The intangibles

Let’s say your service costs more than the commodity-oriented competition (I hope it does!).

Where do you find repeat business or even new business? How do you make a sale (to another business or to a consumer) when you cost more?

The answer, of course, is the intangibles. The things that have no price. Things that customers value more than it costs you to provide them.

If you don’t have that, all you can do is beg. And begging is not a scalable strategy.

If you find yourself saying, "the boss won’t let me lower the price," or "we’re more expensive, but that’s because our cost structure is higher," then you’re selling the intangibles too short. The stuff people can’t buy at any price, from anyone else, but that they really value…

Here are some random ways you can embrace some intangibles:

  • Call the person before you get the RFP, before they know they need you. Brainstorm with them about how you can work together to create the thing they need. Participation is priceless. After all, if all you’re doing is meeting my spec, why exactly should you be rewarded?
  • You’d be amazed at how much people value enthusiasm. Genuine, transparent enthusiasm about the project they’re working on. Are you a framer? How do you respond to someone who brings something in to be framed? (Hint, if it involves a tape measure, you’re missing the point).
  • Don’t forget speed. If you are overwhelmingly faster than the alternatives, what’s that worth? For some people, more than you can imagine.
  • Focus and personal service are obvious (but priceless) intangibles.
  • Generosity is remembered for a long time. People remember what you did for them when you didn’t have to do a thing, when you weren’t looking for new business, when it was expensive or costly for you to do it. Did you know that the movie studio bought Robert Downey Jr. a Bentley when Iron Man hit it big? He didn’t ask, they didn’t want anything (at least right now).
  • Error correction. How do you respond when you make an error? This is actually a huge opportunity to deliver an intangible, especially in a business to business setting. The last thing a client wants is to have to explain a snafu to her boss.
  • Peer pressure is another silent intangible. What will my friends and colleagues think if I choose you? What if I don’t choose you? Is it fashionable to pay a lot? How hard are you working at establishing a connection across your market that choosing you is the right thing to do, regardless of the price?
  • The last one is probably the biggest. Hope. Do you offer hope for something really big in the future? Maybe just around the corner, but perhaps in the long run… What does it look and feel like? Are you drawing a vivid picture?

Simple example: Ideo. Check them on each one of these criteria and you’ll see why they have a waiting list.

When providers are stressed or scared or pressured, they instinctively resort to price. It feels real and reliable. It’s a trap, I’m afraid. It’s the intangibles that drive all of the non-commodity decisions, and your job is to build remarkable ones and tell stories about them.