Engineers naturally tend to focus heavily on the “feature” side of the equation. We’re excited about finding creative solutions to design challenges -- and we think others should find it exciting, too. We’re often disappointed to find that non-engineers don’t seem to appreciate our efforts. It reminds me of a story about one of my dad’s friends, who visited a circus in a small town in Mongolia. All of the villagers were crowded around a ring, where a yak was slowly pushing a ball around with its nose. My dad’s friend, not particularly impressed, asked one of the villagers what the big deal was. “Mister,” said the villager, “do you know how hard it is to train a yak to do anything?”
The moral of this story is most customers don’t particularly care how difficult the engineering challenges we overcome are. They don’t care how technically brilliant the solutions we came up with are. They care about the advantages that the new product offers -- and most importantly, the benefits it will deliver for them. More attention to the “advantage” and “benefit” sides of the equation will help engineers to design solutions that better meet customer needs.
This approach can be effective with internal customers, too. When trying to sell our ideas, engineers often approach management with a laundry list of cool technical features. Too often, this is met by blank stares in meetings. If you can clearly explain the advantage and benefit of each feature, you may find much more success in communicating your ideas to managers.
The feature-advantage-benefit approach can even be helpful in the job market. Job candidates tend to focus on their features: the degrees they’ve earned, the previous positions they’ve held, etc. While these things are undoubtedly important, they’re only important to the extent they can be translated into advantages (i.e. what you can do better than other job candidates) and benefits (how you can help the prospective employer achieve its goals). It might be helpful to develop a feature-advantage-benefit statement for each item on your resume.
The culture clash between engineering and sales is proverbial, and many engineers may doubt whether salespeople have anything of value to teach them. However, I learned a lot by attending these sales seminars. The feature-advantage-benefit selling approach is simple, but powerful. It might even transform how you think about your job as an engineer.