The Most Difficult Sale Of All Is The First

Ad-land’s irrepressible Rory Sutherland, musing about a strangely absent widespread UK take-up of solar panels;

“What’s patently clear is that maybe the most difficult sale of all is the first solar panel on the street.

Once there’s one solar panel up there the second sale becomes easier.

And the third fourth and fifth sales almost become a breeze.

Which has really important implications for advertising because it may mean to be your advertising is in fact most effective when it appears to be in terms of cost per sale, most costly.”

The burning issue to me here is twofold.

What are the implications of this, and how do we get that fundamentally vital first sale?

Well. Let’s leave for another day the fact that salesteam trailblazers should be remunerated and incentivised differently. And just as hunters and farmers are separate breeds, these are not likely to succeed if burdened with other goals.

Now. Before anything else, alerting the counters of beans to the very fact that this ‘counter-intuitive’ imbalance between cost per sale and sales effectiveness even exists is paramount in any new product launch.

Some may scoff. Yet give them numbers to play with for you.

How about you deliberately split your campaign out. Into pre-first sale(s) and the rest. With sub-divisions if need be. We even have the undisputed maths of a model to provide for guidance. The normal distribution bell-curve as mapped onto ‘technology adoption’. Eminently applicable to many new commercial b2b products, tech or otherwise. Find those ‘visionaries’ and ‘enthusiasts’.

You could introduce this even earlier in your ‘cost planning’ with them. Especially if you understand beta test customers with the array of options for co-development partners.

Index, Anchor, Footprint, Lighthouse.

All types of first customers. Each with different traits. Every one requiring their own, slightly unique acquisition tactics.

And remember, that a true first customer is one paying for the privilege.

How are you gunning for that prized buyer number one for your latest launch?


As an aside, he went on to suggest;

“When we discover things that are counter intuitive they’re hugely valuable

a) because your competitors don’t know them, but

b) because even sometimes if your competitors don’t know them they’re culturally incapable of copying them because they’re so wedded to a logical financial model of the world that they’re incapable of seeing it through a different lens.”

Which is great news when we can persuade our purse string holders to the new truth. As it means we’ll steal a march we’ve all been after for ages.


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