Selling the Invisible

"Services are human. Their successes depend on the relationships of people. People are human – frustrating, unpredictable, temperamental, often irrational, and occasionally half mad. But you can spot some patterns in people. The more you can see the patterns and better understand people, the more you will succeed – and this book was written with the hope that it will help you do just that."

- Selling the Invisible, page 239

Selling the Invisible is a collection of little examples and metaphors Harry Beckwith uses that show the most and least effective ways to market and sell services. The stories have a central theme; success is about creating a strategy, a foundation based on measuring and evaluating the needs of the customer and adapting accordingly. Implementing tactics are the structure; they are about creating and maintaining relationships based on chemistry, popularity, and the client’s beliefs. Understanding people by identifying patterns and nurturing relationships is how real success happens.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Sell the Relationship

"Clients are experts in knowing if they feel valued. In most professional services, you are not really selling expertise – because your expertise is assumed, and your prospect cannot intelligently evaluate your expertise anyway. Instead, you are selling a relationship. And in most cases, that is where you need the most work."
- Selling the Invisible, page 42

Beckwith uses an example of how the failure of a business is similar to the failure of a marriage. People stop communicating. Asking is the first and most essential step. Ask first, “who is the customer” so you can identify your focus. Then ask them what their needs are. Only then are you are qualified to show them you can meet those needs. Follow-up by asking for candid feedback, preferably have a third party surveyor ask. Continuously re-evaluate by repeating the process and make necessary accommodations or changes. When the act of repeating the process does not happen, this is the inflection point; the relationship ends and the service provider asks why. It is because the work to maintain the relationship was not done, and the client considered other prospects. Our clients are inundated with possibilities now more than ever before. Focusing on maintaining that connection is paramount.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Understand the Person

"Before you try to satisfy ‘the client,’ understand and satisfy the person"
- Selling the Invisible, page 43

Beckwith includes examples of pitches that fail because the salesperson talks about themselves and their service or product and not about the client. I recently answered the phone and it was a telemarketer selling a natural gas service. His pitch included much information that he had practiced, and he delivered it well. When he let me speak, I explained I do not have natural gas, only electric. He did not ask what I needed. He wasted time for both of us. People think about themselves, not about you, and you do it too. It takes practice to learn to think about them and not about you. When you talk about them, you learn what their needs are. Try this today: only talk to people about them. Do not talk about yourself at all. Think about them, who they are and what they want. Ask what you can do for them.  How does that change your relationship? Now think about how much better your business relationships could be if you put this into practice every day.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Communicate Clearly

"Sometimes, it’s all in how you say it."
- Selling the Invisible, page 193

Beckwith uses examples of how a salesperson can complicate the sale by giving the customer too many options. A salesperson who  shows a customer three shirts instead of the exact shirt he asked for or makes the customer question the value of an extended warranty and offers a variety of financing options often loses the sale. This is called the hard buy because the customer is confused and cannot intelligently choose. He contrasts this to an easy buy where the salesperson identifies the customer’s needs makes the offer and the price clear and builds trust by reducing the customer’s risk. He may even offer the customer the ability to sample the service or product first, eliminating the requirement of an unearned long-term commitment. People buy when it is easy.

Using metaphors and simple stories to explain your service is another effective tool that Beckwith uses throughout the book. People believe the things they understand, and it is about their beliefs. If you want them to believe in you, give them stories they can relate to. Focus on simplicity; it is better to say too little than too much. The more you say, the harder the service or product is to buy. It becomes unappealing because it is too complex to understand. If it is hard to understand, it means it is hard to buy.

In addition to making your offer clear and easy for the customer, Beckwith talks about selling who you are. He says life is like high school, it is a popularity contest. It is about chemistry between you and your clients. He says when surveyors ask why clients are loyal to a company they usually answer that it is because they “just feel comfortable” with them. Do your clients feel comfortable with you? If not is it because of the chemistry in the relationship?

I enjoyed this book. It has a plethora of great advice, and I have only touched on it here. I focused on the relationship aspects of marketing services and products because this is the biggest problem I am encountering now. Although no one questions that I do my job well, I found myself in a situation where the chemistry in a client relationship was wrong from the beginning. In spite of the effort I put into doing a great job, the relationship failed, and I had to endure the consequences. When I asked myself what went wrong, the one thing that stood out was that communication broke down on all levels, and that happens when people do not feel comfortable with each other. Even if there are no apparent conflicts, without good communication people do not share understanding. They make assumptions and problems develop; the relationship will always fail. I can see the same pattern in the stories people tell me about their lives. As Beckwith points out, recognizing the patterns gives you the advantage that helps you make the best decisions. A building consists of thousands of tiny bricks that all fit together, just like your organization. A few of them out of place begin to cause cracks in the structure and eventually the building will fall. Fixing the little things while you can prevents big losses later.

What are your best tips for “selling the relationship”? What questions do you ask your clients so you can provide the best service? How do you explain things clearly? What do you do to make your clients comfortable with you? How do you maintain the connection?

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Ingrid Urgolites

ABOUT Ingrid Urgolites

I work for Citigroup in operations. I have a varied background, and I enjoy service-oriented work. In addition to business, I have a keen interest in food and nutrition, and I have been vegetarian or vegan my whole life...
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