Selling Intangibles vs. Tangibles

Jennifer Nietz - Manager of Operations


March 2013 – Sales professionals are very familiar with the FAB selling model. If you’re selling a tangible product, identifying the features (F), advantages (A) from a buyer’s perspective, and benefits (B) delivered to the buyer, has been part of the sales vernacular for decades.

Often there is a misapplication of this model when selling intangibles – services. Selling intangibles requires much higher-level thinking to demonstrate the difference that your service supplies versus alternatives.

People buy intangibles based on the feelings and emotions they experience through the sales process. Every interaction your prospect has with your brand is either creating the impression, provoking feelings and emotions you hope for, or not.

So, how do you provoke those feelings and emotions that ultimately help your prospect associate with your service, your brand? In my experience, it is done by painting the picture of your service in their mind, using success stories, historical data of results and testimonials from advocates of your firm.

Painting the picture is easier said than done. Are you painting the right picture? Some questions you will need to ask yourself as you take your brand to market:

  1. How does your prospect feel when they look at your website?
  2. How does the prospect feel about the story you tell in the voicemail you just left?
  3. What impressions are leaving – tone, language, organization and call to action of your voice mails?
  4. What do your direct mail pieces look like? What are they saying and asking the buyer to do?
  5. How are your emails structured?

Remember, every interaction creates an impression that paints the picture – provokes feeling and emotions in your prospects.

Earlier, I mentioned testimonials as a great tool to sell intangibles. The obtainment and creation of testimonials can be time consuming, so planning for these is important. One way that has been effective to gathering testimonials is running a client survey over the course of the year. Make sure each of your clients have the opportunity to respond once throughout the year and leave space for them to write in comments. You will be able to use these comments as testimonials on your website and direct mail pieces by simply saying what industry your client is involved in (ex. Process Consulting Firm.)

Now, what if you have a prospect that is getting ready to sign on the dotted line and they ask to speak with one of your current clients? Do you have some in mind? It is a good idea to line up a few clients that are your biggest fans. You will want to gain your clients consent to have potential prospects reach out to them directly. The final way to get a great testimonial is actually write the testimonial yourself as one of your clients and then ask that client to endorse the testimonial as their own.

In conclusion, don’t only paint a picture but paint a beautiful one. Have purpose and plan every interaction. With these tools and …persistence your effort will pay off.

Case Example: Intentional Interaction with Major Regional University

I am the Account Executive on a COACT start-up client. We are currently reaching out to large universities due to my client’s experience in this market. Once I was able to learn the proper decision maker it was time to turn on the full court press. I placed an initial brief conference call, followed by an email with relevant attachments, and further followed with a handwritten thank you card. During this process the prospect also received a piece of direct mail from our team. Within one day of receiving the direct mail, the prospect contacted our team via email and expressed interest in gathering key decision makers for an introduction meeting.

It is important to note here that it is often difficult to exactly determine which interaction the prospect emotionally connected with; however, we have learned that varying the media – phone, direct mail, email, and handwritten cards combine to improve results – meetings with qualified prospects.

Be consistent and politely persistent! You never know over the course of the year when your prospect will experience a pain point. They may not have the need for several interactions, over several months. What if the pain builds in month nine? Eleven? Sixteen? Will you still be interacting – creating a positive impression; or have you long since slipped from their mind, leaving an empty canvas?