Book Review: Selling the Invisible

Mike Grill // October 24, 2017

We read a lot here, a whole lot. We read older books for pearls of wisdom, newer books to stay abreast of business trends and ideas; and a whole host of other books when they are recommended. Every once in awhile there is a book that comes across our desks that is not quite recommended and not quite not. Harry Beckwith’s Selling The Invisible was one of those books. The exact words were along the lines of, “I haven’t read this one, but maybe it’s ok?”


Selling the Invisible

Certainly, there were plenty of pearls of wisdom in this book, and that was great because it was a quick read. So, in the time is money conversation, this book is definitely worth checking out of your local library.


Selling The Invisible is a book full of anecdotes and examples with a one sentence, very short moral at the end of each. Sometimes these morals are great like, “Don’t look to experts for all of your answers. There are no answers, only informed opinions.” Sometimes the morals are even a waste of the little time they took to read like, “If you need a name for your service, start with your own.” The latter moral is based off of one example of a restaurant chain that became popular in Minnesota. The former moral is a genuine nugget of wisdom. If you are relying only on experts and only on research and only on things deemed factual, then you need to step back and check in with your gut feeling. Sometimes the research is wrong or not applicable to your industry.


What Keeps Us Up at Night

The biggest issue we have with the Selling The Invisible is not that Beckwith draws all sorts of conclusions from McDonald’s, but one specific example that he uses McDonald’s for. Beckwith picks up the classic “quick, cheap, good quality” triangle and states that while two out of three isn’t bad, you can, in fact have all three. “McDonald’s,” he states, “took a radical, meticulously orchestrated, incredibly process-driven approach to delivering good quality at great speed for a remarkably low price.” This sounds great until you realize that the good quality Beckwith is speaking of is not the sub-par hamburgers or the “world-class french fries,” but the restrooms. Certainly, McDonald’s offers clean restrooms almost 100% of the time across the board, but in stating that it is their restrooms that are of good quality while the burgers and fries are fast and cheap, Beckwith disproves his own point.


You could take any service that hits two out of three of (fast, cheap, and good quality) and add the third if you look at another aspect of their business. Take a bicycle maker: they make good quality bikes for cheap and the bikes are fast; or the make good quality bikes and the fact that you don’t have to buy gas makes that aspect cheap; or the make cheap bikes fast and the health benefits from riding them are good quality.


The third leg of this simply doesn’t apply to the actual offering. Certainly, McDonald’s has a high standard for bathrooms and their food is fast and cheap, but their food is not dependant on the bathroom and the bathroom is independent of the food. The food could be slow and terrible (some would argue that it is) and the bathrooms could be immaculate, and people still might use the bathrooms.


Anyway, that sums up our rant over an issue that has been keeping us up at night.

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