Heard any sales pitches lately? More than likely, you've heard plenty. But, too often, salespeople focus their presentation on selling a product's features — which they know all too well and will expound on at length — rather than on discovering just how the product will benefit the customer. “Whenever someone is focused on selling features, they are internally focused,” says Kim Marcille, founder of Florida-based consulting company Possibilities Amplified.

Though salespeople may be knowledgeable about their products, they often don't adequately explain the associated benefits because “they're selling a product, not providing a solution,” Marcille says. “When you shift your focus to providing a solution, the conversation changes dramatically.”

Most notably, it will involve more questions from the customer and less talking by the salesperson. “When you start digging into the need, then you've engaged the customer,” Marcille says. “The customer gets to tell his story.”

NO ASSUMPTIONS, PLEASE Too often, salespeople fall into a tired routine, believing that customers already understand a product's benefits. Otherwise, why would they have called to begin with? “You can't assume that the customer knows. You have to spell it out,” says Stephen Kulke, president of Vinyl Design, in Sacramento, Calif.

Nor can you assume which benefits a customer desires. “They'll tell you what they're going to buy, if you let them,” Marcille says. “If you focus the sales conversation on what they want, it will be a better conversation.”

Rather than relaying information about warranties, materials, and the superiority of one product over another, salespeople should focus on how a product will fill a customer's desires, says Phil Brown, general manager and senior principal of Archadeck of Central Connecticut, in Berlin. “What people buy from us is our ability to understand their vision and turn it into reality,” he says. “It has nothing to do with material. Customers don't really care how things are nailed, screwed, or fastened.” In fact, most don't realize that they're buying a vision rather than just a product or service, Brown says.

WRITE IT DOWN To change a salesperson's strategy, break down a product's features and associated benefits in writing, which can be a useful tool for both the salesperson and the client, Kulke says. Having it in written form “carries more credence than if you just say it.”

Another great approach is role-playing with reps at sales meetings. “Have the pretend customer have a particular need in mind, and see if the salesperson can match up benefits with needs,” Marcille says. “It's a great way to prepare the salesperson for whatever might happen in the field, and it will improve the close ratio.” —Amy Campbell is a freelance writer in Phoenix.