You’ve built a beautiful dream around having a successful business, making a living at your passion. You’re fired up. You’re ready to make your own decisions, be captain of your own fate.
You’re building an audience and boosting your credibility with great content.
You’re capturing that audience with an exceptional email autoresponder, to keep building loyalty and authority.
The problem is, you gathered your courage and tried selling your wonderful product or service … and there doesn’t seem to be anybody who wants to buy it.
You’ve got No-Sales Syndrome
And it sucks. A lot.
The truth is, just about every business gets hit by No-Sales Syndrome every once in awhile. (Pixar started out as a complete bust, mainly because they were trying to sell an image-rendering computer that no one wanted to buy.)
But there is a cure.
Why do some fail and some thrive?
Jim Collins’ terrific book, Great by Choice, is all about the key differences between the companies that thrive in tough times, and companies that sink.
You might think the difference is innovation, or getting some juicy VC money, or even plain-old luck.
But it isn’t.
In fact, the companies that survived tough times were actually sometimes less innovative, and had objectively worse luck.
Great by Choice is full of advice that applies to businesses of any size — even if that business is just you and your laptop.
Today I want to give you one of Collins’ most important bits of advice, something you can use this week to bust your way out of No-Sales Syndrome.
The difference between bullets and cannonballs
Here’s a quote from Great by Choice:
Picture yourself at sea, a hostile ship bearing down on you. You have a limited amount of gunpowder. You take all your gunpowder and use it to fire a big cannonball. The cannonball flies out over the ocean … and misses the target, off by 40 degrees. You turn to your stockpile and discover that you’re out of gunpowder. You die.
Lots of companies, both big and small, do this.
They put everything on one roll of the dice, risk the whole enterprise on a single big, risky project.
In fact, this is exactly why the average person thinks business is so risky.
The stereotype (shared by some reckless CEOs) is that the prize goes to the boldest business.
But that isn’t true.
The smarter option — the one that Collins found consistently led to a much more resilient business — is to fire some bullets first. Fire a few, see where they land, and then adjust your trajectory.
You use your light ammunition to figure out how to hit what you’re aiming at. Then you load those cannons.
In business, this means you don’t roll out a big, risky project until you’ve collected lots of data by launching smaller, lower-risk projects to see works and what doesn’t.
Don’t try to sell what your market doesn’t want to buy
The most common — and painful — mistake I see marketers make is to develop a product that no one has any interest in buying.
This is why so many inventors spend decade after decade without any commercial success.
They’re passionate, yes — but they’re passionate about the product — about their brilliant new invention that they’re sure the world needs.
A smart businessperson falls in love with the market, not the product. Fall in love with your buyers. Watch them, listen to them, cherish them. Figure out ways to surprise and delight them.
Famed direct marketer Gene Schwartz wrote that copywriting was like sailing a ship. Your market’s desire for a particular product or service is the wind that propels that ship.
A smart marketer can take a faint wind and make the best of it. And in the internet age, you can collect bits of breeze from all over the globe, and combine them to make a strong business.
But even the best marketing technique will only take you so far. The desire has to be there before you start trying to sell. Where there’s no wind, there’s no movement.
That’s actually why the very first thing our students work on in our flagship course Teaching Sells is to identify a profitable market. Not a market of enthusiasts or fans — a market of buyers.
What’s a buyer? Someone who deeply desires a certain result, and will pay to get it.
Step 1: Get analytical
There’s a lot of analysis you can do to unearth a solid market.
The simplest is just to watch for a topic with lots of competitors. The “blue ocean” strategy, where you look for a market without competition, is attractive in theory, but more often a lack of competitors means a lack of buyers.
Instead, look for markets driven by the basic human desires that never change. People will always look for sex, status, or a really great lunch. They want to look cool, to feel safe and secure, to create better relationships with their kids or spouses, to make themselves more attractive. We always have wanted those things, and we always will.
Then you figure out where the holes are.
What are the slivers of the market that aren’t being served well? What’s missing in the other offerings, good as they may be? What can you do that’s different in a valuable way, in a way that better serves a slice of the market?
Innovation is great, if you’re innovating in the right direction. Instead of dreaming up a product or service no one has ever seen before, innovate better ways to serve a robust market.
Step 2: Get empirical
But analysis only takes you so far.
There are all kinds of business ideas that should work … but don’t.
Maybe you’re not a great fit for the market you’ve chosen.
Maybe you’ve figured out what your customers need, but it turns out it isn’t something they want.
Maybe what worked last year (or last month) doesn’t work today, for any one of a thousand reasons.
There’s one way to find out if your idea will work or not, and that’s to fire off some bullets and see if they hit a worthy target.
Last year, with some help from Authority Blogger Chris Garrett, we added a module to Teaching Sells on the “Minimum Viable Product.” It takes everything our students learn about developing the right product for the right market, and it teaches them to create a bullet first, before they build a cannonball.
Step 3: Create a bullet and fire it off
You don’t have to be a Teaching Sells student to make this work for you.
This weekend, put together the smallest product possible that will deliver a benefit for your customer. It might be an 8-page special report. It might be a 30-minute webinar or teleseminar on a basic concept.
Whatever it is, make it good enough to pay for. (Keep in mind what Jon Morrow told you earlier this week — you want to deliver ten times as much value as you’ll charge.) Since it’s going to be a small product, the price will be in line with that.
Not a lot of risk for you, not a lot of risk for your audience. And it’s a priceless way to gather intelligence about what works and what doesn’t. What your audience values enough to pay for, and what they don’t.
Put your new product out for sale next week. If you wait any longer than that, you’ll get sunk in analysis paralysis and a week will turn into three months. Rather than getting it perfect right now, let your audience know it’s a beta version — that you guarantee it will have some flaws.
Create a simple landing page, then email your list, write a blog post, get your friends to talk it up on Twitter or Facebook.
You’re not trying to pay the mortgage with this one
You’re just firing a bullet.
You’ll learn more, and gain more confidence, in putting a simple product together this weekend and launching it next week than you would in five years of market analysis. And you might even come away with a few dollars in your pocket.
And if you don’t sell a single copy? That’s good data.
Figure out if the problem is the product (doesn’t solve a problem people care about), the market (cheapskates who think everything should be free), your list (if you have 9 people reading, it’s going to be hard to hit that first sale), or your copywriting technique (here’s a quick reference for a simple technique that should give you at least some results).
Then start at step 1 and do it again.
Don’t launch a cannonball until you’ve fired enough bullets
A single Minimum Viable Product may give you enough data to build a much bigger project.
Or, more likely, you may need to fire some more bullets.
Try different angles. Different customer types. Solve different levels of problem (simple, moderate, or really ugly). Take different approaches. Try getting out of your comfort zone a little with a stronger copywriting approach.
Figure out who you like to sell to. Who really gets you. Who benefits the most from your product or service. Who actually has the money to spend on what you’re selling.
Then, observe. Watch what people go for. (It’s often very different from what they’ll tell you in a survey.)
Keep track of your conversion rates (what percent of people buy) and your total profit. Keep working to nudge those two numbers up.
This isn’t always an easy process, but it’s a straightforward one, and it will reveal the cause of your No-Sales Syndrome.
Fixing it can be tricky, especially if you’ve been trying fruitlessly to sell to a market of non-buyers, or your topic just doesn’t have the potential to support your business goals. You’ll need to have the courage to face the facts, and make the changes you need to make.
But knowing is, in the end, always less painful than not knowing. Keep firing bullets, keep observing, and keep getting better. Do all those, and you truly can banish No-Sales Syndrome for good.