Three proven techniques to make selling intangibles easier

By Charles H. Green

Trusted Advisor Associates


Selling intangibles is not like selling other things. It’s tougher. But there are three proven ways to make it easier.

Selling intangibles is not like selling other things. It’s tougher. People who sell financial products or advice instead of computers, cars or candlesticks, know that it’s harder, lonelier and more personal. Each of those characteristics makes it tough for you.

But there are three proven ways to reduce that toughness.

Why selling intangibles is tougher
First, it’s harder to sell intangibles, because the customer can’t touch it, hear it, see it, smell it or taste it. (Of course, that doesn’t stop them from fearing it, resisting it, or telling you they don’t need it.) Your job is to help the customer envision the benefits of your product or service — all without the ability to use their senses.

It’s also lonelier to sell intangibles. In helping customers envision the benefits of your products, you have to create a vision, unique to that customer, pretty much on your own. Brochures don’t help much; people who eat up specifications for automotive performance or thread count will glaze over when you try to explain even simple financial concepts. The connection has to come from you, on your own, one customer at a time. That’s often lonely work.

Toughest of all, it’s personal. Selling intangibles is like selling tofu — the nutrition is there, but you have to supply the flavor. The flavor, in this case, is the personal connection, the willingness to be inspired by you, to believe you, to trust you.

People don’t buy intangibles like insurance policies, annuities or mutual funds. What they buy is what those intangibles can do for them, and only you can help make those benefits felt. When you succeed, you feel you’ve really accomplished something; and when you fail, you feel like you failed personally. In each case, you’re probably right.

Three proven techniques to make selling intangibles easier
Yes, selling intangibles is harder, lonelier, and more personal. Fortunately, each one of those problems has an answer. You’ve heard these answers before, but perhaps you haven’t connected them to the problems they solve.
    1. Imagination, in the form of stories, is the substitute for sensory input. Stories are proven, sense-making tools for human beings. Since our childhood, we are accustomed to hearing stories. They have plot and character development; they have a beginning, middle and end; and they have a moral. We use stories as shorthand for understanding, for communicating, and for teaching lessons.
    What stories can you use? You have three sources. One is your own stories about how you came to know and appreciate the value of your product. Another is the stories of your other customers.

    But perhaps the most powerful story is your customer’s own. What is the story they have been telling themselves, perhaps without knowing it? And what is the revised story they will be able to tell with the help of your product? If you remember your job is not to convince or “sell” them, but to legitimately help them envision options to make a good decision, then stories can make intangibles even more powerful than tangibles.

    2. You are not alone — you have a partner. Selling intangibles only feels lonely because you think you have to do all the selling. But you don’t. Your customer wants resolution to their uncertainty, wants to know whether and what to buy. They are unsettled; you can be the settler. They actually want to trust you.

    So, just don’t disappoint them. Help them understand; empathize with their uncertainty. Above all, listen. You must listen before making recommendations. And don’t listen to understand them — listen until they feel understood. If you do that, you will earn the right to be listened to yourself, and you will probably get the sale.

    3. Selling intangibles is personal, but the person is not you. What is a product sale to you is a life-altering act to your client. You may have strong feelings about selling; your client has strong feelings about what you sell. Focus on what your product means to them, not on the mechanical characteristics of it to you. It’s a very personal sale to them, not you.
Selling intangibles sometimes feels tough, but it has the potential to be far more impactful and effective than most physical products, if you can learn to use these three concepts.