Features and Benefits
Whatever your business sells is more than a service or a product. It is a solution to a problem that your clients have. The problem may be finding a safe place to care for their children during the workday, eating a healthy and delicious meal where it is convenient to them, or reducing the cost of manufacturing equipment by purchasing it from a reputable importer. All consumers are seeking solutions to specific problems. All businesses are established to help consumers solve problems. Consultants, especially, are in the problem-solving business.
How do consumers discover these solutions? Through businesses explaining the features and benefits of their products and services. A feature is a characteristic. Typically, it's a primary or even unique feature. It's a characteristic that buyers are seeking or should be seeking as they make a purchase. More important, a benefit is the reason they seek the feature. It is what the product or service offers to the buyer. Both of these topics — features and benefits — will be described in greater detail in coming chapters as you develop your business concept and match it to clients. For now, consider the topics as they relate to your consulting business's description of services and products offered.
Services aren't tangible, but they still have features. For example, a time management consultant offers a service that features proven methods and results. The business owners and employees know how to help others manage their time better. That's the service feature.
Businesses typically offer more than one feature. Service businesses, for example, understand what their clients require and offer a variety of services, each with numerous features. A time management consultant may also offer training classes featuring concise guides that summarize what is learned in the class. This is a secondary service feature. Include a comprehensive list of service features in your consulting business plan (see Chapter 7).
Clients want to know: What's in it for me? What's the benefit? Your consulting business plan should summarize the benefits that clients will receive for primary and secondary services. What do your clients want and how will they benefit from it?
In addition, if your consulting business has investors, your plan should think of them as clients and answer the same question: What's in it for me? How will the investors benefit from investing in your business opportunity?
What's the difference between a product and a service?
A product is tangible. You can touch it. A service is intangible. Oral advice offered to a client is an intangible service. A written report for a client is a service provided as a document product. Even though some consulting services offer tangible products, they are secondary to the service. Consulting is considered a service business in which some products are produced and/or sold.
Many consulting businesses eventually sell products as well as services. For example, a seminar is a service product, as are training aids. The products sold by any business have features or characteristics. A seminar has a convenient location and valuable agenda, a computer printer uses low-cost ink cartridges, a car has unique styling. The specific products your business sells will have explicit features. Your business, too, will have characteristics that make it better or unique. Your business plan must not assume that readers will already know what features your products and business have. You must tell them.
Do your potential clients really care about the primary features of your business? They should. In fact, that's why you even mention the features — to indicate the benefits. Clients of Acme Communication Services don't need to go anywhere else when looking for marketing communications (marcom) advice. The primary benefit is ease of shopping.
Benefits must be described in terms the client understands. You can find all typical marcom advice and services at Acme. That's the benefit. Your investors want to know what features and benefits your business expects to develop. Your marketing strategy (see Chapter 12) will expand on product and business features and benefits.
One important benefit your business can offer is listening intently to your clients and taking action on what you hear from them. Clients want to know that your business is interested in satisfying their needs and wants. By interviewing clients and using surveys, you can continue to be aware of what clients are thinking and how to keep them coming back to your business.
A major step in starting your consulting service is defining your business and identifying your prospective clients. This chapter was a major step in that process. The following chapter will guide you in documenting your ideas for a successful business by writing your business plan.