Selling often involves purveying physical products like furniture or automobiles. In other cases, salespeople offer intangible services that may hold less obvious benefits. While sellers of tangible and intangible items both seek the same end result, the sales approach they take can be very different. In particular, sellers of intangible items may need to create the need for their service.


Intangible sales typically involves selling a service as opposed to a tangible product prospects can see, touch, smell or taste. A common example of an intangible item is an insurance policy. The policy consists merely of words on paper, which in itself means little to the policyholder. Instead, the policyholder receives intangible benefits that are more difficult to measure, such as security for his family and greater peace of mind.

Sales Challenge

Selling an intangible item often poses a greater challenge for a company or salesperson than selling a physical product. Intangibles offer little opportunity to demonstrate how a product works. Unlike a vehicle, for example, a prospect cannot sit inside a service, take it for a test drive, experience the new car smell or be dazzled by its style and color. As a result, it can be more difficult for the salesperson to illustrate how the prospect will benefit by purchasing an intangible item.

Emotional Appeal

Appealing to the prospect's emotions is important in all types of sales, but perhaps even more so when selling intangible items. A shiny new car appeals strongly to the buyer's emotions, as driving one arouses an array of pleasurable sensations. A life insurance salesperson, on the other hand, must often create the emotional appeal of the purchase by explaining a scenario whereby the prospect's family falls on hard times if the prospect dies without carrying adequate coverage. In this scenario, the salesperson might attempt to appeal to such emotions as fear, sadness and even guilt.

Selling the Salesperson

In addition to creating an emotional appeal, a seller of intangible items may need to sell herself as much as her service. Since the service may not always provide immediate or visible benefits, the salesperson must focus on building trust with the prospect to assure him that she and her company will be there when needed. Both the salesperson's personality and appearance are very important in intangible sales to project an image of trustworthiness and professionalism.