How Can You Sell Intangible Benefits?

How Can You Sell Intangible Benefits?

I often hear Sellers lament that the benefits they offer are intangible and not valued by Buyers. How then can they sell those benefits? Well, oxymoronic as it sounds, you can make the intangible tangible. In fact, it’s not that hard. It’s just that the way to do it isn’t intuitive. Let me explain. Tangible…

I often hear Sellers lament that the benefits they offer are intangible and not valued by Buyers. How then can they sell those benefits?

Well, oxymoronic as it sounds, you can make the intangible tangible. In fact, it’s not that hard. It’s just that the way to do it isn’t intuitive. Let me explain.

Tangible means ‘has a physical presence’ i.e. you can touch it. However, physicality is a pretty limiting definition for our purposes. How else can you describe benefits that are meaningful, like recognition, advancement, reputation, reduced risk and so on, that aren’t physical?

Although you can’t touch or quantify them, those benefits are nonetheless quite real to the people that need them. They’ll know it when they see it and will value it and be prepared to pay for it.

For this discussion then, let’s consider them tangible to the extent they can be recognized as existing, albeit not physically.


So, what makes an intangible benefit, tangible?

Well, it’s not to do with the benefit so much as people’s perception of it. Tangibility (like value and beauty) is a perception. It’s the way you see it. Or more accurately, when you’re the Seller, the way Buyers see it. In fact, that’s true of physical benefits too.

An individual’s perception is based on their frame of reference i.e., their reality, the way they look at the world, or bluntly, “where their head’s at”. For a benefit to be tangible to a Buyer then, it is their frame or head we need to work with not our product or benefits.

That is, going into more depth describing features and benefits (“selling” if you will) doesn’t work. You’ve probably experienced that. It doesn’t work because it’s like sowing seed on barren ground. Instead, we need to work on the ground i.e., the Buyer’s frame, by getting their head into a more receptive space.

Shifting the Buyer’s Frame

Shifting a person’s frame means taking their perception of a problem/challenge from where it is (point A), to a future (point B) where the problem no longer exists. When they can see and describe what that future looks like (e.g., almost ‘touch’ it) it then becomes tangible, as does the value of the solution that’s delivering it, which is the outcome you’re interested in. Now, it’s not you shifting the Buyer’s frame, of course, they have to do that for themselves. What you can do though is make that happen and in my next post, I’ll describe how to have the conversation that does just that and more importantly, has Buyers keen to engage.

For years, I banged on about the importance of 'building' trust. I mean that’s a no-brainer. Right?

Then a little while ago, the penny dropped. I realized you can’t ‘build’ trust. It’s an outcome; the result of what you do, like being truthful, reliable, transparent etc. However, trust itself isn’t a doing type of thing. You can’t ‘do’ trust. You gain trust through your actions. Or not.

And the effect isn’t usually immediate. As you do those things trust grows gradually. A person experiences those things and they come to trust you

That led to another penny drop…

While you can’t ‘do’ gaining trust, you can certainly ‘do’ losing trust. That is, whilst losing trust is also an outcome of your actions, it can happen quickly. So quickly that it may as well have been a deliberate action.


Well, reflect on the people you distrust. How quickly did you come to that? Think telesales, sellers perhaps, bankers, politicians, whatever. I’d suggest that often that view is pre-wired. We can distrust someone even before we’ve met them.

And what causes us to lose trust in someone? Almost entirely it comes down to their acts of self-interest. You’re less inclined to trust someone who puts their interests ahead of yours. Especially if that disadvantages you, which almost by definition, it does. That said…

Most right-minded people naturally do the things that grow trust,

Yes, even sellers and pollies. They do those things most of the time. Except perhaps when their own interests intrude. They then do the things that lose trust and the effect of those is so much greater than whatever they previously did to grow trust.

Sellers: One of the least-trusted professions

That’s the situation for sellers. They are in one of the least-trusted professions. Google it if you need convincing, And why? Because they come across as self-interested. Now a seller might be entirely selfless. The problem is that’s just not how s/he is invariably seen. Talking about your company, your product, yourself. That’s self-interest.

And so, it’s not that they don’t gain trust. It’s that they proactively lose it. And quickly. Almost as soon as they open their mouths. The traditional seller dialogue is rich with self-interest. Even the ubiquitous ‘how can I help you?’ is code for ‘what can I sell you?

Now there’s an irony in all of this…

We, humans, are by default, wired to trust. We evolved that way as we needed to form communities to survive and we couldn’t have done that without trust.

That means that (cynics aside) when we first meet someone, we are predisposed to trust them, or at least to not distrust them. Except that is, where they match one of our pre-existing patterns e.g. they’re a ‘typical seller’. And so they’re stereotyped and behind the eight-ball from the get-go.

Bottom Line? Growing trust is less about what to do and more about what not to do.

Where does that leave us?

My advice and this is a personal opinion based on my experience, not a scientific study, is to not stress about growing trust. You’ll likely do the right things anyway. I mean, telling the truth, being reliable etc are hardly rocket science.  Instead, concentrate on not losing trust. And the way to do that is to not be a stereotype. Don’t match people’s expectations by being that ‘typical’ seller, politician, or whatever. 

The way to do that? Don’t talk about yourself. Simply focus on the other person e.g. your prospect, customer or employee. And do that from the moment you first open your mouth. Make it about them. Whenever you’re having a conversation that’s not about you, you’re essentially gaining trust.

Remember, the other person wants to trust you. Even though they may not themselves realize that. They can’t help it. It’s evolution. And so give them no reason to distrust you and they will naturally come to trust you.