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Tangible vs Intangible Selling

Tangible vs Intangible selling is a conceptual question. Every offer is primarily either tangible or intangible. But can an individual salesperson sell something of this type?

Tangible items for sale already exist. They are sitting there on the shelf, or the showroom floor. You can walk over and see them, touch them, maybe even pick them up. Examples are washing machines, automobiles, and jugs of milk.

Intangible items to be sold are not yet physicially present. They exist in the minds of the prospect and, more significantly, the salesperson. Some imagination needs to be used on both sides for this sale to happen. Examples are custom programmed software or being a bestselling co-author in a forthcoming book. Surprisingly, perhaps, a customized sign made for a shop.

sign, custom sign, reach for the moon, intangible selling, intangible sale

Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

I first discovered I was good at selling the intangible in the mid-2000s while running a metal fabrication shop. Turned out I'd been doing it all along—general contractors would want a custom bracket made of 3/4" steel, let's say, to hold up the beams of the huge open concept cabin they were building. This kind of thing was a gnarly, heavy, this-time-only-angled and drilled connector. Especially with signs, though, specifically the collaboration we'd do with a sign manufacturer, was where it was really pointed out to me that what we were selling was intangible.

The Difference Between Tangible vs Intangible Selling

Alarmingly, the salesperson at the sign shop said, "People have no idea what they want when they come in here. There's no picture in their head of the outcome. They're trusting me to come up with something." She paused, then continued: "And they're handing over thousands of dollars to me on that belief that we'll come up with something good."

"Huh," I thought. I saw her point immediately. In the metal fab world I was more familiar with, it seemed easier. People wanted metal letters, or a gate or railing. Or wrought iron fencing. Or that kind of structural steel I mentioned earlier. That felt necessary. It wasn't hard to visualize what the outcome would look like.

But a sign? That could be anything. Therefore, I realized the prospect was placing a lot of faith into the seller. Should the sign be round or square? How much wood and how much metal? Should the frame be metal, and the lettering routered in relief out of the wood, then painted to stand out? Would there be a picture, maybe of some trees and a mountain? Or should the design go more abstract? Ought we to focus less on imagery and more on style?

The Trust Scale for Selling The Intangible

Subsequently, I realized there was a sliding scale for buyers when it came to trust of the seller's ability to provide a good experience with the intangible sale.

On one side you've got the fully trusting, "I know you: I like you, I trust that whatever you come up with will be excellent and I don't have to worry about it". This could almost be considered abdication of responsibilty; however, I view it more as transference of responsibility, or delegation. Even if the buyer deep down is not in love with the final outcome, they believe the seller knows best.

On the other side you've got minimal trust. "I want to see this every step of the way along. I emphatically want control over what happens." For those selling the intangible, this can be a genuine source of frustration. "Why won't the customer leave me alone to do what I'm good at? Why won't they let me run according to my own internal schedule, rather than trying to worry me along? I know how long these things take. I know the steps to do them in. Why must I explain everything?"

When selling the tangible, you obviously have the thing right there to point at. Features and benefits are available to rely on. If the prospect doesn't follow along, it's readily apparent: you can stop, go back, and find out what's missing.

Selling intangibles...not so much. You must dig. Get to the heart of "Why" this person wants what they want. Likely you'll have to uncover factors they weren't conscious of, preferences they didn't know they had. Unfortunately, it's easy to blow past key sales factors if you don't notice the prospect sitting there nodding mechanically, eyes glazing over.

Deciding whether your firm is focused on tangible vs intangible selling can even have a big tax implication.

Risk Factors In Tangible vs Intangible Sales

In selling tangible offers, you run the risk as the salesperson of falling back on features and benefits. Reliance on these factors is a lower level of selling: it's less effective. Often you'll miss the prospect's "Why" and not get the sale.

As you sell the intangible, you can easily run past the prospect's true reasons for buying. Trying to fit the individual prospective customer into a "one size fits all" process will cause that to happen.

Unless the prospect is well educated about the offer before they arrive, and has a personal sense of urgency about taking action on it, the fact is that the intangible sale is going to take longer. Significantly, what I have observed over a long period in the sales field is this: some people simply don't seem to be able to make the intangible sale.

Whenever hiring into an organization where the intangible sale is a requirement it is not enough that you look at candidates with excellent sales histories. You must find out if they have a history of successfully selling intangible offers.

What Needs To Happen In The Intangible Sale?

A transference of imagination, from seller to buyer, is necessary to make the intangible sale. I'll come back to this in a future discussion, but I want you to understand this for now. Depending on where the prospect is on that line scale I described above, evidently it can take some time to solidify that image and make that transference happen. There's a process to this, of course, but for now all I want you to understand is that this is what happens. Get clear on the concept: tangible vs intantible selling. Which does your organization focus on? Do you have the right people for the role?

>> Jason Kanigan is a sales force developer and conversion expert. Schedule a consultation with him to focus on your specific situation <<

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The Value of Good Prospecting

Good prospecting is a rarity. If you prospect well, you can stand out in a way your competitors won't. You'll shorten your sales cycle. You'll get to the point faster with more prospective customers than you have before, and faster than your competitors do. Your ideal customers will be saying, "How can we work together?" rather than, "So what's your price?"

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

I've covered what's wrong with prospecting before. And I've also provided a FREE solution. But I have to tell you, the records show that you folks don't click over and follow that free course from someone else who's not associated with me, ie. I have nothing in the game in sending you over there. It's simply great stuff.

The Effective Prospecting Course I Share For Free That No One Gets

Yet almost nobody hits that link.

Why?

Is the idea that you're going to have to learn something, do some work, actually go through a course to be able to prospect well too much? Or did you not see the link because it's at the end of the article? Curious.

Anyway, I signed up for a free accountability program from another sales trainer who I respect. It offers to accelerate your results through the rest of 2022, the final three months of this year. I wasn't struggling, but I do always want to be better. It's been about a week and I've already:

1 - made a new series of videos on effective prospecting, as my daily video content creation per the program

2 - hit a personal best in closing six five figure sales in one day.

And my prospecting & qualifying method, as outlined in this video series, is responsible for a lot of that result.

Here is the playlist. Keep coming back to it because I'll be adding more videos, sharing more prospecting tips. As people have pointed out many times over the years, my stuff isn't some idea, some unproven concept: it's based on trial and error and real results in the sales world over the past two decades. (Man, when I think back to the late 1990s, after I got out of college and was in my first bizdev job, just how little I knew about selling...and that nobody trained me on anything beyond technical features of the products!)

Good Prospecting Training Videos Playlist

 

The first video alone will show you the difference between the spam-a-lot outbound leadgen machine, "throw spaghetti against the wall and hope something sticks" method almost everyone has adopted and something that looks, sounds, smells and is treated differently by the prospect.

Why Is Bad LeadGen So Rampant?

Why do you think it is the automated spamming outreach method is used so often? Is it because "that's what everyone else is doing" and so that must be the way you do it? Is it because people are afraid to be human beings, and want to hide behind that automation? Then you have something to blame, right? Must be the email deliverability. Must be that headline. Must be the message content—too long, or too short. Must be anything but YOU, the person ultimately responsible for your performance.

What if, instead of (Option 1) spamming 1000 attempted connections with automated tools over an afternoon...

...using the same bland and personality-less outreach message aimed at all those undifferentiated people you probably know next to nothing about other than "They are in X industry"...

...you (Option 2) focused on 30 leads you personally pre-qualified, who are likely to be receptive to your message because of where they're at and what situation they find themselves in...

...and your intention was to start a genuine dialogue with them as individuals, not immediately whip your offer out and shove it in their face?

I can tell you from personal experience that the second option, applied consistently and not as a one hit wonder, gets you much better results over time. Just like the results I experienced, closing six high ticket offers in a single afternoon.

It is not because I am such a great salesperson. Or that I always know exactly what to say. It is because I chose my prospects and hence where to put my effort carefully.

You Can Have An Effective Outbound Lead Generation Method In Place Today

Get started on that playlist! Apply what you learn, apply it consistently, and watch what happens.

What if your employer uses the automated mass outreach approach to generate leads for you?

No problem! Use the same methods on the leads that you're given. Filter them quickly. Qualify for those indicators I teach you in the videos to look for that show you this is likely to be a good lead. Follow up using the process I demonstrate.

Just about everyone in the online marketing world whines that "If only I had more leads" they would be so much better off.

This is a lie. A falsehood. Generating increasing quantities of poor quality prospects that lead to no engagement will only waste the time and energy of the front line salesperson.

You don't need more leads.

You need good prosecting in place to bring you a manageable number of better leads you can personally engage with.

This isn't something I've made up. I've been talking about it and building my process for many years.

>> If you're ready for the full version of what is explained here, including Challenger Sale instruction, how you should think as a founder beginning to operate your business, what to give your new hires to train them up quickly on effective selling, then get Sales On Fire <<

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Buyer and Seller Money Tolerance: What Kills Sales Before They Start

Buyer and seller Money Tolerance differences can kill the sale.

This is a relatively advanced and powerful concept you're unlikely to hear about from other sales experts.

Money Tolerance, as we’ve discussed before, is your personal answer to, “How much is ‘a lot of money’?” This is a sort of thermometer we use all the time in our daily lives, though we are not aware of it.

Everyone is walking around with this number in their heads. The chief problem with it is that they believe this limiting belief, which they are typically not conscious of but heavily impacted in life by, is the same for everyone else.

Not so.

My money tolerance is almost assuredly different from yours.

money tolerance money comparison dollar bills buyer seller sales tactics

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

How Buyer and Seller Money Tolerance Impacts The Sale

In my observational experience over the past decade, for people in North American countries like the United States and Canada, the money tolerance level you’ll usually encounter is $500 - $2500. Anything over that number is “too much money” for the average individual. Translate that into Euros or Pounds and we have something similar for European residents. Now consider:

A woman who works at Walmart and makes $15 per hour walks into a cell phone store. The salesperson knows the latest phone model is $999. The retailer and manufacturer know this, too, so they break the investment down into “Just $33 per month.” This is well within the buyer’s money tolerance, and in fact is such a swallowable amount that she is delighted to be getting the new toy for “such a deal”. Never mind that she’ll be paying this thing off for the next three years—that doesn’t enter into her head.

Buyer Money Tolerance Up Against A Higher Value Offer

This same woman later looks at an advertisement for a Mercedes-Benz SUV. It’s a beautiful car. She loves the ad. But she also knows the price is going to be over $100,000. And her gut tells her the monthly payment is going to be over $2,000. She instantly knows, with a quick sad feeling, that this will never work. She closes the ad and wistfully moves on with her life.

Take a careful look with me at what happened with this second example. Her money tolerance could not allow her to entertain the possibility of getting the Mercedes-Benz. The idea collapsed. She withdrew. She could not even consider the idea of going to the dealership. Consider this deeply.

What "Just Looking" Can Show Us About Buyer and Seller Money Tolerance

In situations where the buyer is “just looking” and not aware of what the price really is, but did manage to get themselves into the showroom…

…you can imagine the seller has the money tolerance required to be comfortable selling $100,000 automobiles. They would be ejected quickly from the organization if not. But the buyer? As soon as they find out the price, they will “pull a fade”. Their money tolerance does not match the situation. They will collapse and withdraw. The buyer physically cannot stay in that location.

As a salesperson, observe your prospects. Whether it’s over the phone or in person, you can witness this behavior. Call up a prospect who was expecting the investment in the offer to be free, for example. You don't even have to see or be in the same room with them. As soon as they find out there is a monetary investment required, observe what happens. They’ll be off the phone with you so fast you’ll be wondering what happened. It is this money tolerance of theirs leading to collapse and withdrawal that takes them away.

In general, you will not hear the words, "just looking," from a qualified, offer-matching money tolerance prospect. Those people are always ready to buy—when the offer makes sense to them. I have to say, I have not said, "I'm just looking," to ward off a salesperson in over a decade. It doesn't match who I am. (I might say, "Leave me alone to look around for a bit," with a smile, which every salesperson understands without hurt feelings).

As a seller, you will become more effective by understanding your own money tolerance and that of your prospect. This is a key qualifying factor. The faster you can identify the prospect’s money tolerance, and see if it is a match for your offer, the better.

How To Uncover The Buyer's Money Tolerance

Some ways of accomplishing this are:

  • Be direct. Ask the question outright: “Before we go any further, Ms. Prospect, I’d like to share that the investment level in our services ranges between $10,000 and $20,000. How do you feel about that?” This is suitable early on in conversations where you have many leads and must filter quickly, or wish to cherry pick and the lead flow can handle doing so. Employ when you suspect their money tolerance may be far lower than your investment requires
  • Use a parallel question. “Mr. Prospect, what’s the most you’ve ever invested in” something similar—a coaching program, agency monthly fee, consulting package etc. Ask follow up questions about the reasons why, and whether that amount was capped artificially, say by the seller’s pricing level, ie. the buyer would have spent more, but that was all the seller asked for (oh look, there's money tolerance again). Utilize in the mid of the conversation, after you've developed some rapport
  • Asking about investments in their personal life during the rapport phase. Examples: skydiving experiences, boat or RV purchases, event facility rentals (they had to have their 20th wedding anniversary hosted somewhere), art investments and the like. By demonstrating their interest in investing over there, they show you their money tolerance and that they could invest similarly in this area of their lives. Best done when the typical prospect you attract is involved in such activities, and you want to know, "Are they one of us?"

As the seller, as always, it is your responsibility to run the process, guide the prospect, qualify the buyer, and manage the sale. Do not blame prospects for having too-low money tolerance to take advantage of your opportunity: they simply do not qualify at this time. It is usually quite clear to both of you when money tolerance is identified. There are no hard feelings. The prospect knows they do not have enough going on to be a fit for your offer. And they will collapse and withdraw.

I share this concept with you so you will understand what is happening. In understanding, you will not become confused, frustrated or disappointed. You will get a sense of how good the marketing is in attracting qualified vs unqualified prospects, and after awhile you can take quantitative not just qualitative evidence back to marketing as feedback. They will appreciate this—if not immediately, after awhile as they too wish to hone in on their message-to-market match.

On Talking About Money Tolerance In Public

One final word of advice: do not use the phrase “money tolerance” in your sales conversations. This is a technical term and useful for us. To the prospect, just as calling them a prospect to their face, it will seem weird. Use it as the tool it is but do not refer directly to it in discussion. Understanding buyer and seller money tolerance and the differences or similarities is a powerful qualifying and selling tool.

You can use it today to filter who should hear about your offer and who should not…and who is likely to be a straightforward buyer who “gets it” without convincing, arm-twisting, or pushing. Of course we do not want to do any of those things, as they often lead to buyers remorse, so understanding money tolerance helps us again by keeping us away from situations where as the seller we might feel like doing so.

>> Jason Kanigan is a business development expert who can dramatically accelerate your sales effectiveness. To book a time with Jason, click here. <<