B-to-B Insights: Decades of Progress

The 6 stages in the evolution of B-to-B marketing

Stage 2: Features and 
Benefits Selling
In the case of Borsig, this would mean adding a benefits phrase to the headline (keep in mind that I know nothing about the product): “Transfer Line Exchangers for Ethylene Cracking Furnaces Cut Operating Costs 25%.”

In features and benefits selling, which was the standard approach for decades, sales and marketing staff compiled a list of product features and then uncovered the benefits offered by each. These features and benefits were used in print ads as well as sales presentations.

They could be presented in a table or integrated into the copy with a features/benefit statement. Such a statement gave the benefit and attributed its existence to a feature. For instance, “Self-lubricating gears virtually eliminate maintenance.”

Features and benefits selling still is practiced today and many marketing and sales professionals have not gone beyond it. The risk: By reciting a long list of features and benefits without knowing what’s important to the prospect, you risk boring your potential buyers and turning them off.

Stage 3: Solution Selling
This was all the rage starting, as I recall, in the 1980s. Suddenly marketers didn’t say we were selling products; we told prospects we were offering them solutions.

Solution selling meant more than just substituting the word “solution” for “product.” The marketer’s job focused more intently on understanding exactly what problems were most important for the customer to solve. Then the marketing and sales efforts would focus on positioning the product as the solution to those problems.

Another trend that took place around this time was “systems selling,” which was a subset of “solutions selling.” Suddenly, no one sold a product or a service anymore; everyone was selling “systems.” It worked because “system” was a value-
added word; you could charge more for a system than a product. An example from consumer marketing: The Hair Club for Men didn’t sell weaves or toupees; it sold “hair replacement systems.”

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of 80 books, including “How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.
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