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So You've Got A New Product

By Bob McElwain
Posted Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Recently a fellow called me twice about a week apart. He wanted me to help him introduce a new product via the Web. 90% of his end of the conversation was about the wonders of this new wonder.

He ignored most of my questions, rushing on about some grand new study that "proved" the worth of his product. "A true boon to mankind," he commented at one point.

He never once asked how I would suggest selling it. When I demanded to know how he planned to get the word out, he tended to respond with, "Once they hear about it, they'll buy."

While this may be so occasionally, I'm reminded of a fellow on the Web some time back who was literally trying to give one hundred dollar bills away. I don't recall the details, but I'm not sure he was able to deliver even one.

Changing People's Minds Is Next To Impossible

The point in this, one I believe is irrefutable, is that it's tough to convince surfers about much of anything, for it amounts to trying to change their minds. In general, people do not rush to embrace new things. They prefer the products and methods they are accustomed to.

Don't believe it? How much money was spent convincing housewives that laundry from a gas clothes dryer is cleaner than that allowed to dry in the open air on a clothesline?

Want more? How long did it take for the general population to abandon the horse and embrace the new fangled horseless carriage?

The Fizzle Rate On New Products Is Ultra-High

Over the years I've often been asked to help market a new product. I have always said something to the effect that, "Sorry, but I've had no experience in this kind of marketing. I'll have to pass." Actually, what I've wanted to say in all cases is that you're not going to make this happen. The odds against success are overwhelming.

Introducing a new product is best done offline using traditional approaches. And this take bucks. Major bucks. If you are fortunate and find a distributor even slightly interested, the first thing he'd want to see is a copy of your advertising budget and plans for the campaign. Unless you have a million or so behind it, the distributor will turn you down.

Nope. Your best bet with a new product is to sell it to a firm that knows all about marketing new stuff. Settle for a royalty, and get on to other things.

Don't Be Fooled By Numbers

One of the common and persistent misconceptions among those starting on the Web is that with all those millions of surfers, out there, some are bound to find my site. Enough, in fact, for me to be successful.

There's just a touch of truth in this. Maybe that's why this myth continues to dominate so many. But the fact is you can't wait for folks to find you. You must find them.

While it's true you only need to connect with a few, it's difficult to do. Even with a product in demand, many are not able to reach enough potential customers to make it happen.

There Is No Walk-In Traffic On The Web

Here is yet another difference between doing business off and online. If you open a store featuring an unknown product, you may get enough curious passer byes to at least get started. Provided, however, you are located in an area that assures lots of foot traffic. A shop in a manufacturing area or on the edge of town, won't do.

And neither will a website. Not enough people are going to wander in off the "street" to make a difference. Quite the contrary, you're going to have to find your potential customers wherever they may be. You must make them an irresistible invitation to visit. Then make an offer they simply can not ignore.

This is a sufficient challenge for most. Add in the need to demonstrate a need for a new and untried product, and your chances of success are virtually zip.

One Path

If you simply can not restrain yourself from seeking to sell a new product on the Web, the following gives the best chance for success. However, few are able to pull it off. Essentially it amounts to building your own distribution system, rather than buying your way into one that exists.

Put up a sharp website that sells like crazy. One that includes all the information anyone could ask for. Include an extensive Q&A page, and your testimonials. Now stop. Go no further.

Don't even think about promoting this site. Nearly every dollar spent will be wasted. The purpose of this site is only to demonstrate to other webmasters that you are seriously selling your product. Further, some may choose to reference the site, or content on it.

Hit The Search Engines Hard

Find every possible site on the Web that might be able to sell your product as part of their existing line. If it makes a car run better, hit the auto sites. If it makes for healthy living, hit the health food sites, and possibly sites into alternative medicines.

Sell Harder Than You Ever Have Before

Approach each site individually with total professionalism. (None of that junky I-visited-your-site stuff.) Make them an offer so profitable they can't refuse. Offer only list prices on your site. Invite others to discount heavily. And keep the wholesale price low so there is sufficient profit even in discounted prices.

Offer drop-shipment support. That is, the site takes the order, forwards what they owe to you, and you arrange shipping. Also be prepared to provide your product on consignment. That is, they sell what they can and return the rest. Note it doesn't matter what you prefer. It's all about getting others to sell your new product. So make it easy for them to do so.

Be Sure You Have A Budget That Can Handle This

It takes a lot of time to set up such a distribution arrangement. And there are costs. The phone. Misunderstandings to be cleared up. Costs of manufacturing so that you have stock on hand and enough to place on consignment. Loss of merchandise due to damage.

But both costs and time are minimal, compared to trying to reach surfers directly through your new site. In very short order, you'll know whether or not you can sell your product at all. And you'll likely find there's no better path to profits than to expand the distribution system you have created.