A great product sells itself. What? Think again!

“Every choice you make has an end result”

– Zig Ziglar

The Da Vinci Selling Code

As everyone says…

One of the biggest challenges most startups face is getting qualified customers through their door.

Kind of obvious, right? After all, if getting customers was easy we wouldn’t see those staggering startup failure rates.

But do you know what? Some business “experts” have cracked the code on making sales come effortlessly. Or at least that’s what they claim…


By creating a great product and letting it sell itself. As they say, if you get the product right, sales will come organically – yes, by doing nothing!

And today I’d like to dive into this topic, and answer a simple question: is the claim “a great product sells itself” fact or fiction?

The Self-Selling Product Unraveled!

What’s the formula behind the “self-selling product”?

Well, according to “the experts,” you simply have to craft an awesome product that a) wow users/customers and b) makes them sell it for you…

But if that’s how it works, the question is: how do you do that?

Challenge #1: Wow users/customers

The consensus among ‘the believers’ is that in order to wow a user, you have to solve a painful problem that they really care about, but most importantly to do so in a way that not only meets but exceeds their expectations.

That’s easier said than done, but it is within the realm of possibility, right?

Challenge #2: Make the users/customers sell the product for you

That sounds quite tricky isn’t it?

So, what’s the recipe?

‘The believers’ suggest that this can only happen by either building viral mechanics into the product or having a very strong referral program.

By saying “building viral mechanics into the product,” they typically mean engineering a product in a way that will incentivize customers to tell their friends and network about it.

Shining examples of this model are Skype and WhatsApp. With both of these products the end-user has a vested interest to invite their friends, because otherwise the application is pretty much useless. In fact, the more people users know on these apps, the better value they get from the product.

The second option, having a strong referral program, is pretty straightforward: just bake a powerful referral scheme into the product!

A company that famously used referrals was PayPal, which achieved a 7 to 10% daily growth on referrals alone. How? According to David Sacks, PayPal’s COO at that time, they “literally pay people to invite their friends.

So, “the experts” verdict is clear: if you create your product intelligently by using either of these 2 options, the product will transform into its own best salesperson and do the job through viral word-of-mouth for you!

But don’t you think it’s about time to plug some reality into the mix?

The self-selling product myth busted

Why is the self-selling product a myth?

Patrick Woods already answered that question for us in one of his posts. He states: Self-Selling Products don’t exist. If they did, you wouldn’t see 2000 TV spots a day for Coke, BMW, Visa and Allstate. The assertion that your product can succeed entirely on its own merits without the help of marketing on at least some level is at best lazy, at worst delusional, and in all cases self-defeating.

You’re probably thinking: what about the experts’ viral formula?

That’s right – even though such models exist, they can hardly be replicated by the overwhelming majority of startups.


Because a) building viral mechanics into a product, the-Dropbox way, is overly complicated and incompatible with most type of products/industries, and b) referrals alone is an extremely risky strategy when you’re starting out, since it is a marketing channel over which you have very little control.

But don’t take my word for it!

Since there are a lot of top-notch companies out there with great products to offer, let’s see if they self-selling!

Twitter: 44% of their annual revenues invested in sales and marketing (2014)

Microsoft: 18% of their annual revenues invested in sales and marketing (2014)

LinkedIn: 35% of their annual revenues invested in sales and marketing (2014)

Google: 12% of their annual revenues invested in sales and marketing (2014)

Apple: 7% of their annual revenues invested in sales and marketing (2014)

– source: https://goo.gl/ytYtiB

That’s right, even household names with stellar reputation spend a sh*t load of money on marketing their products…

Even Apple’s Mac and iPhones can’t sell themselves!

Great products don’t have an “autopilot.” Get used to it!

I know, ‘startup romantics’ would hate me for saying this, but there is no way around it: even great products don’t have an autopilot!

So, on this point, I am with Paul Graham:A lot of would-be founders believe that…you build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Or they don’t, in which case the market must not exist”. Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off.

Of course, as I typically say, it’s always nice to think we’ll be one of those rare outliers, but I am afraid that some rules are meant NOT to be broken.

However, all that being said, having a product ‘that does the job’ is clearly the foundation and I am obviously not discounting its importance. At the end of the day, no amount of marketing can compensate for a bad product.

As Bill Bernbach famously said a couple decades ago, “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

The moral of the story?

Self-selling products don’t really exist!

Today’s Key takeaways

– No matter how good your product is, if no one knows about it, it simply won’t sell

– Letting a product sell itself is, more often than not, a “strategy go out of business”

– Startups take off because the founders make them take off


Ok, “guys” that’s all from me for today!

If you enjoyed today’s post, check out my brand new book, The Aspiring Entrepreneur Entry Strategy: A practical Step-by-step guide for finding a validated, winning business idea that stays true to who you are, that is currently available at Amazon.

I hope to see you soon.



“Pennies don’t fall from heaven, they have to be earned here on earth.”

– Margaret Thatcher

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