Tangible and Intangible Buying Motives

People buy for a variety of reasons. Some buy for prestige, some buy for economy, some buy for simply a feel good factor. Retail buyers motives may differ slightly from those of business buyers but the overall reasons why people buy are very similar. People like to buy from people. The intensity of the motive, tangible or intangible is what makes each purchase unique.

Most buyers want you to focus on the tangible reasons for a sale; price, payment terms, delivery terms, technical specifications etc. However, there are many other intangible reasons why a buyer would gain satisfaction from making a purchase.

These intangible buying motives can be broken down into four subcategories;

The Product,

The Company/Supplier

The Customer

The Salesperson.

We will go into more detail in each of these shortly. Each of the above subcategories will have a number of individual motives which in their own way have an influence on any purchasing decision. Professional buyers will try to limit the effect these intangible motives have on their decision-making. However many of them work at the subconscious level. Professional sales people will try to influence intangible as well as tangible motives.

To illustrate how strong an intangible motive can be, imagine a business has been dealing with a strong personal friend for several years. Assuming there is no difference in tangible reasons to buy, how much discount would a complete stranger have to give to displace a strong and valuable relationship? Yes it is difficult to quantify but it is a potentially strong barrier to a new supplier.

Take some time to examine what intangibles can influence your sales and purchases in your organisation. Spending time on this could pay dividends when you are either trying to gain a new account or protect some of your existing business.


Product presentation/packaging
Brand Image
Implication of design
Environmental Impact


Understanding customers’ requirements
Company culture and policies
Local Supplier v National/International Coverage
Market Leader
Image, Reputation, Stability
After Sales Service
Well established company
Social acceptability


Ability to communicate
Personal Presentation
Integrity, Trust, Enthusiasm
Technical ability
Personal relationship
Able to define customer need


Historical relationship
Reluctance to change
Fear of change
Pride, ego, flattery
Budget pressures
Confidence – company and goods
Apparent value for money
Referrals from others
Local Loyalty
Company policy
Emotional response
Time pressures

Everyone reacts to tangible and intangible buying motives in different ways.  I would recommend that the next time you are preparing for a sales interview or pitch take a look at the list above and try to estimate how intangible buying motives are likely to influence the final decision to purchase and build these into your pitch. You might be surprised to learn that most purchasing decisions are actually taken at an emotional level.

When all things are equal people buy people

Something more! This might also help you consider areas that could influence a purchasing decision. An anagram of SPACED often helps me to categorise elements of my offering.

S = Specifications = What it is.

P = Performance = What is does.

A = Appearance = How it looks.

C = Convenience = How easy it is to access and use it.

E = Economics = How much will it cost or save.

D = Durability = How long will it last, warranty, service etc.

In any sales situation ensure you cover intangible reasons as well as tangible reasons and you are well on your way to securing that all important emotional attachment to a purchase decision!


What motivates customers to buy?

sales-10-20As a young sales guy on the road I sold chemical additives into the manufacturing industries.

I was of the opinion that everyone wanted to buy something to improve manufacturing performance. All my sales calls were based on the same premise – demonstrate how my product or service improves efficiency, reduces cost, and increases productivity and I would be successful.

For me selling was about achieving better results for my customers. In general this style of selling had been hugely successful.  All I had to do was explain how our product would improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase productivity and more often than not the customer closed for me. I usually came out with the order and the customer went on to tell everyone else what he or she had achieved by using this new wonder product. I seemed to have found the recipe to sales success.

A few months into the job I was asked to take on a new territory – one in which we already had a high market share. I had to deal with Arthur who was the key decision maker. No purchase decisions could be made without Arthur’s approval. He was not overly friendly but always agreed to meet with me. Our meetings were always businesslike. He always had the last word. He appeared interested in my sales pitch but was non committal saying he would give it some thought and that I should talk to him later. He would thank me for my time and suggest we meet again when I am back in the area.

For some reason all my best efforts seemed to fall on deaf ears. I tried all the sales techniques I knew. I went though qualification,  identifying needs, explaining the benefits of the product and even tried closing techniques much to no avail. He had even started to give some business to the competition!

After several months of getting absolutely nowhere I spoke to Richard the former territory manager who knew Arthur well. I told him the problems I had been facing.

After a few seconds he smiled at me and said you are making a fundamental mistake. Arthur is not interested in achievement. He is an influencer. He wants to be seen to be in charge. Show some interest in what he is doing and what he is saying and you will have more luck.

So over the next few weeks I put some time aside to go and see Arthur make a presentation about some new technology to a learned crowd – technology that he had an influence in developing. At our next meeting I simply talked about how interesting his presentation was and that it had made me realise the impact his developments and ideas were having on the industry. I added that I would be very interested in hearing what he has to say at the next group meeting.

At this point something strange happened. Arthur said “We are in the process of approving capital spend for a new unit which will dwarf all the other plants in the area. I want you to be involved in the commissioning phase with your products. Come and see me next week and I will tell you more”

From that moment on we had 100% market share in the area. This was a valuable lesson. I learnt that I needed to take into account the individual motivations of the person I was dealing with. I only wish I had realised this earlier.

So how do you recognise the two types?

  • Achievers

Talk facts and figures, Sets targets, competitive, keeps to time, can be abrupt, does not like close supervision, enjoys challenges.

  • Influencers

Firm/Assertive, Politically active, Likes debates, Likes to hold positions of authority,  Likes to be in control, Usually has the last word.

How do we handle the two types?

  • Achiever

Be factual, Show how he/she can be number one, be punctual, avoid time wasting activities, get to the point, focus on task not relationship, meet your obligations

  • Influencer

Recognise their authority, let them believe it is their idea, offer options they like to be seen to make the decision, ask for advice (they love this), Enter into debate but do not let them lose face.

There are many other reasons why customers buy which I hope to cover later. In the meantime watch out for the achiever and influencer. Make sure you handle them accordingly or you might risk losing the order.