Features vs. Benefits

The core shortcoming in a “geek” presentation attempting to make a business case is surely touting features rather than benefits.

A feature is an attribute of the solution under discussion.  It’s one of the things a solution can do:

  • “The new JetEdge can achieve speeds of up to Mach 20”
  • “The Tg of the material is 1200 degrees C.” (thanks to Jack Lesko for that one!)
  • “We have achieved latencies of down to 2 ns”

The problem with features, of course, is they’re inside out.

People who are deciding on the merits of a solution don’t care what it will do (even if they say they do); they care about what it will do for them.

What a solution will do for a potential solute (is that the right word lol?) is a benefit, and benefits are what a presentation should pitch.

  • “The JetEdge can get you to London before you left”
  • “The new material can line exhaust pipes without turning plastic”
  • “Web apps can be written on the new platform without messy client-side code”

It is so common for geeks to conflate features and benefits that it’s worth wondering why.  I have two theories, not necessarily exclusive:

  • Geeks hate to lie, generally speaking, and a feature sounds like a fact whereas a benefit sounds like a (potentially false or lying) opinion.
  • Geeks hate to urge someone else to do something; we believe that everyone should make up their own minds about things.  Touting benefits sounds like urging.

Needless to say, geeks have to get over it!  Without urging, those suits are never going to fund your business case.  In fact, the gist of a presentation – bearing in mind all of the caveats from previous posts – is respectfully urging the listeners to take a certain course of action.

The trick is being respectful.

Picadillo Tacos

As Debbie and I were casting around for the proper CrummyCook project yesterday, I put out the idea of making fajitas, since we were near Wagshal’s Market and could have picked up some amazing Prime flank steak.

Well, we let it slide and ended up back home, but Debbie still swung Latin American, so we decided on picadillo using ground pork, since we had a pound or so on hand.

Well, naturally, Epicurious obliged with this recipe for Picadillo Tostadas.  I even ran out and got some corn tortillas.

But then I balked at frying them.  Too many calories.  So we broke open a package of taco shells sitting in a cabinet, and used them (belatedly it occurred to me that we had simply accepted fried tortillas from someone else’s kitchen, but let’s let that go).


Here’s the picadillo and the fixings.   Both of us enjoyed.

Criticism and Self-Cricitcism

After we both had praised the dish, Debbie added some criticism:

“You know, you couldn’t really taste the olives.”

“I know,” I said.  “I didn’t put enough of them in.”

“We ran out?  I thought we had that whole bag [a bag of pitted green olives we had around from something, vacuum sealed, etc.].”

“We did; we still have some.  But I scaled down the ingredients for fewer portions and then scaled them back up again but didn’t scale up the olives.”

She laughed.

“Why the hell not?”

“Too much work to slice them.”

Well, that’s the way it goes.  Laziness bring consequences.

Use Case #2: Geeks and Suits

Time to switch gears.

I know the most about entrepreneurs pitching business ideas to investors, because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years.

But prior to that I was a tech guy, and got a lot of experience (among other things) trying to get the managements of my companies to take on a new tech project, and watching my tech brothers and sisters do the same thing.

I want to turn to this use case next, and spend a few posts on special Solution Pitching angles to Geeks and Suits.

Of course, the fundamentals remain the same:

  1. Know what your audience is thinking
  2. Benefits Not Features
  3. Be Respectful

Onward and upward!