Do you play Texas hold 'em poker? If you're a business owner, you should. The simple reason is that Texas hold 'em teaches that when you're selling a product or service, you can't focus on its features and benefits alone. 

If you're not familiar with this particular variation of poker, each player has two hole cards, face-down, that only they can see. All other cards are dealt face-up, one at a time, with betting between each card drop. Hands are the same as other forms of poker -- one pair, two pair, three-of-a-kind, straight, full house, and so on -- but you have to include both of your hole cards in your hand. Simple, right?

The key here -- and what makes it a powerful metaphor -- is the difference between the up-cards and the down-cards. This simple thinking tool will help anyone craft their selling strategy directly to end users, channel partners, or other intermediaries.

Playing to the up-cards: Hitting the big, obvious end-user benefits 

How does your product or service improve your customer's life, exactly? Is it better, faster, or cheaper than your competitors'? 

Selling on features, benefits, and pricing are all up-card strategies. I've seen a lot of salespeople focus on the up-card side. After all, this is what marketing teams give them in the launch kits. And they're not wrong to do so -- salespeople have to focus on these things. But that's not the whole picture, either. In B2B sales, there's always someone upstream who needs to be sold to, as well. The up-card selling strategy ensures the economic buyer has enough ammunition to convince management or the board that it's in the company's best interests to buy from you. 

When working with an indirect channel, be it a retailer, a system integrator, or a strategic partner, the up-card is critically important: Why does the end user need to know about your solution? Without this, there's no need to keep talking -- the ultimate end user needs this information and the partner needs to be able to sell your product on its merits. 

Closing with the down-card: Finishing with the personal and private benefits

It's the down-card -- the less obvious incentive -- that often gets forgotten in the mix. The ultimate end user might like how a product -- say, an energy bar -- tastes or performs, but the economic buyer might like the fact that it's healthy, or affordable, or convenient, or sustainable, or aligned with their unstated personal values.

For a channel partner, the down-card often means: How do I get paid? What's in it for me? Does this make me, the salesperson on the floor, more commission? Are you going to make me look like a hero to my board? How does your solution, which undoubtedly performs wonderfully, help me hit the key metrics on my scorecard?

Your down-card strategy might go beyond selling the product to the customer, all the way through ensuring they're fully using it -- so that they renew their license, tell their friends, or buy again. 

Here's an example of this strategy. When selling a company-wide policy on using mobile telecom equipment, our initial pitch was to the CIO. But when discussing the economic benefits of using our equipment (the up-card), we also mentioned the risk in not adopting our products on a company-wide basis (the down-card) -- citing legislation and legal risk (these were mobile headsets in the early days of "hands-free behind the wheel" legislation). We said, "Of course these headsets allow your people greater personal freedom, improved ergonomics, and safety behind the wheel ... but new legislation suggests that your company will be legally liable for any accident that your people get in ... and your company has deeper pockets than your sales guy's deductible." Threatening to include legal was effective. We had a 30 percent close rate. 

None of these points are revolutionary, but they're often neglected. Some brands focus only on one and not on the other. The important learning here is that both need to be employed together, as symbiotically as possible. 

The biggest learning here is to employ these lessons on purpose, consciously. Sure, risk is always out there. You have competitors, buyer apathy, and just plain bad luck to deal with. In business, as in Texas hold 'em, you have to look at both the up-cards and the down-cards, together, to win.