A friend of mine, whom I’ll call Scott, works for a home construction company managing the sales and designs of the homes for clients. Some time ago Scott mentioned that one of my co-workers, whom I’ll call George, was interested in having a house built and that Scott’s construction company was one of two builders he was considering. As a favor I asked George which company he was leaning towards and he mentioned Scott’s competitor. When I asked why, George replied, “It’s my perception that the other company is a better builder. Scott’s price is lower but I’m willing to pay it for better quality.” Now I don’t know if George did research on his own or if he simply heard from others that the other company was better. Regardless of the reasoning, it was still his perception that competitor’s product was better.
So I told Scott that since pricing wasn’t the issue, he should attempt to convince George to go with his company by educating him on the “intangibles”. Scott asked, “What do you mean intangibles?” I answered by asking him, “Did you explain to George how your company manages the build? The process by which you select quality products and materials. How you work closely with your clients every step of the design and build process to ensure they’re getting what they asked for. How the house is put together using the latest benchmark manufacturing processes. How the house is designed to ensure energy efficiency and the lowest possible utility bills? How the house is warranted and, if something does go wrong, how you’ll be responsive in resolving the issue.” It turns out that Scott never communicated these topics to George. He only discussed layouts, options and pricing. In other words, he only discussed the “tangible” items, the “physical” things . . . the things that George could put his hands on, never knowing what it took to make those things a reality.
Think about sales in your own private life. For instance, when considering the purchase of an automobile, there are so many products and options to choose from. And in most cases you normally have a vehicle in mind or your research compels you to change direction and buy something different than originally planned. Research is conducted and you make your final selection based on manufacturer quality, out-the-door price, available options, warranty, service, technical capabilities and other factors. You also make your selection based on your experience with the show room personnel, especially the sales force. Many dealerships have lost business, NOT due to the products they offer but due to the sales staff. My personal best experience in buying a vehicle was one in which the Sales Representative asked what my needs were, took time to show me the options and advantages of the dealership’s products, showed me how everything worked in the vehicle, introduced me to the sales and service manager, and finally gave me a tour of the service department. He also informed me of their customer policies and how their staff responded to service, quality and warranty issues. Guess where I bought my vehicle from? The dealership Sales Rep had conducted research on his own company’s capabilities as well as my own desires and combined the two into a successful sale. Most important, he sold me not only on the “tangibles” but the “intangibles” within his dealership.
One of the statements and questions I ask Sales Professionals during a meeting, and even over the phone during a cold call is one that most Reps aren’t prepared to respond to: “I already deal with a dozen suppliers that can provide your products and services. Every one of them tells me they can supply me with good products at good prices. So why should I consider you?” At that point, most Sales Reps either give me a deer in the headlights look or a verbal response regarding technical capabilities. What you need to understand is that as a Buyer, I can purchase technical capabilities from a number of suppliers. A technical capability is a TANGIBLE item . . . and I can buy that. What I CAN’T buy is the organization: the discipline, the sophistication, the corporate culture necessary to make that technical capability work seamlessly in the field. The reason I can’t buy them is because they are INTANGIBLES! Does that make sense? You can’t put your hands on corporate culture. You can’t physically feel the inner workings of a successful project management team. These are “intangible” things that exist within your own company to ensure the product is what the Client asked for; that it works the way the Client expected it, that it’s delivered on time and that it’s properly serviced in the field. Sales Advice from the Buyer’s Desk: Sell me on your company’s “intangibles” so I feel confident in buying your “tangibles”.
Not too long ago, a supplier’s technical capabilities alone would have been the yardstick by which a Buyer measured and selected suppliers. But today, technical capabilities are almost a given and are expected from the Buyer. Today, technical capabilities count for LESS because other factors have grown in significance. From the Buyer’s perspective, technical capabilities alone say less about you as a supplier than ever before! WHY? Because just like in your own private life, a Buyer assumes the product will work! That’s what he’s paying you for. You don’t go out and buy a flat screen TV with the hopes it will work when you plug it in. You ASSUME and EXPECT it to work because that’s what you paid for. It’s the same on my side of the desk. As a Corporate Buyer I don’t hand a purchase order to a supplier and say, “Gee, it sure would be a plus if the product I’m paying for actually worked in the field!” It’s expected to work. It’s expected to be of good quality. That’s because global competition, quality measures and improved manufacturing processes have greatly enhanced the products we buy today compared to years ago.
The bottom line is that it’s not the “tangibles” that will necessarily sell your products today . . . it’s educating me on the intangibles: the on-time deliveries, the technical support, sufficient program management, professional communication, teamwork, low-cost solutions, responsiveness to issues, and price containment. How does your company ensure those things for the Client? Do you even inform your Clients about the intangibles at your company and how they work? Do you even know how they work? I’ve rarely had a discussion with a Sales Professional regarding their corporate intangibles, at least one they brought up themselves without me having to dig for that kind of information. Again, here is a perfect opportunity to stand out from your competition: Sell the Buyer on your company’s “intangibles” so they feel confident buying your “tangibles”.