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The Robust Delusion: Over Selling The Product

In your day-to-day life, if someone told you that a new commercially-available, off-the-shelf vitamin pill was the cure for any illness - from the common cold through to terminal diseases - you would very likely regard the claim with skepticism. Even non-salespeople know that ‘The Tonic That Can Do Anything’ is as old as sales itself, and they’re savvy enough to recognize that the claim isn’t true. But even though we sensibly apply that understanding to miracle drugs and medicines, we often don’t stop ourselves from using the technique to sell software.

 

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The Digital Panacea

‘The Software That Can Do Anything’ is something we’ve all been sold, and probably tried to sell ourselves. There’s a certain appeal to a Swiss Army Knife Application - buy one product, never worry about needing to buy other products again. But there’s a danger in that assumption - a danger of over selling your product or solution. Anyone who has ever lost time pulling out every item in a Swiss Army Knife trying to find the bottle opener knows the frustration of too many features - if you’d just had a bottle opener, the bottle’ be open already.

A product sold as excessively robust may be seen by some buyers as too complicated. ‘Software bloat’ is a familiar problem in the tech industry, but it’s more than just a problem with feature creep. If you make your software too robust - if your knife does fifteen things when your buyer just wants a knife - you won’t be selling a product that does ‘everything’, you will be selling a product that does too much.

To understand whether your customers want a knife with one-blade or fifteen, you must understand how mature your customers are - that’ll help you see where you should be focused. It starts on your end - every new product starts in a niche state, either as an uncommon choice (a new entry in a large, existing market) or an outright niche product (a new entry in an untapped, unserved market). Your product is a plucky upstart or pioneer - it has been optimized solely to do those things that are most needed, but over time, as your product becomes more popular, you start to see segmentation. Your biggest and most influential customers start giving feedback, recommending changes and additions. TechCorp says they’d love if your product also had a corkscrew, AppInc. says a product at their level should really have a plastic toothpick instead of metal. Huge Co. insists that there should be eight more knives of different sizes - and so on.

Tracking Maturity
This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing - it depends on the maturity of your client base. As the use cases increase, you go from the plucky focused product that addresses just one or two critical issues to a utility knife that’s more powerful, more expensive, and harder to justify for smaller companies. If you’re bringing in lots of big companies that’s fine - your market maturity is clearly older, larger, and wealthier than when you started. But if those buyers are the exception rather than the rule - if 9/10ths of your clients would be happy with the niche product, then you’re prioritizing the wrong maturity level. Yes, the mature companies often have bigger budgets - but when you’re left with only one company as a client, you going to realize you abandoned your real market, probably too late.

That market, it should be noted, is not infinite, and nor should you necessarily always be trying to sell to the most number of customers as possible - if you’re selling more product to less people that’s fine, so long as you’re selling to the right people. The right people are those who find the most value in your product - and if that’s the niche market, if that’s people who just want the knife as a knife, then don’t try to oversell them on the things that don’t matter to them.

Maintaining Value

Value is in the eye of the beholder: consider your buyer’ point of view. Is a multitude of features a value-add, or will it be perceived as justification for charging extra? When you’re selling your product, are you selling everything your product might do for them: or on the solutions it will provide? If you understand customer maturity level - if understand the solutions your buyers need most and provide it - you’ll have a far stronger customer base then just pursuing the biggest, wealthiest client - by being less robust, you can make your market more robust, and better-able to withstand customer churn.

So, take stock of buyer needs - this is where win/loss analysis can be so helpful. Examine your sales strategy through the lens of ‘what does the buyer really want” versus “How are we pitching our product?” Did you lose a customer because they weren’t qualified, or because you oversold them on things they didn’t need? In other words: are for considering the maturity level of your buyer, or are you trying to sell them a fifteen-feature product when they only want - can only justify the expense of - one feature?

You might want to consider adding modularity to your features, and impressing upon your salespeople not to upsell new features by default. With a more modular product you can pull-in the smaller, niche buyer with just a single key feature, and still try and pitch to bigger companies with a larger feature list. The key is not to make the customer feel like they’re paying for things they don’t want or need. Your next win should happen because your client knows that your product is the solution to their problem, and not be second-guessing whether they got the most value for their dollar. Keep your focus on your client’s maturity - and don’t sell them features they neither want nor need.

 

 

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