Hitting sales quotas and continually being profitable isn’t easy for any business – it can be far easier to have a service or make a product that sells itself.
Whether that happens through luck or hard work, some products and services really do seem to sell themselves. If you're looking to create something that the public immediately understands and wants to buy, consider these attributes that many bestselling goods and services share.
They Fulfill an Obvious Need
The products that seem to go nowhere or flame out quickly can be the ones that might be clever, but there's no really need for them. For instance, if you came up with a special cleaning solution designed only for shoelaces, you may get some excited customers, but is the world really clamoring for that?
Fortunately, in order to create a good product that sells itself, you may not need to be that ingenious, according to Jonathan Poston, senior manager of growth marketing with Artax Consulting Group in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which specializes in working with companies that develop unique products or have improved on products already on the market.
“Coming up with a totally unique product – for example, a light bulb, washing machine, or car – is usually far too risky, far too costly, and takes years to reach profitability, so most of what we're looking at are unique products that offer a layer of value for what's already been done,” Poston says.
“To make your product really stand out, it has to do something better than the rest, or it could be simply easier to use or a better design,” Poston says. “And marketing can make all of the difference because even the best product can sit unused if it's never marketed well.”
Their Value Is Clear
You want your product to sell? It can help if it's easy to explain. Not all products are. A data processing product may be extremely useful, but plenty of customers will be thinking, "Now, remind me again, what is data processing?"
If the value isn't obvious, you may want to explain that to the consumer, early on in your marketing.
“A product that sells is something that people want because it helps with something they need. Like when you buy a phone charger because your phone's battery is low – you needed it, so you got it. But a good product that sells itself does something even more special. It helps with a need that people didn't even know they had,” says Jessica Bane, director of business operations at GoPromotional.com, a promotional products company in England.
Smartphones are an excellent example of that type of creative problem solving. There was a time when nobody felt that they needed to carry a phone around with them, with a perfectly good one in the house. But once your car breaks down on the side of the road, you quickly discover how useful a cell phone can be.
“So, when a product sells itself,” Bane says, “it's not just about meeting the needs that everyone knows about. It's about discovering needs that haven't been taken care of yet.”
They Offer Something Unique
Are you actually better than your competition? Maybe you still have some work to do before that happens.
Beth Martin is a marketing design consultant based out of Charleston, South Carolina who specializes in working with luxury fashion brands.
“I've gained a front-seat view of companies with some of the most in-demand products in the world,” Martin says. “There are two main ways that companies create products that sell themselves – they either have killer marketing or view the quality of their goods as a non-negotiable.”
Martin adds, “Titans in their fields are masters of both. They don't create more product to meet demand if it impacts quality, they make their own rules regarding market trends, and their marketing is always impeccable. Companies like this stay focused on their own goals and don't waver.”
Martin suggests you consider taking a hard look at your product or service and evaluating the competition in your market honestly – and then doing everything you can to be better than everyone else.
“Consider all the little details and produce the finest creations you are capable of, whether you sell cookies in your local town or aspire to a national fashion line. The world is full of mediocrity, so survey your competition and blow it out of the water,” Martin says.
If you can get a reputation for being the best, in other words, your services or product can sell itself.
"When a product sells itself, it's not just about meeting the needs that everyone knows about. It's about discovering needs that haven't been taken care of yet." —Jessica Bane, director of business operations, GoPromotional.com
They Focus on the Customer
This is admittedly another variation of problem solving, but serial entrepreneur Peter Mann, CEO and founder of Oransi, an air purifier company based out of Radford, Virginia, says, “Instead of focusing on the product, focus on the customer and a problem to be solved. To really take off it's not about being first to market, it's about being first to product fit.”
“When you solve a pain point for a customer, they are more likely to tell someone else about it. This is how you can get a product to sell itself,” Mann says. “It's by turning your customers into your sales force and you can only do this if you truly understand the customer challenges and provide a real solution.”
They Enter the Market With a Good Name
A good product name may often be snappy or at least compelling and certainly memorable.
The real trick, though, is to try not to saddle yourself with a bad or not quite good enough brand name. If your brand's name is hard to spell, for instance, your customers may always butcher it. If your brand name is catchy but suggests nothing about the product, your customers may be confused by what you're selling. If your brand's name is too limiting, you may be limiting your company's growth.
They Sell Where Customers Are
It can be far easier for a product to sell itself when you’re selling where your customers happen to be. Josh Snead is the CEO of Rainwalk Pet Insurance, based out of Columbia, South Carolina. He will happily sell his company’s pet insurance to anyone, anywhere, but he says that one of his most effective ways for his products to basically sell themselves is to partner with veterinary offices.
“This puts us right in front of customers at a point where they're in obvious need of our services,” Snead says. “The fact that we offer a slight payout bonus to offices that partner with us helps a lot, since many of them turn that into a discount for patients who have our insurance.”
But the bottom line, Snead says, is that “if your product is the only one around when people need it, it's always going to sell itself."
Just as there’s no magic formula to make a product or a service that sells itself, the whole idea can be kind of a misnomer. Nothing completely sells itself, and you're still going to have to do some work on your end.
A version of this article was originally published on November 18, 2011.
Photo: Getty Images