I have only myself to blame. After all, I openly encourage comments and suggestions about our products, marketing strategy or about small business in general. But there is one comment that gets under my skin.
It goes something like, “You guys don’t have to work to sell your products because they sell themselves.” A variation is, “If I were lucky enough to get a good product like yours I would succeed too.”
It’s always in reference to the successful line of print industry products which put one of our businesses on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in the USA.
The Truth Behind Products That 'Sell Themselves'
I smile. Then I flash back to what it was like nearly twenty years ago.
• Getting up at 4 a.m. to be on the road for 3 or 4 demo appointments hours away.
• Lunch behind the wheel.
• Phone calls from behind the wheel to set up more appointments.
• Back to the office late in the day to mail a few letters and answer email.
• More phone calls.
• Off to work at my night job at a print shop so I could pay the bills.
• Home around midnight.
Carve out time the next day to work on print ads, email ads and banner ads. Plan a trade show. Set up a website. Find money to pay for trade show and ads. Create graphics for everything. Write more letters. Make more calls. Get more demo appointments. Answer technical questions. Family stuff somewhere during the weekend. Get some sleep. Repeat everything the next week.
That product, as awesome as it was and is, wasn't exactly selling itself.
Once the flashback fades I reply, “Yes, we’re blessed to have a great product to offer our customers.”
I answer that way because people who say these things to me are rarely looking for insight. So I might as well be polite.
The fact is:
Great products never survive simply because they are great.
If so, Sony Betamax would have been the standard in video rather than VHS.
Sports car buffs would be driving DeLorean cars.
Or, think 1948 Tucker, with its directional headlight, rear engine, crash-protecting frame and roll bar, disc brakes, fuel injection and more. It was an awesome car, far ahead of its time, but it only lasted a year.
So no, great products don’t just sell themselves. If you believe they do, you have a "non-marketing strategy" guaranteed to fail you and fail your great product.
Some how, some way, the customer must find out about your great product.
Once they discover your product, a lot of things must happen.
- They must feel the need for it in their own lives.
- They have to get to know you.
- They must trust you.
- Next, they must want your product.
- If they're part of a team, they must convince their entire team to want it.
- If they don't have authority to buy, they must convince the one who can.
- Finally they have to take action and buy.
Your prospect isn't going to make that happen. You are. That's marketing.
My own experience, and the history of the other big product failures I mentioned above, is proof that products do not sell themselves.
Prior to us representing these products, there had been many print industry dealers who tried their hand at it. There was always an initial flurry of sales which then tapered off.
The pattern repeated with each new person attempting to represent the product. None of them could sustain long-term growth because they believed (wrongly) that the product would sell itself.
How can you have exactly the same good product, the same opportunities, the same industry market, yet totally different results? If good products sold themselves, the first dealer would have been wildly successful and you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this article.
Do we have some deep, dark secret about how to market and sell a physical product?
What's so different? The core principle behind our marketing strategy is that our potential clients must get to know and trust us before they will ever think about buying anything. And this process can take time. The bigger the investment, the longer it's going to take.
So let’s revisit our predecessors who sold this line of products. They could claim, rightly so, that their local customers knew them and trusted them. After all, these were customers with whom they had a history.
So why was there a persistent pattern of initial success, tapering off in to low sales, or worse, none at all?
There is an ancient story about Saint Paul which sheds light on this. One day he's on the road, selling his product (Christianity) to the Athenians.
After an eloquent, very moving speech, they responded,
“We should like to hear you on this…some other time.”
Like any salesman who fails to convert, Paul left, even though all the signs pointed to a different, successful outcome.
- He had a great product.
- Some of the local influencers knew him and invited him to speak.
- They referred him to their friends and gathered an audience for him.
- They invited him into their homes.
- They even admired his oratorical skills.
Despite everything going for him, he didn't close the sale. They weren't ready to buy. Yet when Paul left, he didn't stop the relationship. That "failure" was just the beginning.
He wrote letters to the "influencers". In turn the influencers passed along all the news, ideas, and thoughts contained in the newsletters. In time they converted, literally.
Paul's personal visits got things rolling but the real growth came with the letters, with extended followup.
This concept worked two thousand years ago and it still works today.
Think about how you make a purchase.
Just as with the Athenians, you’re ready to buy only when you are ready to buy. It’s not likely that this moment of conversion will coincide with the salesperson's visit. If you don’t buy during the call, the product is out of sight the instant the call is over. And unless there is an urgent need, it is out of mind.
Although the concept of a newsletter is as old as the Bible, it took me a little while to understand the need for it and implement it consistently.
Direct mail print and email newsletters were marketing tactics our predecessors hadn't utilized and this was the critical difference. The proof is in the results.
Paul was on to something over 2,000 years ago. He found newsletters to be an easy way to leverage the work he started with individual sales calls, even those we might consider failures. Today we also have countless social media outlets to use in our quest to stay in touch with prospects and clients.
When you are in front of customers and prospects regularly, long after that first moment of contact, there’s an excellent chance they will think of you when they have the need, at their moment of pain.
So, stay in regular touch with your customers and prospects, every way you can. You'll get more customers and close more sales.
In time, folks will tell you how lucky you are to have a product that sells itself.