Updated: Mar 10, 2020
I've gotten into arguments about this. People often confuse the three, primarily benefits and value. Salespeople talk about their "value proposition" and then go on to list the features and benefits of the product they are selling. In my mind, there is a very distinct difference between the three and it is important to understand not only when selling but when building a valuable company (pun intended).
Your product defines the Features
Features are the things that your engineers build specifically for your product. If highlighting features were the key to closing deals, we wouldn't need salespeople. That can be done with a spec sheet. Features are facts. If you don't know the features of your product, the engineering/manufacturing team can give you a list.
Your people define the Benefits
Benefits are the direct result of a feature. They are things a customer can accomplish because of the features of your product. Your people determine what the benefits are whether they are salespeople presenting to a potential client or marketing people creating some collateral. A more mature company will have a handful of benefits pre-defined.
Your customer defines the Value
This is the big one. This is what drives people to make buying decisions. The value is unique to each consumer. It is why your product is important to them. It is determined by the significance of the problem your product is solving. The only way to know the value of your product is to get feedback from your customers.
Example 1: A Pen.
Features: Blue ink, click to display point, clip, plastic, green, smooth outside.
Benefits: You can write notes, sign contracts, draw a picture, all with a device small enough to fit in your pocket and the ink is permanent.
Value: Green is my lucky color so I sign all of my contracts with my green pen.
Example 2: A Tire.
Features: Rubber, round, black, thick grooves, manufacturer's logo, 30" diameter.
Benefits: Allows your vehicle to accelerate around curves without losing traction and stop on a dime.
Value: My tires allow me to drive my children to soccer practice safely.
Why it Matters.
For business leaders, it matters because the three are linear. Features lead to benefits and benefits eventually lead to value. To build a successful business, you have to work backward. First, determine what you'd like your value to be and then build the features that will ultimately deliver that value.
For marketers, it matters because features and benefits have no emotional relevance but the value does create an emotional response. It's the reason case studies and success stories are such a powerful marketing tool. They give real-life examples of the value that a product or service provides and they are always specific to that particular client.
For salespeople, it matters because the value is what brings people to a buying decision. Features and benefits are great but those can be displayed on your website. The only way to find the value is through communication with the client/prospect and finding out exactly what pain your product is solving. When you focus on highlighting the value of your product to that client, you will become more successful.