Are you trying to sell a Betamax?

Some years ago, I worked for a company who had developed a genuinely great product. Technologically better than the competition. More advanced. Reduced whole-life costs. The future made real.

The only thing is, no one wanted to buy it.

No matter how much we explained, in pitch after pitch, the significant benefits of this product against its peers. What every client wanted was the simpler, tried and tested, less innovative product offered by the competition. We spent hours trying to work out new marketing approaches. Ways we could convey more clearly our product’s advantages and to convince clients why they were making (in our biased view) the wrong decision.

In truth, we never managed to. There are only so many ways you can say, “But look, it’s just BETTER!” The mass market didn’t want it and no amount of clever presentation would convince them otherwise. In the end, it withered away to almost nothing.

Back in the 1980s (and here, I betray my age) there was an enormous boom in the sales and development of home TV video recorders (VCRs to our colonial cousins). To be able to watch a film when you wanted, or to record a programme you’d otherwise miss was utterly ground-breaking and changed the way we interacted with the TV. Prior to that, if a programme was scheduled by the networks, you could watch it and if you missed it? Tough luck.

Those there at the time will remember that there were a couple of main formats of video cassette – VHS and Betamax. Betamax cassettes were smaller (for the same duration of recording) than VHS, and the recording quality was reputed to better. However far, far more people bought VHS and it completely eclipsed its superior rival. I write as one whose Dad bought Betamax on the technical merits, who then experienced crushing disappointment at the woeful selection of compatible films for hire at the local video shop. VHS lasted until after the advent of the DVD whereas Betamax vanished from public use after a few years. No one wanted it.

And WANT is the operative word here. In general, we choose to do and buy things that we want far more easily than those that we need. Check-up at the doctor’s anyone? No? How about day out at Alton Towers or a trip to the cinema?

And therein lies the point.

Your product can be as brilliant as you can conceive, but if no one wants to buy it, you’ll be wasting your time.

So think of this in the context of the products and services you offer. Have you spent years trying to sell something that you’re passionate about, but without success? Maybe its something that used to sell well but now doesn’t any more (successful though they were, no one’s buying VHS any more either). Or perhaps it’s a new product, your passion, that you’re working all hours to convince the market that it needs?

Sales and marketing are a complex and nuanced science, I know. Traditional markets are tough now for a number of reasons, many of which will eventually pass. But some simple lessons are timeless.

If you’re ignoring what your clients want and trying to sell what you think they need, you may be trying to sell a Betamax video.

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