What are we Selling?

Originally published in the 2009 Winter issue of the Minnesota Auctioneer magazine.

I have recently made it a point to expand my marketing knowledge by subscribing to some new magazines. While I valued my education and know I learned many time tested marketing techniques, a fresh perspective is often a great way to analyze current business marketing practices. I was thumbing through the September 2009 issue of Inc. magazine when I came upon an article by Joel Spolsky. His story is one that is familiar to many small business owners. In Spolsky’s case, he had a start up software company about 8 years ago. After releasing what he felt was a great product he tried to bolster profits in many ways. He tried “strategic partnerships” which is basically a commission based sales force, they also tried to work with a publishing giant. After the extensive expense of a lawyer to work up a viable contract the actual revenue was minuscule. Because he had a very limited budget he even wrote a column in for a mail-order catalog in trade for a half-page ad each month. Finally, after 2 years they tried something new…he made his software better. As you can imagine this had an outstanding effect, and their sales shot through the roof. Spolsky concludes his article by saying, “When in doubt, make your product more compelling. All of Fog Creek’s affiliate marketing ideas, coupons, discounts, direct-mail pieces, catalog ads, and everything else we spent time on—none of this was as good a use of our time as simply doing what we loved best anyway: creating useful software.” When Good Problems Solving Goes Bad by Joel Spolsky, Inc. Magazine, September, 2009, pg 43.

How often do we do the same? Do we spend time and money advertising when we really should be looking at how we do business? I fall for this trap all the time as a professional marketer. It is much easier to blame a tough economy or a competitor’s sales pitch than turn the magnifying glass on your own business.