The selling of products or services you can’t actually touch or feel in your hands presents some challenging problems. It’s often called “selling thin air” because of its elusive and illusive nature.
Conceptual products include insurance, computer software, consulting services and the like, and if you are in the business of selling concepts, you understand the difficulty.
The idea of selling intangibles rather than hard goods is intimidating, puzzling, even humbling to many of the best salesmen and women. “How can I sell something I can’t demonstrate? How do I point out my product’s many features if I can’t show them at work?”
Yet those who are good at it say they wouldn’t sell anything else. What are their secrets?
Working many years with successful sales executives, I’ve come to recognize several key steps each takes when selling.
Sell to decision makers
Sell “things” to the technicians, the implementers in a company, folks with titles like manager, foreman, coordinator or supervisor. But sell concepts to those capable of making decisions. They have titles like CEO, COO, CFO, marketing director and vice president. These are the folks who establish departmental budgets, not the ones who must remain within one.
If you hear somebody say “It’s not in the budget,” you’re talking to the wrong somebody. You need to talk to the decision maker who set the budget.
Let them define the problem
When selling concepts, we’re really just selling solutions to problems. But first we need to figure out what the problem is.
The best way to do this is to let your customer tell you. Start by asking questions. Keep asking questions until they have defined the problem. Every company has them. It’s simply a matter of asking the right questions and listening carefully until you hear a problem you think your firm may be able to remedy.
When selling concepts to decision makers, don’t sell the “thing” itself. Whether it’s computer software or building insurance or financial accounting, it’s little more than paper and promises.
Sell the true benefit your product provides, the solution to the decision maker’s problem. Solutions generally fall into one of three categories:
- They reduce costs.
- They enhance a company’s market position.
- They improve productivity.
Help a company run leaner by reducing costs, and you’re a hero. If your software can reduce transaction expense, that’s the benefit, the sizzle on the steak, that your sales presentation must include.
Enhancing a company’s market position allows it to raise prices. Their customers recognize the greater value in the company’s products. They pay more. Company sales and profits go up. Advertisers and business consultants most often sell this benefit.
Improving productivity does both. Better productivity can mean reduced costs, or it can mean improved quality, thus enhancing the company’s market position. Either way, the company makes more money.
Selling solutions takes trust. If all you sell is a piece of paper and a promise, your customer must believe you can deliver the solution to his problem.
If she can’t touch it, see it, smell it, or feel it, the only way she can have confidence in the results is if she has confidence in you.
One successful financial planner I know seldom discusses money in his first meeting with a client. He creates a sense of friendship and camaraderie that builds to trust. By the second or third meeting, his client has been sold on him. After that, it’s easy to sell financial planning solutions.
Selling intangibles may seem daunting at first glance. But follow these key tactics of successful concept sellers, and you’ll have shorter gaps between sales closings, and a healthier financial future.