3 Steps to Selling the Intangible

Many people believe that selling services is much more difficult than selling products, but is this really the case?

True, it can be harder selling the intangible, because the benefits are harder to see instantly and it’s not a product that your customer can pick up, touch and put on the table.  Products have clear features for you to focus on, there are facts and there are rules, and providing you stick to those, then you can’t go wrong, right?

Well I see it from the other side, when you are selling the tangible, it leaves you more open to merely articulating features and basic, generic benefits.  You use product specifications to try and impress your customer, and leave them feeling…well, unimpressed.  Features don’t sell, they are facts that the customer picks up along the way, and what is the point in having a feature if it doesn’t result in a specific, realised benefit to the customer.

So try and see the intangible in the tangible – look for the benefits that relate to your customer and disconnect from the features.  Approach the product conversation in the way you might attempt a services conversation, how could you even start to discuss what is required if you didn’t know what the customer’s situation or needs were?  Well you wouldn’t be able to, because you wouldn’t have features to talk about so the conversation would be non-existent if the focus wasn’t instead on the customer.

Here are three tips for how to sell the intangible – whether that be a service or a product that you can’t easily demonstrate and carry round:

  1. Tell a story.  When you don’t have a product to carry round to customers in the boot of your car, you need to be more creative and come up with stories to help the customer visualise where this product would fit into their business.
  2. Focus on the need.  Without a product, you have to focus more heavily on the business challenge or issue you are seeking to resolve.  Focus on finding out how important this issue is to your customer and what they would like a potential solution to look like.  You can then tailor your product to meet that solution (i.e. supposing it does meet the solution!), which is a more effective way of approaching the conversation than starting out with pre-prepared product features.  Intangible services trains you to do this, which is why Services Sales representatives are often more highly paid.
  3. Find ways to draw the picture.  So you don’t have a tangible product with corners and legs.  So find other ways to draw the picture.  Think about photos that demonstrate your product working, or videos from other clients who have benefited from your product or service.  Could a visit to your site with a run through of how your solution would work in practice help to ‘draw the picture’ for your client?

Use the intangible to start those info-seeking conversations, and delve deeper before you even start to discuss tangible products and features.  Remember, without a need from the customer, there is no benefit from the product and therefore there is no relevant feature for you to tell them about.  Start in the right direction.

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