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How to Handle Non-Existent Feature Requests On a Sales Call

6 min read
Sep. 25, 2013

Buyers often ask for features you don’t offer. These occasions merit attention in sales. You want to supply your buyer with as much value as you can without creating problems or expectations for your product development team.

We talked to three sales professionals asking for the best ways to combat buyers who ask for non-existant features. Here are their responses:

Mike Piersa

Mike is Director of Sales at WhatCounts, focusing on building a word-class sales organization.

Mike says:

I am a big believer in giving the customer what they want during the buying process. So if they ask for a roadmap or a feature list, I usually provide them with this information… however, before I do, I want to know the following:

1. Ask why Certain Capabilities Are Important

Knowing how your customer plans on using a specific feature or service to accomplish their business objectives allows you to position your solutions more affectively.

2. Ask Them to Prioritize Features in Order of Importance

Usually only three or so capabilities drive the selection process. Help the customer understand how you do these capabilities better than anyone else and you will win more deals even if you don’t have ALL the features they need.

3. Find Out Who is asking for This Feature

Most likely your software or services are going to impact and be used by many departments within a company. Therefore each stakeholder in those departments have their own requirements. If you know who is asking for a specific feature you can have a direct conversation with that person or department to better understand how this feature will impact their day to day responsibilities.

4. Challenge the Customer

The saying, “Customers don’t know what they really need” is true in most cases when it comes to evaluating software vendors. If you are a good sales person, you should be able to advise the customer on what features or services other companies in their industry are leveraging to drive growth.

5. Be Wary of Competitors

If your competitors are doing their job, they are up-selling the value of their differentiating capabilities to better position their solution. It’s your job to recognize this and defuse these assumptions. Help the customer understand what features are “Cool to have” vs. critical for accomplishing their objectives.

At the end of the day, it’s easy for your product or service to get commoditized when customers are evaluating vendors on a feature comparison. At that point you are negotiating on price vs. value. This can be avoided by aligning yourself with the relevant executive early in the buying process when they are evaluating their business objectives.

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Jordan Rackie

Director of Sales at PeopleMatter, in Charleston, South Carolina, Jordan is head of sales recruiting and pipeline management.

Jordan says:

Rarely reply to the first question a prospect asks with an answer. Reply with another question. If you remember that, you’ll become a more educated sales rep, while being able to provide more creative solutions.

1. Uncover the Root Issue and the Desired Result

There are plenty of ways to solve a problem, so uncover the issue first by fully understanding the desired end result. Many times prospects will request a feature that is necessary for the “path” that they’ve concluded is the best/only way to solve the problem. Just like in every day life, there are plenty of ways to reach a desired outcome.

2 + 3 = 5, but 4 + 1 = 5 as well.

Fully understand their problem. Doing this will allow you to propose a creative solution.

2. Help the Prospect Understand if a Request is Reasonable and/or Realistic

Many times a prospect will submit an unrealistic request.

“Can you fly me to the moon?”

The request typically isn’t technically possible or financially smart for a company to build. It’s your job as a salesperson to help set realistic expectations. Depending on my relationship with the prospect, I like to use comedic relief in this situation, saying something along the lines of:

That is a fantastic idea. I’ve never seen anything like that offered, but if you can figure out how to make something like that, count me in. I’ll turn in my papers and start something up with you tomorrow!

That usually does a great job of helping them realize the request is unreasonable and hasn’t ever been done.

3. Look In the Mirror

I’ve been a part of 1,000s of SaaS deals over the past 5 years, whether they were my deals or the deals of my sales team. I’ve found that a rep either gets peppered with feature request and feature questions constantly, or they just get one or two. There is little in-between.

If you find yourself constantly having to overcome feature-type questions, filling out feature set competitive matrixes, discussing features that were not part of the original purpose of the buying criteria, etc., you’re probably selling all wrong. You’re probably showing too much of the tool, and showing a prospect how educated you are on your own product.

The best sales reps focus on the business partnership, the upward direction of their company as a whole, and the vision of the end result. Less is more, and the more you show, the more questions you get.

Anthony Zhang

Anthony recently joined the Salesloft team and has immediately made a material impact on sales. As the first business development rep at Pardot, he has strong experience handling feature requests and expectations.

Anthony says:

1. Ask them to clarify what it is that they’re requesting.

How would they use this new feature? Does this currently exist with anyone else? Are they currently using it? Can this request be accomplished another way?

Find out why they’re asking for this feature.

2. Say something like: “We’re currently working on a lot of other things.”

I like to tell people:

It’s definitely a great idea (because there’s no such thing as bad ideas), but currently our developers are working on other features that are planned on being released.

These will potentially add even more value than the requests they have. Move their attention and build value on the things that exist, or immediate roadmap items to get them excited.

3. Ask them to Submit Their Request

Tell the buyer you’re going to write down their request (and actually write it down) and say that you will follow up with the dev team and make their voice heard.

4. Divert their attention

Re-focus the buyer back to the existing platform by asking additional questions to find out about their strategies and/or business.

Great advice from three successful sales leaders on how to handle non-existant feature requests. While it may be uncomfortable, realize that there are effective ways to approach each situation.

If you have any input of your own (or would like to be included in our sales leader series), please let us know!