Those who have met me will be unsurprised to discover my work career started in sales. I received a lot of formal training which I am very thankful for from my previous employers. I remember the Miller Heiman strategic sales courses from Bowring Marsh McLennan as well as the gruelling 6 week sales training that the Prudential put you through out in Newport Pagnell where every day if you didn't pass the end of days tests, that was it, you were fired.
One of the key things I remember about all of those sales courses was the fundamental difference between a Feature and Benefit and why few people buy features, they mostly buy based on Benefits. This was how it was a few decades ago but more recently, Value based selling has become more and more popular, and for good reason.
Some of you might already know this whole Features vs. Benefits thing and if so skip on to the Value bit. If not lets have a description to frame these things and just provide some examples as I find this is the best way to learn new things.
A feature can be described as a fact or attribute of a product or service. It can be a capability that the product or service offers to the customer that enables them to do something.
You know when you go to the store because your washing machine just died and you are looking for a better one than you had? The new one spins at 1400 rpm and the old one could only spin at 800rpm. Or your microwave needs replacing and the new one is 1100 W and the old one was 900W. These are features. Facts about the product that you can use to decide if it fits your problem needs.
My scooter has a 50cc engine, my phone can display 10bit colour, my TV has a 100hz refresh rate. That Karate class costs $25 per lesson and that mowing service cuts lawns and does the edging. We can use all these features to compare products on a like for like basis but "What is in it for me?" My car has ABS brakes and Anti-submarine seats, I don't know what that means so how can it help me?
Benefits explain how a feature helps a customer or user, answering the "but want's in it for me?" question. Benefits are usually measured in some form of gain or loss and are most powerful when you can apply some kind of quantity to them. I typically start here when trying to discribe or understand a benefit.
Lets take those Anti-submarine seats. What good are they to me really? Is there a gain or loss for me here? Well yes there is, I get an increase in safety while driving (potentially even by a numerical amount or percentage) because the Feature of anti-submarine seats stops my pelvis from slipping forward during a collision and slipping free of the seat belt. What about that new microwave that is 1100W over the old 800W? Well my benefit with all that new found power is that I can save time by nuking my leftover Chinese dinner at least 30secs faster that I used to.
That new washing machine spins so much faster that it gets more water out of the clothes in less time so I can not only increase the volume of clothes I can wash in a day but I can also have a reduction in the amount of water still in the clothes at the end of the cycle, meaning they dry faster. That lawn mowing service gives me more time to spend with my kids on Saturday. All of these gains or reductions are Benefits that match to the Features. Its the benefits that really start to tell us where we might want to invest our time or money.
So whats this value thing then? I have compared the features and found a product or service that fits my needs and looks like it has a better offering. I have done my research and discovered what all that feature mumbo jumbo of Watts and Anti-submarine means to me in benefit terms. What more could their possibly be?
It's funny that in Agile, we use the term value all the time. We prioritise our backlogs based on most valuable stories, we pull work onto our kanban's based on next most valuable work. We try and define it and measure it and score it and work out how much value we have delivered to a customer. Why is it so hard to define and measure this thing called Customer Value.
Here is my take on Customer Value, I am not saying its the right one but its the one I use to help me evaluate a new product value proposition and workout the value in Epics and User Stories.
In my mind value comes from the idea that something is personally valuable and that a person or group of people find something valuable because of their principles, standards of behaviour, judgement on what is important in their life at that moment in time. In essence I find it valuable if it aligns to my personal values, which can change over time and which I may or may not share with a small or large number of people who have similar values. Values that customers hold change during their lifetime as life events happen to them. Sometimes these are feelings, thoughts and beliefs. Are you getting some idea as to why its so hard to measure value yet?
Lets go back to our anti-submarine seats. The feature is that they are anti-submarine seats, the benefit of that type of seat is that I increase my level of safety while driving. Why I find this valuable is because I have a young family and I right now I want to live to see my daughter get married one day so when driving I want to be the safest I can possibly be within my available budget. At this current point in my life I would buy a car with anti-sub seats over one that didn't because of my core values. 26 years ago I was driving a classic 1973 VW Beetle, nothing safe about those. My values were different back then.
Now what about that microwave. Its 1100W so the benefit is faster hot food. It costs more than the 900W microwave. My values right now are that I want to spend as much time with my family as I can. Is 30secs difference on my reheated Chinese dinner going to make me spend more on the 1100W microwave? Probably not. The benefit sort of aligns to my Value but not by enough to make me strongly sway one way or other, especially when I am trying to do thing on a budget. Oh wait, is that a new value of mine that I take into consideration? What would the 1100W microwave product need to have to make me spend more money, what additional value proposition could it supply to me. Entry to win 1 of 5 family holidays to Disneyland? Maybe.
So next time you are talking about Value, just double check that you are actually talking about value and not benefits and features. I review a lot of features, product specs and stories that claim they have recorded value but really have just restated the benefit. Focus on why you would part with your money, what is it that core value you have that the benefit has appealed to so much that this has become product you must have. Put yourself in the shoes of others and try and work out what their core values might be.
Re watch some of those commercials that show videos of people having fun, taking it easy, enjoying their family, exhibiting some form of emotion that makes you almost forget there is a can of soft drink in their hand or a wafer thin laptop on their desk. You are being sold the value not the product, you want to feel they way they feel or you already have the same values as the people you are watching but you don't have that thing they have so you copy their behaviour and buy it because they are your kind of people, you share their values. Look at your network of friends. Do you all drive similar cars, use the same phone brand, have the same broadband provider?
Try to use this sort of approach when filling out the Value Proposition section of your Lean Canvas, or when doing a Product Vision. When defining the features of your product and the benefit that it delivers think about your target customers. This will help you focus on what the core values of those customers are and if they would gain from the benefits at all. When writing User Stories don't just restate the want statement in the 'So That' section, "I want a to save my calendar appointment, so that my appointments are saved for future" No No No! What is the value to the customer of save calendar appointments. Its probably because they value being punctual and organised, so focus on those values instead.
Hopefully this has helped a few of you think about Value in a more practical and useable way, thinking this way drives almost all my Business Analysis and Product Ownership activities these days and I have seen real return on the extra effort it takes to define clearly the value the customer will receive. I hope you will try it and get the same results