Make what you can sell, don’t sell what you can make. This is the mantra start-ups are forever reminded of. It is also relevant to existing businesses overtaken by time. The curse of many budding entrepreneurs is falling in love with their idea. They forget the holy grail of any successful sale- that there must be a need for the product or service. Google Play Store continues to be inundated with apps that will never see the light of day.
Some, because the marketing light hasn’t shone on them; most, however, because the designer made something he liked but no one else did (or does). On the other hand, there are savvy entrepreneurs who keenly listen with their eyes, noses, hands, mouth and ears.
They remain alert to existing problems and then convert the problems into solutions. In other words, they make something they can sell. This doesn’t mean that they nail it every time; no.
However, they, stand a much higher chance of success than their counterparts. Plus, they will most likely end up just needing to tweak the service or product to suit the user’s expectation.
Away from start-ups, the mantra also manifests itself in mature businesses that define their lacklustre performance as a sales problem-”it’s the sales people; they can’t sell”; and yet, it is a product or service problem. Can you imagine selling space in the telephone directory?
Do you even remember the Yellow Pages? Imagine how frustrating it must be selling the process of getting a sacco loan complete with guarantors to tech-savvy Generation Y?
There used to be a thriving shop in Nairobi’s CBD that specialised in selling greeting cards, business card holders, diaries and calendars. This business refused to adapt itself to the market reality. It had had an enviably successful run for 40 years until it came to a screeching halt and was forced to close shop.
Seemingly overnight, it was oh-so-much-easier (and free) to send e-cards, save contacts, diarise and look up dates on the mobile phone. Further, it’s defeatist when companies say; “We want a formidable business development person to push our product”, and yet, they are unable to concretely answer the simple question, “What will he be selling?”
A salesperson by his very nature is myopic. He must be, if he is to thrive. To support him, the product on sale must be one that can be sold. He is not wired to keep shaping the product or banging his head against the wall when he knows the problem is the product.
He will more likely start looking for the exit signs. The business must, therefore, play its part and deliver a credible product; it owes him that.
So, before you blame your dismal sales on the salesperson, interrogate your product or service first; did you make what you can sell, or are struggling to sell what you made?