher …blah, blah, blah.

Here are four steps you can take to stem the features and functionality torrent and get your new sales reps to talk about what prospects really care about—namely, themselves.

1) Lay the groundwork. Many tech startups spend months, if not years, perfecting their product’s features and functionalities. So, it makes sense that they are rightly proud of their work. Naturally, this pride is reflected in product knowledge training, where each feature and every bit of functionality is lovingly reviewed in detail. The problem is that prospects don’t buy features and functionality. They buy solutions to problems.

I recently read an article describing product knowledge training at a hardware store. Employees at this store were taught that their customers weren’t there to buy drills, for example. Rather, they wanted to buy holes in wood. The first step to helping your new sales reps get out of the features and functionality trap is to identify “what holes in wood” your customers are buying

2) Teach product knowledge from the customer’s POV. Frankly, all the product knowledge I’ve seen is taught from the point of view of the company that is selling that product. In other words, it is focused on features and functionality. No wonder sales reps jump straight to features and functionality. It is what they know.

A more customer centric approach is to craft a series of case studies. Each case study profiles a different type of customer with different pains and goals. You can then use these case studies to teach new sales reps about the product from the perspective of that customer.

I like this approach for two reasons. First, it helps new sales reps understand the product from the customer’s point of view. This allows them to talk about the product in a way that the prospect understands and that resonates with what the prospect is trying to achieve. Second, a certain amount of repetition is built in. Repetition is key to retention.

3) Reverse roles. Most sales training includes a good amount of role-playing. Typically, new sales reps play the role of a sales rep to practice their selling skills.

I recommend adding a second type of role-playing experience to the line up. In this role-play, new sales reps play the role of the customer and the instructor plays the role of the sales reps.

To run this type of role-play, select several volunteers to play various customer roles, such as the financial buyer, feasibility buyer, and technical buyer, while the instructor plays the role of the sales rep. Each volunteer receives slightly different background information to enable to them to convincingly play their role. The rest of the class provides feedback.

This approach has an important benefit. It allows new sales reps to see what right looks like as the instructor models the sales process.

It also allows new sales reps to better prepare for real sales calls because they understand where their prospect is coming from. So, they can readily anticipate questions and concerns to proactively address instead of being blindsided.

4) Give them a call process. People who are new to sales will have absolutely no idea what to do during a sales call. Giving them a short, simple, easy-to-follow process will short-circuit their need to get into their comfort zone by homing in on the familiar: features and functionality.

Here is an easy, 5-step process that I often use:

  1. Build rapport
  2. Ask questions to learn about the prospect’s current situation, pains, and goals
  3. Share how your product can help them address their pains and achieve their goals
  4. Offer social proof
  5. Discuss next steps

Having a road map to follow is one more tool new sales reps can use to stay off the features and functionality super highway.