Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It can be hard to sell something...

A friend has come up with a new service -- one that sounds very useful. Since I don't even own a cell phone, I can't really judge demand, but it seems like the kind of thing that would work.

But how to sell the service?

(By the way Jared, come in an we'll set up a link.)

But I think coming up with a better mousetrap is only the beginning.

He's already running into the Catch-22 with the media. If you approach the media for publicity, they will try to sell you an ad. If the media approaches you, you get an article, for free. Not only is it free, but it's much, much more effective. Most of us are blind to ads these days, but an article is actual news.

More to the point, though, is that I have always found it pretty hard to pry money from people's wallets. They want to hang on to their money.

What I've found is -- much like the media -- if it's the customers idea, and they come to you with the intention of buying, then you have a chance of selling.

The only other way I really can sell anything is to have an item in stock that -- while they're browsing -- they remember they heard about, or remember they wanted, or that they have been looking for.

In other words, my solution to the problem of selling is to have as much stuff as I can, have it at a reasonable price, and have a location that people either seek out or stumble across.

And I always remind people who are trying to sell personal collectibles and having a hard time of it, -- "Look, I'm here 50 hours a week, and I feel lucky sometimes to sell one thing out of hundreds."

I think there are a couple of basic misapprehensions about a store works.

A. That you stand at the cash register and people come up with stuff and buy it.

B. Or that you show them really cool stuff and they'll immediately see its charms and buy it.

Impression ""A" is fueled by a couple of things. One -- they see T.V. shows and movies all the time where the store is bustling and people are merrily buying. Ads especially try to give this impression.

Two; they themselves tend to show when the majority of people are showing, thus giving a skewed impression of the level of sales. The minority is there when a minority of stuff is selling, right?

Impression B is sadly just wrong. It's actually pretty rare that you can sell something to a customer that they aren't already inclined to buy. Oh, you get impulse sales, but mostly in the cheaper range -- and mostly because the customer who is visiting has already shown that he's interested in your kind of store by coming in.

But talking someone into something they've never seen or heard of is nearly impossible.

My friend's problem is that he has to reach out to try to sell his service. And he's going to hit resistance BECAUSE he's trying to reach out and sell his service. I don't know that he can do what I do, which is have a location, fill it with product, and wait for people to come in and find it.

There are "guerrilla marketing" ideas galore; they may save money, but they are hard work. You get lots of resistance, so you have to be clever and subtle. Or you do it by blunt force Cold Calling, and expect a 99% rejection rate but live off the 1%.

I think for my friend, the trick will be to get at least one or two organizations to try his service. I don't think I would advise giving it away, necessarily -- I suspect that sets a bad precedent -- but certainly making it easy -- barter, or generous terms.

And then hope for word of mouth.

Once he's established -- then he can have a storefront (website) where they come to buy or browse.

Looking back on Linda's store, the Bookmark, it took a couple of years before enough people gave her store a looksie. It's has broken even from day one, debt free, but that was because we were very savvy in setting it up. But to reach a truly profitable level took a couple of years.

Pegasus Books, you might say, took 20 years, but was complicated by blown up bubbles and mistakes.

All in all, you usually can't just put something on the counter (or on the net) and expect to sell it easily. Just as likely, it will gather dust, or sell out and not be able to be replaced, or sell just enough to keep you in business....

6 comments:

RDC said...

It depends on a number of things including:

What is the target audience (individuals, businesses, what age group, etc.) Depending upon that the answers can vary wildly.

What is the business model (how does he expect to make a profit)? Again the answer can vary wildly.



If it is something where the target audience is individuals and a relatively young age group (since it appears to be phone related) then you have an audience that is used to business models that quite often involve free services depend upon critical mass and viral marketing approaches where the revenue is very often heavily back end loaded.

Ideas are a dime a dozen, the key to success is not having a good idea it is being able to implement.

jared said...

Hi Dunc, thanks for talking about this. Hopefully it will give me some good ideas to find my "sea legs".

http://www.agapage.com
http://www.acloudtree.com/agapage-a-web-startup/

My strategy from this point is as follows. But it will be good to type it out.

- I have two early adopter organizations and I know that getting their name on the product will do wonders

- Make it EXTREMELY clear that the 30 day trial period requires no Credit Card. So it is truly free. Agapage is incredibly sticky, to where once someone starts inputting data, they really wouldn't want to leave because A) my price is insanely low B) it would be a lot of work. This is kinda like you and Blogger.com, sure you could move your blog, but then you are happy with the product, you have a ton of time investment, so why would you.

- I still need to come up with a way to creatively rank high for organic google search requests. I have some ideas that I am cooking. We will see what comes of them.

- I find it interesting that you and I are now in the same sea (selling wares) but yet different boats (tangible vs digital). There is a lot of crossover as I have been going back through your old writings. Yet there is also some extreme divergence. It will be a fun visit for sure, when next I stop by.





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mugmkr said...

Anytime I'm asked how I market my business, I refer them to Seth Godin's book entitled "Purple Cow". They have it at the Bend Public Library.

In a nutshell, you need to first have a "remarkable" (his word) service or product. Then, you need to make it so that the people that are already looking for that service or product can find you. The key is "The People Who Are Already Looking For that Service Or Product". (You would waste your money paying for a Superbowl ad. None of the people watching the game is looking for your product or service.)

Then, work like hell to continue to have a remarkable service or product.

Word of mouth is the best advertising, and it is free.

RDC said...

Jared,

I spent some time thinking about your service last night. It is basically the equivalent of an email distribution group, only for text messages. It probably would not appeal to most large and medium corporations, because they tend to work around e-mail with smart phones (blackberries) and already have methods for reaching large numbers.

so the potential market would be smaller organizations that don't have that infrastructure, individuals, and non-business organizations. It would seem to have the most appeal to groups such as clubs and volunteer organizations that do not what to spend time on the infrastructure. Your initial target of churchs would also fit into this category, but are only a small part of the potential audience.

A couple of suggestions. You might look at two levels of service. The first is a free service, supported at some point by targeted advertising with a maximum group size (lets say 10). Something that would be useful for individual families.

The second class would be a paid for service that would have a larger group size and would have additional features.

By the way do you have a feature where someone can send a text to a number and then have it be rebroadcast to a group. If not, it might be a good add-on for the paid service.


Now one way to get exposre would be to pick some events, such as a festival, or a bike ride. Something that gets a lot of publicity. Those type of events require volunteers and do not have established infrastructure. As such a text communications system might be something they would find attractive and would give you needed publicity.

RDC said...

One additional note. This kind of service is also heavily used in marketing and giving updates from airlines, package delivery, etc.

I assume that you have doen a search on competitors in this space and how they are targeting their services.

Some examples

clubtexting
bulksms
clickatell

jared said...

@mugmkr

I have heard of that book and need to read it.

@RDC

Yeah man, I have thought about the multiple tiered approach. But I am looking for valid feedback from a prospect.

"Hey Jared, I love the idea, but $39.99 is just too much for our small town church. Would $X be ok?"

Also interviewing clients who actually use the software about what they need will be the biggie.

My big difference now is in how a organization manages people. I approached the project from a low desire/low time angle. In growing up going to church, I know intimately how hard it is for the people who work their to find volunteers (don't worry, the irony is not lost on me). So by having the members of the organization input their own information, that should save some time. Also, Agapage is not geared towards mass marketing currently (though I could pivot), it is geared toward targetted group communication with infrastructure readily available. So if I can save people time and money, there is a serious value add I hope.

Also, I don't want to play in the same league (more like can't currently) as the vendors you described. I will bootstrap my service with the niches which are usually the people who get left out.

The good thing is, being a sole proprietor, I can rapidly pivot at any point.

As for the feature you described, I could build it. I'll wait to see if the churches/organizations who are/will be using this service request it.

-thanks for the input
jared