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!