Sales Strategy · Product Marketing

What should our company do when a great product is not selling?

Bron Davies CTO at Beakn Mobile, LLC

May 12th, 2016

We have had a unique, cutting edge product in the market for about a year now and sales progress has been slow.  What strategies should be implemented?  Further improve the product? Refine based on customer feedback?  Find new sales and marketing channels?

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

May 12th, 2016

Maybe it's a bit specific to your situation, but you're in a very tough market and everyone with beacon-based solutions faces enormous headwinds. Small retailers aren't interested because you don't have critical mass of app adoption and large retailers want their own branded solution integrated into their existing app. 

imho, this is not a sales issue but a basic two-sided marketplace issue. There is plenty written on strategies for building a marketplace.

You also have a year's experience of customers saying no... talk to them and find out why they haven't bitten. That is going to be 10X as valuable as general market research.

Peter Geisheker Digital Marketing Director - B2B Marketing - SaaS Marketing - Seeking a Digital Marketing Position

May 12th, 2016

Hi Bron, 

What are people you are trying to sell it to saying about the product? Are they telling you why they are not buying it? Along the same lines, for the people who have bought it, why did they buy it and what have their results been? Clients will often give you benefits and reasons for buying your product that you never thought of. 

I recently worked with a client where sales were slow so we interviewed several of their best clients. The information we received from the clients about why they bought the product and the benefits they received from it were very insightful to us and we created a new marketing campaign based on their feedback. The new marketing campaign is bringing in far more leads and sales than the previous campaign because now we know exactly what people want instead of assuming what we thought they wanted.

Peter Geisheker

Ulli Appelbaum Strategist, Problem-solver, Contrarian

May 12th, 2016

Hi Bron,

the first thing to do is to take a hard look at your product. It maybe unique and cutting edge but it may not be as good as you think (I made that mistake in the past). The best way to see if you have a great product is to talk to current users. Are they excited about using the product (not just Meh! type reactions but really excited) and most important are they talking about it and raving about it to others.  If yes you have indeed a great product and may have a marketing issue. If not, sorry your product isn't as great as you think.

When getting feedback about your product, stay away from getting feedback from your friends and family. They mean well and want you to succeed but they can also be very misleading and make you believe your product is better than it actually is.

Then try to find out if you may have purchase barriers (I'd love to buy a Tesla S but the price prevents me from buying one). Maybe people think your product is great but something hold them back from taking the leap. Does it require an upfront investment in hardware or something, is the problem your product solves not a high priority for them (a nice-to-have versus a must-have), do they shy away from a long term commitment, maybe they are just not brave enough to adopt a new technology and need reassurance, etc.. If you have a great product and are able to identify the potential adoption barriers it will become obvious how to overcome them.

Lastly if you have a great product and users love it but you can't break through to new potential customers, then you have a marketing/sales problem. It becomes increasingly difficult to reach people and get a fraction of their attention, even with a great product. In that case consider using influencers, people they respect somehow to reach out to them. If you use a sales team and they are not able to close the sales then go back to the first 3 points I make above.

Good luck and hang in there. 

Gina Michnowicz CEO, Co-Founder at Union+Webster

May 12th, 2016

Clarification...not qualitative research groups but in-depth interviews. Those actually do provide you a lot of insight if they are done correctly.

Bron Davies CTO at Beakn Mobile, LLC

May 12th, 2016

Ulli, I think you have really opened the can with the most worms in it.  The great product we have may not be the right product.  There is also a real sense that we don't have the credibility in the market to address the customer and solve a problem they want a solution for.  Shardul also mentioned that the message isn't clear enough.  Without a win on the messaging side within the first 30 seconds, I think that's a major obstacle that has to be addressed.  Thanks everyone!

Laura Lasiter Digital Leader in Executive Search

May 16th, 2016

My guess, if the product fills customers needs and does not take years to educate or to execute on behalf of customers, is that you have a  "sales product" problem. Solving that is vital to your success.

A "sales product problem" is not to be confused with a "sales people" problem. Many times it is however, and the sad reality is that after 24 + months, millions of dollars and a churn of sales leadership and talent go whizzing by, the same problem will still exist. You need a "sales product".  Most likely customers have been communicating that information yet it fell on deaf ears and became a "marketing" or "sales people problem"etc.

The term "relationship selling" proclaimed to be dead is needed.  No we are not talking entertainment, dinner and expensive bottles of wine.  We are talking about sales people who because of their ability to connect with customers through understanding their complex worlds etc. get them to divulge why they aren't buying.  Chances are that their consistent feedback on the same topics will yield an answer on how you package the product so that they will buy it!  And just as importantly is how you create those first interactions.  Bombarding customers with insane numbers of emails, direct mail, non-stop harassing phone calls at every level of their business etc. to "land a  meeting" also undoes a sale before there was even an opportunity. Try repairing those before you can even "land a meeting" and you have added years to the sale.

This "sales people" vs. "sales product" problem can be easily hidden in an organization by  "yes people".   That's another topic.


Joe Albano, PhD Using the business of entrepreneurialism to turn ideas into products and products into sustainable businesses.

May 12th, 2016

It comes down to this: 
  • Who is buying? 
    • What will it take to get them to buy more? 
    • How can you find more people like them?
  • Who did you think would buy who isn't
    • Why aren't they buying? 
    • Can you adjust your offering so that they will? 
    • Have you made some inaccurate assumptions that you need to adjust? 

Peter Bray CEO at Bray & Co

May 12th, 2016

Forget qualitative research groups, in my opinion a waste of time.

You have one of two problems.

The first problem is that you have a product no one wants to buy, for a variety of reasons. You need to find out quickly if people want to buy. Do a pre-launch qualification campaign, spend as much as you can on creative and media, and find out fast. Then if the numbers don't add up, try and sell your IP.

The other problem is that you are fishing in the wrong ponds. Not unusual. You need to do a real data study, workout your addressable market, and model some CPAs. If the numbers don't add up, you don't have a business. There are plenty of great products out there that aren't businesses simply because it costs more to sell them than the TCO. In that case, sell the business, license the IP to a company that has the channels already perfected.

Shardul Mehta

May 12th, 2016

Hi Bron,

I quickly looked at your home page. I see many interesting features mentioned, but it didn't come clear to me who is your target customer, what problem you're solving, and what benefit you're providing. In other words, the value proposition of your offering is not clear.

That may give a clue as to why you're struggling for traction in the market. I see features, technology, something about a loyalty club, even something about an affiliate program, but nothing that comes out clear as day that says "Hey customer X, you have problem Y, and we have a solution that will give you benefit Z that you so desperately want."

You need to get it down to a value prop as clear as that. That's the hook that will get your customer interested in then understanding the "how" part of your solution.

There are some excellent suggestions already made here by others as to how you can do this. Chief among them I endorse the idea of talking with your existing customers about why they bought your product and the benefits they're gaining, and then to prospective customers you didn't win over to find out why they didn't buy your service. Use that to interview other target customers to validate the problem you're trying to solve, see if it resonates, if there's a real market opportunity out there.

Based on that, you can determine whether it's simply modifying your messaging, or you're faced with a problem pivot, a customer pivot, or a solution pivot. Best of luck!

Kelly Kuhn-Wallace Tech startup consultant, founder coach.

May 23rd, 2016

I cringe a little whenever someone says they have a "great" product, particularly in tech. It usually (but not always, so liberties are being taken here -- apologies to the original poster) means that the product was carefully developed to take advantage of the best of the available technology, to the highest possible spec, by the smartest engineers. The resulting product will be darn impressive, but vanilla.

Vanilla means that the product is "one-size fits all." It works, but there's nothing about it that makes it work especially well for any single person, business, or industry. This makes the product difficult to market. Segmentation seems arbitrary (it is) and founders get hit hard with FOMO (again, for good reason). Vanilla also makes the product vulnerable to competition.

Many in this thread commented that they find themselves in a similar situation:a product that seems strong but isn't bringing delivering revenue. What to do?

First, if you have customers, keep them happy. Regardless of the size of your company, someone should be assigned to every customer so that the customer's needs are anticipated and fulfilled. Second, if you are in a cash flow crunch because of low sales, consider whether or not your existing customers need/want custom work or consulting. (Check your feature request log first.) In a typical situation, this work would be a distraction. In some cases, this work is a blessing. Finally, if you are able to do so, sell more to those existing customers. Are there more divisions that aren't using the product? Are there product extensions that they have not adopted but should? Make sure the customer is 110% delighted with your product and get in the game.

If you do not have customers or are in a dire financial situation, figure out what your timeline is exactly for bring in revenue. Don't skip this step. Everyone needs to know what that date is so you can prioritize your next steps.

Then you need to take a look at the great product that won't sell as if it's a widget or a service you know nothing about. This is not fun and not easy. Many teams can't do this on their own, especially if they're small and tight knit. Their DNA is coded to love the product. What needs to happen now is to start breaking it down. It is vanilla. It is melting. 

In a perfect world with a lot of time, I would recommend that you first take your product and research all of the products that are _technically_ similar. In tech, I often see products that were cutting edge when teams began building them. They don't stay up-to-date during the build and are gobsmacked when they find out another team has built a thing like their thing. This is inevitable. It is not the end of the world.

What you need to know about those products right now is not that they exist (they do, almost without exception), but the following:
  1. What is the value position?
  2. What market segment is targeted?
  3. Are the above approaches working? How well?
From that information, you'll be able to determine if the whole category is vanilla and flailing about -- or if you have a unique problem.

If your problem is unique, you go back down the customer development path. This post is getting crazy long, but if anyone wants to explore just holler. You want to determine what market segment (if any) will get the most benefit from your product and be willing to pay for it. Sometimes that will be the market segments that one of your existing customers is in. More often, it will not be one of those.

If the problem is industry-wide, you're probably in an industry that is very new or very broad. In that case, you'll need to do more work at a primary level, reaching out to potential users and understanding more about their specific use cases. You may have to make small changes to your product to address their specific needs. 

Buyers/users need to have a clear understanding of why they should use/buy your product rather than (a) the competition's product and (b) nothing. It's your job to provide the tools to get them there.