Justin Bieber and the Conceptual Sale

Selling new technology is often a highly conceptual sale, which is part of what makes it both interesting and challenging (i.e. difficult and at times frustrating).

A Continuum

One way to think about offerings being sold is a continuum.  At one end are commodities, items that are very well understood in the market, often standardized and for which the sale process is typically defined by a well understood need, price and terms.  Finding a ready buyer can take a lot of effort, but the actual sales cycle is short.  Buying gasoline for your car is a crisp process and, even though the oil companies work hard to differentiate their products, you likely are more driven about the price at the pump or convenience of purchase than features of the gas you buy.

At the other end of  continuum are offerings that are highly conceptual – they may or may not be exist when sold (new ideas, slideware), they meet new, unmet and often unidentified needs.  You both have to find a prospect that is open to your new idea and educate him/her about the benefits you are proposing – these are the early adopters that we in technology talk so lovingly about.   The sales cycle is also long here because a conceptual offering almost always entails big changes within the buying organization, if it is to deliver the promised benefit.

A conceptual sale has often has no direct competition (good) but also nothing to compare it to (difficult).  It is very hard to generate references because few people “get” your product and even fewer use it.  This is the domain of most disruptive technologies: think of the first time you used an iPhone, or your initial experience buying a book on Amazon.  Explaining its benefits after the fact it easy, less so beforehand.  Imagine trying to explain what email can do to someone from business 20 years ago: they would see no need for this electronic communications tool that you are describing – memos, and letters work just fine.

An early stage technology sale is usually closer to the conceptual end of the continuum that the commodity end.  As your business grows and as competitors enter your space, your sale will shift along the continuum to the commodity end, but you need to start out thinking high concept.

There are a few things you can do to manage the conceptual sale more effectively.  First, acknowledge that this is what you are dealing with.  Second, get your story down nice and tight: it is all about the big idea, less about features and, while money always matters, less about price.  Third, sell high.  Big ideas work best with VP level and C level folks.  Fourth, plan for a sales cycle with a large amount of education (be prepared to run trials, work your way through buying organizations, work through issues with your beta customers), i.e. one that is long.  Finally, be patient and persistent – tough to do when you have investors and y0ur CEO breathing down your neck, but still important to focus on.

Canada Day

Because today is Canada Day and because that is the country that both Justin Bieber and I hale from, it is fitting that I end this post with one of the lad’s hit videos, which I see has had 228 million (yes million) hits.  Nothing conceptual about this.


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