Pre-selling your product or service: how secretive should you be?

Posted by Sean D'Souza on 18 Jun, 2014
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Are you keeping secrets as a technique? It's time to weigh up your options

Imagine you are at the supermarket.

There in front of you was a piece of cheese. 

It certainly looks delicious; the price is right; and it’s the kind of cheese you’re looking for. There’s just one problem: that cheese in in three layers of wrapping and you’re not sure what to do next. So you do what most of us usually do. 

You take a chance or you pass.

Pre-selling prevents clients from passing

When you pre-sell a product or service, a client is instantly interested. The reason why they’re interested is because you’re giving them a chance to “sample” the product. When you announce the project or product it creates a tiny craving in the client’s mind. Then as you make more announcements, give away samples and snippets the client is more interested. 

But instead, most of us are afraid to pre-sell

We have been told time and time again to keep our products and services a secret. It’s no use being chomped up by the competition before we’re even ready to launch our product, right? And that’s bad advice. Because pre-sell starts the wheels turning in the client’s brain. 

Think about it this way…

You’re about to cook a great six-course meal. And you have a few friends in mind who you’d like to call. You’ve also got two bottles of $100 pinot noir and in your mind you’ve gone over the intricate details of the meal. You’ve just made one small glitchy glitch. You’ve kept the whole thing a secret from your friends. You’re going to surprise them, you reckon. As you can see, this big surprise has the potential to go horribly wrong.

One friend has to go to a wedding, another has his daughter’s birthday on the very same day. And yes, some of those friends may show up or not show up at all. Now consider the opposite. Consider you’ve told them well in advance about what’s coming. And then you send out little announcements, tiny snippets. Now as the day ramps up they’re looking forward to it like they did when they were kids on Christmas day! They’re all keen, eager to go. 

Apple Inc. gets people eager to go

If you’ve noticed, Apple is easily one of the world’s most secretive companies, if not the most secretive. And yet, what do they do? They pre-sell their products and services, don’t they? They have this big event and announce their products to the world. Then notice the time lag? Sometimes it’s about three months or more before the first products can be bought. And all the time, Apple releases little bits of information that enables their clients to wait with bated breath.

And here’s a live example

Yesterday, I was waffling between buying a Canon full-frame camera and a Nikon. Now I own Nikon, so it's a little painful to switch over, to buy new filters, flashes etc. So ideally, I want to stay with Nikon.

But supposing Nikon stays really secretive about their new camera (that they plan to release in 6 months). And let's say Canon pre-sells some of their features. Now see what's happening? I'm already switching over to Canon. It's mental, not an actual sale, but the switch has begun even without the product being available. Now let's say Canon announces a date of release. At this point I'm reading up all I can about  the new camera and looking forward to the release date as if it's Christmas Day. 

Notice also that I've clearly forgotten about Nikon.

But all the while, Nikon hasn't been sleeping

They've been developing this amazing camera that is even more amazing, but guess what? They don't pre-sell. And if they're lucky, I might be patient. I might wait it out and they get my order. But on the other hand I might decide to buy a Canon instead. Now they've lost my order, but it's also made me mad. I've had to buy something that I didn't necessarily need to buy. It's not like the other camera is bad, but I would rather buy a Nikon. And because they've been so hush-hush they've made it worse for themselves as well as for me, the customer.

But wait, what about those pesky competitors?

Don’t you expose yourself by announcing products and services in advance? What if they steal your thunder away? You have to get potential clients across to your side of the fence and you'll have to decide what to show and what to keep secret. But getting a group of people interested is critical or else your product becomes like a movie without a trailer. It might work on sale day, but it might not. And if not, then your customers don't know about it anyway. 

But now your  competitors do.

And so, you struggle on two fronts

You struggle on the competitor front, as well as lower sales (because your client doesn’t know about your product or service at all until the day you launch).

But there's more. 

You'll also be exhausted!

At the time of the launch, most people have been working at their product or services for many weeks (if not months or years). And the moment the baby is born, they're exhausted. Like a mum who's just had a baby, they need some rest. But the baby's crying. It needs to be fed and cleaned.

Whenever I launch a product, I have the least energy to keep pushing the product out to market, and getting the customers to buy. It's frustrating, draining and if results don't come—very discouraging. Which is why I had to work out how pre-sell worked. And how to make it work. And that's why we can now take a break on launch day.

My wife, Renuka and I go for a coffee, then take a few days off as well

And that's not what most people do when they launch a product or service. At that point they want the sales to fly through the door, so they can relax, have a toast to all the hard work and then rest. The rest is important. There's a lot to be done once a sale is made. So pre-sell becomes pretty critical. And while it's easier not to talk about something, it's critical to do so, because without talking, no one knows.

It's a big secret.

Too big a secret.

And it has a greater chance of failure.

So let’s summarise:

  1. ​Keeping things a secret is fine, but there is a greater chance it could backfire against you.
  2. Apple is secretive: Yet, they understand the concept of pre-sell and use it well.
  3. Competitors will get to know about your product anyway. But clients may not.
  4. Ideally you want to decide what to show and what to keep. But keeping it all secret isn’t a good plan.
  5. The launch date is the most exhausting. On the day of the launch your products and services should fly through the door. If you’re just starting out the campaign at this stage, it completely drains you. 

Pre-sell is about respect.

And yes, it allows you to plan, not get too exhausted

And you, the customer get to plan and drool as well. And drool of what's to come.

Don't let some pesky, imaginary competitors get in the way!

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