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Selling Tangibles Vs. Selling Intangibles - How to Sell Products or Services

Updated on June 18, 2012
jpcmc profile image

I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest is just life's add-ons: an educator, administrator, learning & development professional.

Can you handle selling?
Can you handle selling? | Source

The proverbial question of which is harder to sell

I have been asked about the proverbial battle between the tangibles and intangibles. There is always a stir when people who sell intangibles say that people selling tangible products have it easy. Of course at the other corner are those who take offense. Recently, one sales person bluntly asked me if it is easier to sell tangle products over intangibles.

Before we go digging into this issue, allow me to explain what the person meant. Tangible products are commodities that the client can see, hold, manipulate and practically inspect. These can be anywhere from a mobile phone to a huge 100-storey building. The important factor here is that the client can inspect it prior to buying it. On the other hand, intangibles are those that the client can’t actually hold and inspect. These are usually insurances, bonds, pre-need products and the like. The question simply asks which is easier to sell – tangibles or intangibles.

The question may seem simple but it can stroke a lot of egos or step on them. The question has always been at the back of the minds of sales professionals. It’s a question many sales trainers and sales experts would rather not go into. Well, call me insane or simply stupid, but I’ll get my feet wet on this and hope that I don’t get drenched afterwards.

I’m fortunate enough to have experienced selling both types of products in the past. I had the experience in selling insurance and pre-need products as well as a number of tangible commodities. I can bluntly say that both are difficult to sell if you don’t know what you are doing. Moreover, it’s a breeze to get a client to say yes when you do it right. The answer may seem to be a safe one, but in essence, it’s not the product that really matters. Ultimately, what matters is how you sell it and to whom you sell the product.

Let’s talk about the selling style

More often than not, comments like it is easier to sell one from the other come from people who shifted from one product type to another. If a person uses the same strategies for both types then the comment makes a lot of sense. Though the selling cycle will remain the same for both products, the techniques and tactics employed must differ. Suffice to say, the wrong sales technique will make it difficult to sell what ever you are offering.

Tangible products can work well with demos and free trials. However, this may not be as effective (and cost effective for companies) as many intangibles rely on long-term or future circumstances for it to be fully appreciated. Presenting historical data can be a good way to push for an insurance product but may not be a strong strategy for high moving commodities as new versions come out quickly. Using testimonials on the other hand can work for both of these product types.

This is just a snippet of how the type of product can influence the style to be used. Suffice to say, strategize well before you embark on a new strategy. Though it may be great for one product, it may be counterproductive for another.

Learning from the Animal Planet

Predators choose their prey wisely. A lioness is small compared to a huge wildebeest. But with enough planning and a lot of choosing, she can easily catch a meal. She scouts first and studies the behavior of the whole group of potential dinner. But she does not simply run after the first one that comes along. She finds one that is worth the chase. This is the same in sales. You don’t simply waste your effort on every person that comes along. For new sales people, getting a new prospect is exciting. But this does not mean that person is qualified.

An important factor which makes selling easy or hard is the person you are selling to. Generally speaking, if you qualify clients properly, you can narrow down your prospect list and get higher potential sales closings. On the other hand, if you simply do a hit and miss strategy, then more likely you will miss.

Qualify your clients properly. This is an essential step that many sales professionals forget.

Now let’s go back to the fundamental question: Which is easier to sell, tangible or intangible products? When you consider everything that is required in selling – from the basic philosophies to the strategies you employ, it boils down to your preference. Are you better in selling tangibles or selling intangibles? Or are you one of those fortunate souls who can easily sell both?


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    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello MADEININDIA,

      That's a good point. In fact, when I sued to train insurance sales representatives, I often say that they are selling a piece of paper with a promise for tomorrow. That’s really difficult since clients want to experience the products and service now and today.

      Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • profile image

      MADEININDIA 5 years ago

      Hi mike,

      agree with you that tangible asset is much easier to sell

      main reason behind this is bcoz client can feel the product

      where in intangible they depend on analysis and strategies that will it give them good returns or not


    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hi there Mike,

      Thanks for the kind words. Everyone has his preference when it comes to selling. But like you I had the chance to experience both.

    • profile image

      Mike 5 years ago

      I honestly think this is a beautiful piece. I've been in the sales industry for over 30 years now and I have experience in both areas. Selling tangibles for me is easier. I get to see the product and in many instances test them for myself. I can easily share my views about products I have personally used. But selling intangibles has its perks. It's a challenge. I sold insurance before and it's really hard. But there's a sense of satisfaction after the sales.

      Not many people are brave enough to venture into the debate on selling tangibles and intangibles. This is one of my favorite articles. Great job.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Nice of you to leave a comment seo guru. Also, thanks for the encouraging fan mail. I believe that selling is the hardest job in the world if your heart is not in it. However, it is the highest paying one if you commit to it.

      Although the selling cycle is relatively the same for whatever you are offering, it's the individual's style and strategy the breathes life to the process.

      See you around.

    • seo guru profile image

      seo guru 6 years ago from Chicago Area

      Such an interesting topic. I could make both arguments. Selling an intangible you have the advantage of selling the dream, the what if and the potential. Advertising results, investment opportunity and so on. What if it comes in, what if it does what you expect, what if it fixes the problem it is designed to solve.

      On the other hand selling the tangible product, that is recognized, has the ability to be seen, touched and a history in the market place presents a whole new set of possibilities, like proof of usage, past successes and familiarity.

      The truth is the sales person decides what is easier to sell based in their belief in the product, passion for the product and skill sets to sell the product. It will not matter tangible or intangible if you learn the process and present properly and know how to actually close. In contrast I have seen thousands fail at both sides of the equation and as many succeed at both sides of the equation