Spraying Benefits Sparingly (Issue 877)

In which we are reminded to spray benefits sparingly when we’re presenting solutions to prospects.

My wife and I live in a three-story, brick clad, mansard-roofed, Italianate town house built in 1873. For many years, it was a single-family home; now, there are four apartments. We have the first floor.

Our first floor has 17 windows. But not just ANY windows, no modern vinyl-clad, triple paned, inert-gas insulated windows. Nope, we have OLD windows. Some of the windows frames and sills date back to original construction (with glass from that period, we think). Some date back to the 1920s or 1940s. And, in October, it is our ritual to wash the windows.

Except, at our house, “wash the windows” does not mean “wash the windows”, as in “clean the glass”. At our house, it means, first, “repair and restore the windows” and, then, “clean the glass.” Thus, each window (and some of them are six feet high) takes about an hour to do – clean the sills, clean the frames, fill in any cracks in the wood, apply paint where needed, scrape spots and other grime off the glass with razor blades, clean and lubricate the tracks for the storm windows, etc.

My role in this process is to remove and clean the glass panels and the screens that come out of the protective storm windows.

Cleaning the glass panels and screens takes about 20 – 30 minutes per window – digging the dirt and spider egg sacks out of the frames, razor blading the glass where needed, brushing and washing the screens. The last step in the process is to spray window cleaner on the glass and scrub the glass with a clean rag (e.g. an old T-shirt).

Big step forward this year: I discovered that the more window cleaning fluid I sprayed on the glass, the more I saw streaks and smears when I’d finished and the more likely I would have to use a terry cloth towel to buff the window glass so it shined clean, no streaks. In other words, a small spritz of window cleaning fluid went a long way, leaving fewer smears and streaks.

And so it is when we’re presenting the benefits of a product, service, or solution. The more benefits we spray on our prospective buyers, the more likely that they will become confused and overwhelmed – smeared and streaked.

Thus, we come to “Miller’s Magic Number.” The late George Miller (no relation), a psychologist, wrote in 1956 a now famous paper in which he presented experimental findings to support his idea that, on average, human short-term memory can hold seven plus or minus two (five to nine) bits of information. These days, I think that’s optimistic – I’m voting for two to three bits.

Our job is to understand clearly the issue we’re addressing and then offer the most important 2 – 3 benefits or proof statements to support our recommendations. If clients WANT to hear more, we can spritz them again.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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