Reading a new business plan today reminded me of the importance of differentiating between Features, Advantages and Benefits (FAB) and putting far more weight on benefits than features or advantages.

So what is the difference between features, advantages and benefits?

· Features describe what a product or service does e.g. searches through a million pieces of data a second, sends a repair person within 4 hours, utilises 25 years of industry experience

· Advantages tell you why the offering is better than other solutions e.g. speeds up your data processing, offers a quick response in case of breakdown, provides advice taking into account knowledge of what works

· Benefits are the ways that the product solves real customer problems e.g. “We now save time and money finding the right information quickly”, “The cost of downtime is reduced”, “We are beating our targets by adopting tested solutions”

Features of your own product or services are dear to your heart and seem fantastic and really cool , because you have usually spent months or years developing them and working out ways to do more, more quickly, more efficiently than has ever been done before. But they can be just dry facts to customers who have their own perspective.

You are only going to sell your offering if it solves some of the needs of the customer – or ideally, if it reduces or eliminates some pain they are suffering. So you need to set out, in your marketing material and in your sales pitches, the benefits that will come from buying from you.

The best way to show this is to use the words of actual customers. You should constantly be checking what customers like most about your product. Sometimes you will be amazed that some simple feature (for example a simple prompt to remind them of the next action) has far more value than some sophisticated capability. But if you are trying to in more customers in the same market, what your existing customers find most attractive is likely to be what will convince prospects to become new customers.

If you are a start up with no customers or are entering a new market, then you may not have relevant quotes from existing customers but you should test out your offering on some friendly potential customers and you can gain their reaction. In the very early stages of developing a new offering or addressing a new market, you can even put yourself in the shoes of the customers you are trying to help and think what they would most like.

I have talked about features then about benefits but jumped over advantages. Advantages can be a good stepping stone to working out the benefits, helping you think about what useful work your product or service can do for a customer.

You may want to list the features somewhere in your marketing material, especially for any technical readers, and setting out the advantages may help you tell the story of what you are offering. But talking about the benefits using the actual words of customers is the most important part of your description. The prospect must believe that it will solve their problems, make them work better and make them feel better.