Why killer products don’t sell

why killer products don't sell

Even the best products cannot overcome a poor sales process. Match your sales culture to your customer’s buying culture to successfully introduce your product and close opportunities. Identify your product’s sales needs and select the right approach to one of four buying cultures.

Why Killer Products Don’t Sell by Ian Gotts and Dominic Roswell

It has long been understood that different sales techniques are required depending on the type and maturity of the product, the industry, size of customer, and the market.

One size does not fit all when sales is concerned. In business-to-business sales, understanding your customer’s buying culture and fitting your sales approach to complement it is critical. Specifically, the maturity of the product in the minds of your customers determines which buying culture should be targeted. Software buying cultures mirror Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle phases.

Product failures

Two common causes listed for why products fail are “too early for the market” or blaming sales. In the first case, a product is perceived as missing the mark because customers were not ready for it or it was delivered “to a market which evolved too quickly.” The authors point out that all innovative products are aimed at early adopters and companies in this business “need to be world class at educating, shaping, and leading a market.” That’s a big clue to finding a remedy to the problem. In the second case, the sales team did not position the product correctly, find the right buyers, or understand the use cases and value. That’s another clue which points to the solution.

There’s a lengthy list of additional reasons for why products fail to gain adoption: the customer did not understand the product, marketing did not position the product correctly, and someone beat us to it. At the end of the day, however, the end result is the same: customers are not buying your product.

Sales methodologies

It’s not how you sell, but how customers buy

Although there are many sales methodologies, a salesperson cannot simply implement whichever methodology is in use at a particular company and be successful. The way that the customer approaches the product and category is the determining factor in how your sales process should be structured. Sales methodologies can help with efficiency, but they will not ensure your product will find its way to your customers. The authors ask: “when did you last question the fundamentals of your sales process, rather than your [sales team]?

It’s your ability to engage with the customer’s very clearly defined buying culture which will make the difference. And the buying culture is determined by product maturity.

The typical sales process steps (is there really an opportunity?, should we compete?, can we win?, is this good business?) are not enough for successful sales because of the frequent mis-match between how a company sells and how its customers buy.

The Four Buying Cultures

Value Captured

The relationship between the supplier and customer is interdependent. The pair share responsibility for the outcome of the project or initiative. An entrepreneurial spirit works well here as the customer is seeking a partnership.

Value Created

Gotts says the Value Created buying culture occurs “when the customer senses there is an opportunity but can’t describe it” and “it takes the supplier to bring it into clear focus and suggest a solution”. Thought-leadership and proactive communication are required to capture the attention of the customer and show them potential future states.

Value Added

In a Value Added culture, the customer recognizes their need, wants to find a solution, and is focused primarily on finding the right option. Here, marketing serves to drive purchase decisions which are frequently feature-based and require specific technical solutions.

Value Offered

The Value Offered culture occurs one step further down the path of certainty than Value Added. Here, the customer knows exactly what they want and “all that is left to do is decide what color it will be.” Margins are low in this phase and suppliers must be price-focused and aggressively competitive.

The Technology Adoption Life Cycle

The four buying cultures map to the first three phases of Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle. Early Adopters are represented by the Value Offered culture–it is the supplier who is leading the way and showing the potential of the new product or service to those who are willing to take risks and explore possibilities. Value Created is used to engage Early Adopters and moving across the “chasm” to provide the offering to the Early Majority. The Early Majority want a whole solution, not a partial view as is possible with Early Adopters. Value Added occurs in the “tornado” as adoption is growing. The Late Majority use the Value Offered buying culture as they are acquiring mature products in well-known markets.

Everything in the business should be focused on the correct route to the customer, based on the way that it wants to buy.

Although it is important to align sales processes to customer buying cultures, the entire organization must align itself with the customer’s culture. Otherwise, various groups within the supplier will be working at odds with one another.

Some questions to ask in order to determine which buying culture is at play are:

Is the product innovative or me-too?

Is the target market commoditized or differentiated?

Is the sales team selling a concept or a product?

Is there a partner ecosystem? If so, will it generate demand or deliver solutions?

Is competition sedate or aggressive?

Is brand important in this market or is it irrelevant?

Firstly, you don’t choose how you want to sell. The customer, or rather the maturity of the product in a marketplace, determines the buying culture at a point in time.

How companies buy

Companies go through a six-step process (IMPACT) to acquire goods and services. Understanding each steps helps understand which type of buying culture is in play at a given time.

Identify – The ideation phase involves high level goals and strategic thinking. During this phase, a Value Captured buying model is in effect as the organization is open to new ideas and is focused on strategic goals rather than solutions.

Mentor – An individual is selected as an evangelist to carry the idea forward in the organization. Here, the Value Created buying culture takes over as the supplier can begin to educate the customer on options.

Position – Here, a decision is made to move forward and allocate budget and resources to the initiative.

Assessment – The idea is assessed relative to its merits and ability to achieve the identified goals.

Case – A business case is prepared to select the supplier. At this point, the Valued Added buying culture is in play because a selection process between multiple options is taking place.

Transaction – The final purchase order and contract documents are finalized. In the final purchase phase, the Value Offered buying culture takes over as the logistical elements of the transaction take center stage.

The central idea behind Why Killer Products Don’t Sell is: align your organization to match the buying culture of your customer. The four buying cultures map to Geoffrey Moore’s technology adoption life cycle so once you understand where your product lies in the market maturity curve, you have a good starting point for identifying the required buying culture.

Small case studies are included in the book to illustrate how executive and sales leaders view this challenge. Much of the book is aimed at sales leaders and discusses sales teams and processes. Gotts and Rockwell focus on the Value Created culture as it is so critical in technology sales: it’s where you “cross the chasm“.

Gotts and Rockwell provide a number of diagnostics to help orient which culture to choose. There’s also a lot of detail in the second half of the book about each of the four cultures and each dimension of a customer’s company for that culture. They also include a view on implementation from the vantage point of several organizational roles.


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