Why you're not making sales


I've spoken with a lot of folks who don't like sales, but want to make a living selling their own products.

Here's the reality: if you want to earn an income from a product you've created - a web app, an e-book, an iOS app, or desktop software - you're going to put a price on it and ask people to buy.

You might not like it, but there's no other way. No one is going to just give you money so that you can achieve your dreams. Truthfully, customers don't really care about you; they're just regular people looking to solve their own problems.

It's not about you

I keep meeting brilliant people who are building products wrong.

It's not the technical aspects that are wrong; the problem is they're not starting with the customer in mind. They're starting with themselves. Instead of finding pain that people need solved, they're focused on their own needs: they want to use the latest tech, the latest framework, the latest design technique.

It's not about you.

No seriously, it's not about you. If you want a business, you can't be your own customer.

If you started your project without talking to a single soul you're doing it wrong. If you've talked to 100 people, it won't matter until you connect with a group of people who need your help. That's where you start. Not with yourself, and your ideas, but with other people.

You're not connecting with a real need

Derek Sivers tells a great story about trying to make it in the music business. He hustled for years as a musician, but his career never really took off. Then he created CD Baby, a site that allowed artists to sell their music. This was before PayPal existed, and setting up a shopping cart was difficult. The company he'd accidentally created in a weekend, took off and became a great success.

"I'd finally created something people wanted. It was like I'd written a hit song. Once you have a hit, all the locked doors open wide. People love it so much, it seems to promote itself. Don't persistently do what's not working."

Finding a hit means starting with people (as I mentioned above), and figuring out what they need.

You don't start with code, or with an idea; you start by listening to people. It's inherently difficult to find a genuine pain that others have for two reasons:

  1. We're inherently self-focused, and not thinking about the needs of others
  2. A lot of legitimate problems have boring solutions, or solutions that require hard work

You might be a photographer that really wants to do artsy photo shoots for magazines. But the reality is that there are more weddings that need photographers than artsy magazines. Doing artsy photos is a desire you have for yourself; being a wedding photographer connects with a need people actually have. You can test this easily by searching Craigslist: how many people are looking for wedding photographers? How many people want to pay you just so you can express yourself creatively in a way that is satisfying only to you?

Good products start with the line: "People need me to..." not "I want to...".

Tell me about what you're selling

Whenever people tell me they've built a new product, I ask them to tell me about it, or show me the web page.

This is where words really matter. Every elevator pitch, landing page, or sales letter basically boils down to this formula:

You (the customer) have ___ problem.

Hire my product, and you'll solve that problem.

That's it. However, that's easier said than done (I'm constantly revising my sales copy: here and here). The key is to keep it as simple and as direct as you can. The customer doesn't need to hear about your philosophy or your ideals. They don't need to hear your mission statement. All they want to know is: "Can you solve my problem?"

You need to appeal to the person with the checkbook

This is often the hardest part for creatives to swallow. When you're selling to businesses, you're not appealing to the cool, hip designer, or the brilliant engineer. Usually, you're selling to a boring manager with a checkbook. They don't care about what framework you used for your software, or about that beautiful font pairing you made. Generally they only care about four things:

  1. How will this make me more money?
  2. How will this save me more money?
  3. How will this save me more time?
  4. How will this make me look good?

I know: capitalistic, boring, pragmatic and vain. And yet while things like user experience, design, and technical architecture do matter over the long haul, they're not going to get you the sale up-front. Your value proposition is what gets you the sale; everything else helps you keep the sale (or creates repeat sales).

Still want to do this?

If you're serious about making a living on products, you're going to need to sell.

Here's what you need to do: identify a real problem, and then clearly communicate the solution to the person with the checkbook.

Justin Jackson

PS: looking for a checklist of steps you can use to make more product sales? I'm writing a book about that.

Published on September 18th, 2013
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