How to sell what people want to buy

sell_what_people_want_to_buyOne of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned is that people will only buy what they want to buy.

That sounds totally obvious, doesn’t it? In fact it wouldn’t be right or fair to persuade someone to buy something they didn’t want. So why is it so hard to actually sell what people want?

The first time I sold something was when I went to an agency and told them what I could do, which at that time was training on various software packages.  They would then match me up with an organisation that needed that temporarily needed that skill. So yes, I was selling what somebody wanted to buy.

But then I saw how much of my fee was being swallowed up by the agencies and I thought I’d try going direct to businesses instead. I created some course outlines based on what other training companies were offering and…well I didn’t get very far. A few days work here and there but that was about it.

The trouble was I didn’t stop to think about…

  • Which problem I was trying to solve for my customers
  • That they’d want a specialist rather than a jobbing trainer who did a whole range of courses
  • They’d be more likely to hire me if they’d  had a chance to get to know me first
  • I was trying to second-guess their needs. I could have just asked them instead.

That doesn’t just apply to trainers, by the way. It applies to anyone selling a service or a  physical product.

Fast forward a few years and I was putting together my first online training course. Actually it was a downloadable information product called Earn What You Deserve as a Mumpreneur. This time I got to know a community (mums running their own businesses), I listened to their challenges and created an online course to help them solve one of them. Big step forward compared to last time. And yes, I actually sold a good few of them!

But I still wasn’t doing the one thing that would make the biggest difference. To ask questions.

It sounds so simple but so many people don’t do it (yes, me included). Here’s why I think we avoid asking our audience whether they’d like a product before we even create it:

We’re afraid of rejection or negativity

OK, there could be two things going on here. The first is that your idea isn’t a good one and if this is true, the sooner you find that out the better. The second is that you do have a good idea but the people you are talking to tell you it isn’t.  In this case, you’re unearthed their insecurities, envy or maybe they are just trying to protect you from failure.

So how do you tell the difference? Choose the people you speak to and your questions carefully. You may well get a more objective view from a total stranger than a family member, especially if they are the kind of person you’d hope would buy your product. As for the questions, think carefully about what you need to know, for example “would you buy this?” will give you more useful info than “what do you think of this?”.

Or maybe it’s a great idea and everyone wants to support you! You won’t know unless you ask.

We’re afraid of others copying us

There’s no shortage of copycats on the internet, but usually they aren’t the huge threat we think they are. That’s because an idea by itself isn’t usually that valuable. It only becomes valuable when it’s been executed and most people don’t have the time, skill or inclination to do that well.

We’re afraid of looking flaky if we decide not to go ahead with our brilliant idea

If you’re going to be entrepreneurial, you have to change your attitude to failure and accept it’s part of the process.

These days I ask what people want before I even get an idea for a product (here’s my latest question). And when I do get an idea, I find out how many people might be interested in it (here’s my latest survey).

Then, I create a minimum viable product –

“A Minimum Viable Product has just those features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more. The product is typically deployed to a subset of possible customers, such as early adopters that are thought to be more forgiving, more likely to give feedback, and able to grasp a product vision from an early prototype or marketing information. It is a strategy targeted at avoiding building products that customers do not want, that seeks to maximize the information learned about the customer per dollar spent. “  Wikipedia

I no longer aim to get it perfect, because there’s no point in me creating a course that’s perfect – from my point of view – if nobody wants to buy it. My main aim is to get it out there. Completion, not perfection. And even though it’s hard sometimes, I keep talking to people throughout the process.

Because however hard it may be to face criticism, it’s not as hard as working my butt off to create a product and then finding nobody wants to buy it.

Which questions do you need to ask your audience or customers ?


Please share!

4 thoughts on “How to sell what people want to buy”

  1. Hi Helen, great article and very good advice. You convinced me of this when we chatted at Britmums, and I’ve started asking questions and have a minimal service almost ready to go – thank you!!

    • Hi Jen, thank you! Fab to hear your service is ready to roll, I’m really looking forward to hearing how it goes.

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