The Secret To Knowing If Your Product Will Be a Hit or a Flop


One of the few television shows I watch regularly is Pitchmen.  It’s a new reality show on the Discovery Channel that follows TV pitchmen Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan.  I did a blog post earlier about it here and you can learn more about it on Discovery’s site here.

One of the recurring patterns on the show is that an entrepreneur’s product will be test-advertised, it will fail and the entrepreneur will blame the failure on Billy and Sully.  They will insist that with the right marketing their product will sell and announce to the world that they are going to keep moving forward and prove everyone wrong.

While I admire the dedication, drive and character of these entrepreneurs, they nonetheless, are making a critical (and all too common) mistake.

You see, there’s a reason Billy Mays, Anthony Sullivan and the top direct response television companies will immediately drop a product if it fails with initial test advertising.  And that reason is because no one will ever buy it.  Period.  No matter what.  It’s a flop.

I actually have my own saying when it comes to this.  It’s something I teach all my students at Web Video University.  And it goes like this:

The best marketing in the world will not sell a product no one wants to buy.  But the worst marketing in the world will sell a product that people want.  And damn good marketing will sell a thousand times more of that product.

While I’d love to say I’ve always instinctively known this, to do so would be a lie.  You see, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

It all started back in 1995 (yes, the Internet existed back then).  I put up an embarrassingly bad web site, selling a book I hadn’t even written yet.  I had obnoxious flashing graphics everywhere, planes flying across the screen saying “Welcome To Our Site!” and even more that I don’t care to mention.  All in all, I think I had about two paragraphs of actual sales text.

Within a couple weeks though, I had a stack of checks sitting on my desk…all from people who had ordered from the site (online credit card transactions didn’t exist in those days…people had to snail mail me checks…seriously).  I knew I had a hit, so I cleaned up the marketing on the site and got a lot more checks.

But I didn’t learn my lesson.

I thought I always knew what people wanted to buy…simply because I thought it was a good idea.  Reality came crashing down with my next product.  I had brilliant marketing.  Everyone loved it.  I did everything right.

The first warning sign came after thousands of visitors landed on my new site…but no one bought.  I figured it was the visitors fault…and decided to go directly to the TV shopping networks.  I got an audience with them, but they all told me the same thing.  It was NO (but they also shared some critical lessons with me…lessons that have served me well ever since).

Still undaunted, still out to prove everyone wrong, I tried both direct mail and retail next.  Each were total failures.  Then it dawned on me…duh…no one wants to buy your product Dave…no matter how much you tweak this, that or the other thing.

In the end, I wound up with a garage full of a product that no one wanted to buy and an empty bank account.  But I had also learned a priceless lesson; put your product out there first, even if your marketing is far from perfect, and see if people will buy it.  If they don’t, drop it immediately and move on.  If they do, then and only then, invest your time and money in properly marketing the product.

It’s a lesson most people, unfortuantely, have to learn the hard way (like me).  And worse yet, a lot of people never learn it at all.

Hopefully now, you know better.


  • Hey Dave, you are exactly right. I’ve made the same mistakes myself. Whatever you do must be driven by the market and not by the product. Just because I think it’s a great idea means little. The marketplace is the ultimate judge and you’ve got to listen carefully.

    I love that show!

  • Dave,

    This article got me thinking about my own 1st product just getting done: “How To Grow Organic Tomatoes.” 57 secrets collected world-wide over 32 years with more than 43 pictures has taken 4 months. And, people who read it say it’s good.

    However, I wonder if it’s going to sell. Why?

    Our web site is not converting opt ins. It’s a quality blog. But, we have under 100 people. Yet we get 50-100 people visitors per day after 4 months. Some people say this is good traffic for the short time it’s been up.

    And, we have a good twitter following and PPC is what we are going to do to try to sell it for $29.95.

    It’s now well into the season and most people already have their tomato plants. This late into the season is not going to help even though there are good searches on it.

    So, I wonder how does one see if it’s going to sell to begin with?

    I know mistakes are a normal way for learning. However, one never wants them. So, how can one test this to begin with? Sell an affiliate product and see how it converts?

    Maybe! But, what else can one do?

    My wife drives this. It’s her passion. I clean up her writing and the I am the main one putting the blog together and doing everything except the research and initial writing.

    Yes, I do a ton of editing as well that digs deeply into my time for working on the other things needed for this project to move forward.

    Soon, we hope to have videos to see what this will do for us.

    Could you take a look and please advise us?

    One caution: The process for ordering the book is live but we have yet to create a sales page and video. This we hope to be done in the next few days and then start driving traffic via PPC and twitter.

    All ideas are greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

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