The Difference Between Selling a Product and Selling an Idea

Joe Weinlick
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Understanding the difference between selling a product and selling an idea or service is a powerful way to stand out among the competition. While there are a broad range of sales techniques available for the selling of a product or physical commodity, those available when selling an idea or service are infinitely broader.

Selling a product offers less room for innovation in the marketing and sales process than ideas and intellectual properties do. Products are highly replicable. In the world of sales, when a product is created, other companies will inevitably copy it and produce their own version of the technology. This destroys any long-term differentiation between you and the competition, making it more difficult to establish brand superiority.

“Smart phones and tablets are a great example,” says Barrett Riddleberger, CEO of the sales training and consulting firm Resolution Systems, Inc. “You’ve got an innovator out there on the front line and then everyone else follows.”

The creation of a new product depends on the research and development department of a company, not on sales. The marketable value of the product remains reasonably static after it is created, since it is a physical commodity that only offers so many uses to consumers. In this scenario, a measure of power is shifted out of the hands of salespeople, marketers and advertisers, because there is only so much value they can ascribe to a physical product.

When selling a product, implementation of a service that accompanies the product is a good way to make your company stand out. High-quality customer service, knowledgeable support staff and fast installation can also serve as differentiators in the marketplace. Even so, when selling a physical commodity, one is still forced to work within certain perimeters.

The sale of an idea or intellectual property is completely different and offers a broader range of possibilities to salespeople. As opposed to selling a product, selling an idea presents the occasion for a range of tangible and intangible value add-ons. This allows for a more customized and flexible sales approach that can be customized to the client. Value add is available to any product, but in the sale of an idea or intellectual property, it is nearly unlimited. Customizing an idea or service to a client can allow you to tailor your objectives in the correct way, making your company stand out above the rest.

While sales always require a dynamic, adaptable approach, the selling of an idea or service (versus selling a product) creates an environment that is infinitely more dynamic and hinges almost entirely on a seller's relationship to the potential client. The intangibles involved in the sale of an idea or service allow a company to create brand value and stand out above the competition.

(Photo courtesy of Ambro at


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