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Teaching Your Staff Product Knowledge

One of my favorite activities when I was a camp counselor was something we called a Dutch Auction. For the Dutch Auction, each kid in our cabin would take his pillow case and put ten items in that pillow case. With our collection of items we would head to the Auction. At the Auction the support staff played judge. One person would call off an item to be “auctioned” such as a purple toothbrush. Your cabin would have to look through your collection of stuff to see if you had a purple toothbrush.

Image result for purple toothbrushIf you did have a purple toothbrush, you showed the judge and your team got a point. If you didn’t, you tried to come up with creative alternatives that the the judges might agree was a “purple toothbrush.” For instance, if you had anything purple, you would take it up to the judges and begin “brushing” your teeth with it. The more creative you were, the more likely the judge would give you a point.

I loved this activity because of the creativity and imagination required to get a point. I loved this activity because it got the kids in the cabin working together, especially when they called for the “longest shoelace” and everyone started pulling out their shoelaces to tie them together into one long lace. I loved this activity because there was always laughter and always out-of-the-box thinking. I loved this activity even though I almost lost my first camp counselor job my very first week when my senior counselor and I taught our sixth-grade boys an inappropriate chant (we still got a point and we made the whole dining hall roar with laughter, so it couldn’t have been that bad??).

Are you surprised I adapted the Dutch Auction into a staff training?

We’ve all heard the mantra of selling Features and Benefits. What happens, however, is that we spend our whole time training on the features of an item, without really exploring the benefits. Yet it is the benefits that actually sell the item.

Let’s define those terms:

  • Features = what a product does
  • Benefits = how using that feature makes your life better

Features are just facts and data.

Benefits are the visualization of the product solving the problem you’re trying to solve.

Benefits are the results you get because of the features. Benefits are emotions and feelings. Knowing the features is only half the battle. You have to know what results and feelings those features give you.

So, I held a Dutch Auction with my staff. I broke them into teams and sent them out to get three new products each from the shelves. Then I started calling off the items I wanted to see.

Show me an item that …

  • Helps a parent save time
  • Helps a child become more coordinated
  • Fosters a better relationship between siblings
  • Makes bedtime easier
  • Teaches better manners
  • Teaches compassion
  • Increases planning and organizational skills
  • Fosters increased cooperation

You won’t find any of these outcomes on the packaging of any of the toys we sold, but those were real benefits our customers were hoping to achieve.

By playing this game, my staff began to look at the new products with a different mindset. They began imagining the benefits of each item, thinking about the product from the end result point of view.They went beyond what the item did to how the item made your life better.

We followed up this exercise with another one, a fill-in-the-blank I called It does/So that.

This product does (feature) _____________, so that you (benefit) ___________________ .

Everyone grabbed three new items and shared three It does/So that statements. By the time we were done, we knew the benefits of 36 new items.

Not only are Dutch Auction and It does/So that powerful ways to get your staff thinking more about benefits than features, they are fun, too. Plus, they get your staff thinking outside the box and working together. Win-win-win.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Another way to put it … Features are about the product. Benefits are about the customer. It is always about the customer. Always.

PPS Want to make your merchandising stand out? When you make a sign for a new product or category, make it about the benefits to the customer instead of the features of the product. You’ll win far more hearts faster than ever before.

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