Patricia Rougeau

Selling on Benefits

February 06, 2006

Case categories include: Sales   

By Robert Sher
Power, potential, flexibility and multiple uses are great features if you’re a salesperson.  Your machine or service or tool could help so many people in so many ways.  If you’re the inventor, your pride is boundless, and you want to tell everyone about every scintillating aspect.

So why aren’t you rich yet?  Because most people are afraid of complexity and they don’t have the creativity or time to adapt great new tools to their lives.  They can’t take the big leaps forward easily.  Instead, when they detect an obstacle in their intended path, they look for a solution that will get them moving forward again.

Patricia Rougeau, President and CEO of Informatics took the helm in December 2003 and saw the incredible capability of the sophisticated scientific research database software the founders had developed.  Riding along on early sales calls, the detailed presentations highlighted the power and versatility of the product, and showed how one investment in the package could benefit any scientific company in many ways.

Scared and Confused by the Benefits
No traction.  Many prospects felt they would need more IT experts in house to use the software.  Others just got confused by the many options and made no decision.  Attempts to get back in the door to clarify were hard to come by.  Prospects that really needed the package weren’t buying it.  What a shame.  Worse yet, IO Informatics was not getting the sales and cash flow it needed.

Three lessons scream out from this.  First, sell benefits versus features.  That’s a hard one for developers/inventors to swallow, since they created all the features.  Force feed this notion to inventors if necessary.  As to benefits, no prospect is interested in the benefits to all mankind.  They are strictly interested in the benefits to their company at the present point in time.  Awfully self-centered, but get used to it. 

The second lesson is another oldie:  Keep it simple.  Present only the overall picture of what they need to know.  If they want more details, they’ll ask.  Don’t tell them how you do it.  Don’t tell them why you set it up that way.  Don’t tell them the history.  Don’t tell them all the options and fail safes.  Let their questions be the guide to how much information they are interested in.  All people, even the brainy scientists Ms. Rougeau sells to, get quickly overwhelmed – and overwhelmed people feel stupid and become averse to making decisions.

One Bite at a Time
The third lesson is to “eat the elephant one bite at a time.”   In other words, if they will have to grapple with some complexity, do it over the course of several visits, so they become comfortable with their new knowledge.  Break the presentation into a set of logic steps, knowing from experience that after part A, the prospect will begin to think about certain issues, which you will be ready to answer in the second presentation, and so on.  Sometimes you have to break your sale into parts, so that as they get started with you, you gain access and commitment, then “discover” that they could really use your other product as well.

IO Informatics dramatically changed its sales process.  They now begin by heavily qualifying all prospects.  Those that pass muster will cost the firm much more to pursue, but with better results. An indication of the payoff is that they closed a site-wide license sale in January 2006 to a biotech firm who needed a scientific data management system. This customer already sees further expansion to their parent company using the product as a project management system.

Tailor the Presentation
The pursuit begins by listening and learning about the prospect’s needs and pain points.  This is done through surveys, phone interviews, and often at the first meeting.  They purposely don’t tell much about what IO Informatics has to offer.  Another benefit if an early interview is that objections can be uncovered early, and addressed in the main presentation.  Many of IO Informatics prospects had bad software experiences in the dot-com boom, and are still gun-shy.

Once the prospects needs are clear, the firm heavily tailors the main presentation to address those needs.  They keep it simple, only drilling down in the areas of specific and immediate use for the prospect.  At the end of the presentation, most prospects have no idea about the versatility and power of the underlying software.  But they are crystal clear on how their problem will be solved.

Careful qualification of leads is critical, because taking the time to learn about a prospect and making a tailored presentation is time-consuming and expensive.  Low value leads have no place in such a process.  High value leads get the attention they deserve.

Complex new technologies really do move our world forward.  But keep the technical prowess behind what you offer quiet.  Just show them how it simply solves their problems and makes their life better.  Once they’ve bought it, you can crow about the rest.

• What your firm can do is irrelevant – it’s only what your firm can do for your prospect’s problems that count.
• Learn early on about the customer’s needs and problems.
• Keep the presentation focused, simple, and show only the capabilities/products they’ll need.

Robert Sher is principal of CEO to CEO, specializing in assisting CEOs and business leaders as they navigate critical passages.  He is the author of The Feel of the Deal; How I Built a Business through Acquisitions.  He may be reached at

Company and Case Facts:

Company: IO Informatics, Inc.
Person: Patricia Rougeau, President and CEO
Alliance Member since: 2004
Business Founded: 2003
Head Count: 8
Product: IO Informatics software provides scientists in pharmaceutical and biotechnology research better tools to optimize the integration, analysis and management of life science data
Typical Customer: Science research firms and organizations
Written: February, 2006
Address: IO Informatics, Inc., 2000 Powell Street, Suite 520, Emeryville, CA 94608
Phone: 510-420-8400