Value-Based Selling: Tangible vs. IntangibleArticle by Colleen Francis, February 26, 2021
Creating and maintaining a high-growth, high-profit business in your marketplace—one where sellers, leaders, and customers all thrive—is essential. That’s why, for many years, I’ve advocated putting value-based selling at the centre of your work.
Understand, however, that selling from a value standpoint isn’t a singular, indivisible concept. It’s not a thing you simply seek and obtain. It’s about far more than adopting a return on investment (ROI) framework, in which an input of X delivers a value of Y. You must be broader in your approach! That way, you’ll engage in more conversations with multiple stakeholders in each opportunity, creating more connections and improving your closing ratio. Here’s how you do that.
Value-based selling—when done skillfully—has multiple inputs. Each input redefines how you and your customer see the worth of a product or service. And these inputs often overlap. In particular, there are two groups of inputs you must look at: 1. tangible versus intangible inputs, and 2. personal versus operational ones. Let’s look at the first group now.
The Tangibles of Value-Based Selling
Tangibles are measurable, verifiable facts. In value-based selling, the big ones are money and time. Here are two examples of how clients of mine have put this to work.
First, this client of mine is an internationally known agricultural machinery company. They make a product that helps farmers plant more seeds in far less time than their competitors. Smart sellers on that sales team emphasize the tangible benefits of what greater efficiency means for farmers. In a good planting season, using this product means higher profits for the producer. And in a difficult planting season, it’s the difference between making money and not making money. That same seller also emphasizes the monetary value of the time saved by using this more efficient planting equipment.
Second, consider the example of a software maker who specializes in serving medical clinics. Top-performing sellers in their business recognized their clients struggled with having highly-trained, high-wage medical staff who spend too much time on administrative work. By showing—in tangible terms—the immediate savings of automating those burdensome tasks, clients quickly took notice. Just as compelling, they showed those clients the added benefits of having reduced burnout and low morale among staff, which translated into less churn, better performance, and higher profitability.
The Intangibles of Value-Based Selling
Just as the tangibles focus on what’s known to be true, intangibles emphasize what people can sense is true. These are less quantifiable, but they are just as powerful because people are motivated jointly by reason and emotion. Risk, for instance, is a powerful intangible. It shapes how your customer can perceive your product or service—along with their need for it.
A client of mine who makes a range of chemicals for use by manufacturers employs intangible benefits in their selling strategy. Recognizing that their customer needs to reliably make products that tightly match OEM specifications, it’s highly valuable to not have to worry about expensive warranty claims that would otherwise arise.
Similarly, a company that makes dashboard cameras has their sellers use intangible benefits when pitching to trucking companies. They ask emotionally charged questions, such as: “How much is it worth to you to avoid having to pay expensive liability claims?”
Mastery of value-based selling is about fully understanding a range of inputs. This first group of inputs—tangible versus intangible—is focused on defining the facts and feelings that motivate your customer to buy from you. In the next article in this series, we’ll look at the challenge from a standpoint of two more inputs: personal versus operational.