Selling Your Services

How do you sell something that's intangible? Try focusing on the value.

By Tony Parinello • Oct 14, 2002

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: Doyou have any suggestions for those of us who sell services? I findit difficult to put service benefits into words. For example, I amin the IT industry, and my business provides IT staffing servicesfor companies. We pay our contractors a huge percentage because weknow that will give them an incentive to work hard for ourcustomers. But I can't really say that one of our benefits isincreasing employee satisfaction. They don't really care aboutkeeping our employees happy--they only care about the project.Promoting a service just seems more complicated. I could really useyour assistance.

A:This question really caught my eye, because I had an equallydifficult time switching from selling a tangible product (in mycase, computers) to an intangible service (selling myself and mysales training). Here's how I did it:

Find the Value
No matter what you sell, you must become an expert at communicatingvalue. Value comes in two forms: tangible and intangible. Tangiblevalue is easy to see and measure. A 5 percent increase in revenues,a 24 percent increase in personal productivity, a reduction intime-to-market by an average of 30 days, a lowering of expenses by25 percent--these are all examples of tangible value. As you cansee, tangible value is articulated using either numbers orpercentages.

Can't deliver tangible value? Don't despair. Yourmarketplace and the prospects that are in it will get just asexcited when they see intangible value--value that's harder tomeasure, but just as important. Some examples include: less risk oflosing key employees to the competition, less worry about downtimeduring the busy season, a better image in the marketplace, improvedlabor relations, enhancing employee attitudes toward the company,greater focus on core business initiatives and so on. Unliketangible value, intangible value is articulated primarily by meansof descriptive words and phrases. Numbers just don't play arole.

Balance the Equation
Once you've established the value, it's time to put it intoan equation that your prospects will understand. It's time tocreate and test a balanced reward equation.

For now, don't be concerned with how a target prospect willread, hear or see this statement. It doesn't much matter. Onceyou create the right equation, you can package it in just about anyform.

Let's start out by looking at what we don't wantto do. Here's a statement based on tangible value that is notbalanced: "Overachieve your time to readiness goals by 15percent!" This demands quite a lot--in fact, too much--fromthe imagination. The call to action leaves too many unansweredquestions for any self-respecting prospect to take seriously. What,exactly, has to be done to get this result? Must marketing budgets be increased to perform additionaladvertising? Do we need to revamp our sales compensation plan andoffer higher bonuses for certain products? Must we bring on moreadministrative staff to support pre-sales activities? All of theseconcerns cast a cloud of suspicion over the benefit claim.

Consider this: A good qualified prospect probably already knowshow to overachieve revenue goals by at least 15 percent. Forinstance, he could simply hire a fancy advertising agency andlaunch a national advertising campaign. But the question is: Wouldhis company be able to do so profitably? That, of course, isanother question entirely. You must resolve both types ofquestions, usually at the same time, in order to set you apart andabove your nearest competitor. Here's an example of a balancedequation built around tangible value: "Overachieve time toreadiness reduction goals by 15 percent--while at the same timereducing operational expenses by as much as 10 percent."

Anthony Parinello hosts a live Internet radiotalk show on Entrepreneur Radio that airs each Friday from 9 11 a.m. PST.

Now let's take a look at an intangible reward equationthat's balanced: "Enhance employee morale andcommitment--while at the same time containing your benefitexpenses." You must master both tangible and intangible rewardequations. Then you must add the critical element of time, sinceevery prospect you'll ever meet lives in a time-compressedworld.

How long will it take to realize a particular goal? How longwill it take to bring a particular product into existence? How longdo we have before a new piece of technology turns our market upsidedown? This focus on time means that, at the end of every equationyou balance, you must add the critical element of time. Here'sour tangible value balanced reward equation with the element oftime added: "Overachieve time to revenue reduction goals by 15percent, while at the same time reducing operational expenses by asmuch as 10 percent--and do so in less than 120 days, like ourcustomer HappyCo did."

Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important TopOfficer. For additional information on his speeches and hisnewest book, Secrets of VITO, call (800) 777-VITO orvisit

The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

Tony Parinello

Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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