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What Are Sales Intangibles?

Repeatable and scalable sales success is one of the most significant challenges a company has to tackle. To do so, they often analyze the elements that seem to have made the success of some representatives and try to replicate them with others, with the hope of achieving the same result.

The approach itself isn’t wrong. By analyzing successes, our partner Objective Management Group defined Sales DNA — the elements that make a sales representative effective in sales. These elements allow companies to recruit a specific type of individual, but also to train their sales force to develop or sharpen particular skills.

What are sales intangibles?

Sales Intangibles are elements that, in a given context, increase the probability that the candidate or representative will be successful. For example, when a salesperson has a bad evaluation, but still performs well, and his or her leaders have no apparent reasons to explain the situation, we can say that the salesperson has intangibles.

Intangibles aren’t the norm, but they happen.

To avoid the trap of mistaking sales intangibles as criteria predictable for success, let’s review the 12 sales intangibles so you can recognize them when you see them.

Risks related to sales intangibles

Sales intangibles are:

  • difficult to reproduce,
  • difficult to maintain,
  • lead to wrong conclusions,
  • useless without the will to succeed in sales.

Risk #1: They are difficult to reproduce

Something can be predictive only when it’s replicable. Intangibles are not replicable: they are abstract factors, combinations of circumstances or personality traits that cannot be standardized.

Risk #2: They are difficult to maintain

Intangible elements arise from specific situations that can’t be spread throughout the sales force. For example, a representative who is very successful because he has the best sales territory won’t necessarily have the same results in another area where the conditions aren’t identical.

Risk #3: They lead to wrong conclusions

If the presence of an intangible element is likely to lead to success, the opposite is not necessarily exact. The presence of intangibles in representatives who are more successful than others can lead to misinterpretation of what makes representatives successful. In fact, this type of unfounded deduction created and sustains the myth that extroverted representatives are more effective.

Intangibles can’t be transferred from one representative to another so they shouldn’t be used for hiring decisions. It can be tempting at first glance to decide that a winning personality or industry expertise, for example, are success factors, but they aren’t.

When a company uses intangibles as a selection criterion, it draws the wrong conclusion. Because the starting assumption that the intangible factor is predictive of success is false, the sales recruitment criteria based on it will lead to a weak sales force.

Risk #4: They are useless without the will to succeed in sales

Sales intangibles are useless without a strong Sales DNA. Intangibles are complementary to the competencies that constitute the Sales DNA. The sales representative must first and foremost have the necessary skills to succeed in sales.

Now, let’s look at the 12 sales intangibles – their definitions, advantages and limitations – to understand why intangible elements can have an impact on sales success.

The 12 sales intangibles

  1. Having a winning personality
  2. Being an expert in the industry
  3. Offering a high-quality service
  4. Being highly appreciated by customers
  5. Having great notoriety with customers
  6. Having extensive industry experience
  7. Having a very high renewal rate
  8. Having quality and unlimited referrals
  9. Obtaining the majority of the company’s leads
  10. Having an advantageous territory
  11. Having the biggest customers
  12. Having the ideal customers

1. Having a winning personality

Having a personality that fits well with customers and favours success. At Prima Resource, we’ve consistently argued that personality is a subjective element not predictive of sales success. While the first sales intangible seems to contract our position, it, in fact, doesn’t!

What you have to understand is that an individual’s personality can contribute to his or her success, but it doesn’t guarantee it. Besides, a representative’s character may mesh one type of client, but not with another. Moreover, two similar personalities can lead to different results, since it is not possible to reproduce this personality trait with precision.

2. Being an expert in the industry

Expertise and experience are considerable assets that can bring success and recognition in the industry; however, it takes several years or even decades to acquire this status. Consequently, it’s challenging to transpose this intangible from one representative to another. It can also lead some organizations to tolerate poor sales representatives because of they overvalue the impact of their expertise on sales results.

3. Offering a high-quality service

Generally, high-quality service is the result of the significant involvement of the representative in customer service. This type of salesperson will exceed the customer’s service requirements by working very hard.

The problem is that it’s not possible to request or demand the same amount of work from other representatives. Moreover, such a representative is difficult to replace in the event of a departure, as clients consider that the service offered was the norm rather than the exception.

The risk is therefore to create a significant gap between customer expectations and sales force involvement.

4. Being highly appreciated by customers

This intangible element often goes hand in hand with industry expertise and high-quality customer service. Over time, customer appreciation and loyalty develop. This intangible can lead to good account retention but often hides a defect in the Sales DNA that can prove fatal when it is time to acquire new accounts.

5. Having great notoriety with customers

Usually, a representative’s reputation is the result of his/her long-standing presence within the same company and the fact that he or she is familiar with the clientele. In this sense, it’s a quality that takes time to develop and is therefore difficult to reproduce within the sales force.

Alternatively, notoriety can also be a springboard to success. A rep who has built a name for him or herself by creating and sharing relevant content on LinkedIn illustrates this point perfectly. Buy building a reputation, this rep can access positions he or she might not typically be able to access. Just because they can obtain high profile jobs doesn’t mean they have the necessary skills to be successful, but the fact that they are known can undoubtedly work in their favour.

Hiring “famous” salespeople is a strategy that can’t be replicated and whose effectiveness has yet to be proven.

6. Having extensive industry experience

Without being at the second intangible’s level, extensive industry experience helps to gain a particular success in sales.

Indeed, over the years, a sale representative develops more and more relationships which in turn can help them get sales. They know the mechanics of the industry, typical customer problems, the profile of the ideal potential customer and know when to be there, which gives them an advantage.

However, experience isn’t everything and asking the right questions can make up for lack thereof experience.

7. Having a very high renewal rate

In a business that allows for recurring revenues, sometimes a representative’s success stems from a high renewal rate. Low customer erosion isn’t easy to replicate.

Just because one representative doesn’t need to renew their customer portfolio, doesn’t mean that other vendors won’t.

8. Having quality and unlimited referrals

By successfully establishing themselves in centres of influence, a representative can benefit from a continuous flow of referrals. While this approach is strategic, it remains rare.

9. Obtaining the majority of the company’s leads

The rep who gets the most leads gets better results – that’s not surprising. However, it’s impossible to give the majority of leads to more than one rep, which makes his or her success exceptional – and non-replicable.

10, 11 and 12. Having an advantageous territory, the biggest customers or the ideal customers

It also happens that a representative is very successful because of the territory assigned to him or her and the type of clients he or she serves. As in the case of the representative who gets the majority of leads, it is not surprising that these factors positively affect success.

They represent a competitive advantage impossible to grant to all. Without these benefits, the representative may not be able to produce the same results.

Sales intangibles and motivation

Because of the place social networks like LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter have taken, sales managers can encourage their elite sales people to work on their intangibles like being an expert in the industry or having great notoriety with customers. Because elite reps have a strong DNA, cultivating these intangibles can yield more sales success.

They can also help with motivation. As an increasing number of top salespeople have intrinsic motivation, the popularity they gain can act as a motivational lever.


It’s easy to confuse intangible elements with elements that predict sales success.

Intangibles produce a hidden risk for sales organizations. Today, with the transformations that are occurring in sales, with sales force evaluations, sales managers must imperatively investigate the elements that generate the success of their salespeople to in turn increase the success of the sales organization and recruit elite salespeople.

Intangibles shouldn’t be used as recruitment criteria, nor should they be used as a predictor of success for current representatives. Although they can have an impact, they are just the cherry on top!

Discover the 21 core competencies of successful salespeople