What to do when no one comes to the store?

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Some books just won’t sell, no matter what you do. Some sell well. Click on this blank cover and you’ll go to one that indeed is successful.

I’ve had a few (well more than a few) business flops in my life.  Great idea, it seems, but no one is buying.  This can be frustrating to the ego and certainly expensive to the bottom line, especially if you are in start-up mode.

What should you do if this sort of “no one will buy the product or service” problem, happens to you?

The simplest and bluntest answer, and maybe somewhat surprising for an individual known for his ability to persevere, is to drop the bad idea like a lead balloon — and fast!  But this mind-set, when it comes to marketing, is quite unreasonable.  Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and it is rarely wise to throw good money after bad.  A worthy initiative should have some evidence of demand, some early customers, and even if you are working in a high ticket space where there is a long-lead time between initial inquiry and an actual order, there should be some life and business somewhere, measurable, in the pipeline.  (And if you are waiting for the big ship to launch, you might wisely set up some smaller projects to generate cash flow while you wait, or the large order goes through its process — or, at least, get some kind of regular “job” to pay your bills until things work out the way you dream.)

For most projects that I initiate, I conduct an early market test to assess demand.  I might set up a pre-purchase discount offer, or call around existing clients to see if they would like the product extension.  In some cases, the “demand” lands like a thud (figuratively that is), in my in-box, where a good client insists I develop a new product or service.  I’ll as a rule keep my capital investments and risk level down until I can see that early demand.

This demand assessment and research isn’t perfect, nor is it scientific.  In one case, I agreed to launch a book for a consultant as a third-party project, thinking my successful Construction Marketing Ideas book launch would be replicated.  I received some early indications of interest, especially from a cover design poll.  We launched, softly.  Next stage, to obtain some positive Amazon reviews.  The author sent out several copies to friends and associates (many of whom paid for their copies) but something very wrong happened:  He received only one lukewarm review.

This lack of response caused me some real concern.  If you can’t get your friends to “like” your book, who will.  We agreed that the book would remain in print, but I would not actively market it (the consultant is of course free to promote it as he wishes).  It has sold one copy since, despite being readily available through a diversity of print and online sources.

In another case, I agreed to publish a set of “official show guides” for a consumer/trade show organizer.  The idea seemed okay, and an early advertiser committed to purchasing a full page ad in the new publication — at a price (he proposed it) that would cover the hard printing costs.  So we went to work.  After two years, I assessed the results, and saw we had achieved virtually no repeat orders, revenues barely covered costs, and my salespeople were running themselves ragged trying to find orders to achieve break-even.  We dropped the project.

In business, we like to extol our run-away successes, and of course steady and valuable revenue-generators which don’t require too much management effort and time are always welcome.  In some situations, it may be worthwhile to pursue projects which don’t seem to be working right away — but you need to be careful:  Is the reward worth the risk and could you deploy your energies more wisely elsewhere?  In general, it is far wiser to move on than to flog a dead horse.

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