If you're getting lots of compliments, but no one is buying, read this


You've launched your product, the sales team is fired up, they have the demo you've built for them, and you are getting lots of great feedback from the field… but no sales. It doesn't make sense, the customers and prospects are complimentary, but nobody is buying. What’s going on?


"Compliments are the fool's gold of customer learning: shiny, distracting, and worthless."

-Rob Fitzpatrick, The Mom Test


One of the premises of this amazing book that everyone in product should read by Rob Fitzpatrick, The Mom Test, is that people want other people to be happy. If the currency is free, they will normally tell you what you want to hear. Don't believe me? How many times has someone asked you, "Does this make sense?" and you said, "Yes" even though it didn't? Likewise, Fitzpatrick states, "People will lie to you if they think it is what you want to hear." If you walk in, show off your product like you would your baby pictures, and then ask what they thought, they'll be super nice to you and give you some compliments that you can take back and share with the product team. You could consider it a win, but they’re just trying to make you happy and get you out of their office so they can get back to their problems.


"Anyone will say your idea is great if you're annoying enough about it."

-Rob Fitzpatrick, The Mom Test


Here are two reasons why this might be happening. One is hard to fix and one is easy to fix:

  1. Your product doesn't solve a problem anyone cares enough about to buy. Fitzpatrick talks about many reasons why we've all ended up here in the past (or present):

    1. You've asked people what they think about your product idea and you bought the compliments you received.

    2. You're addressing a problem that exists, but not one that's painful enough for anyone to want to pay to solve (i.e., you've designed a vitamin, not a pain-reliever).

  2. Your product, instead of your customers, is the star of your show.


You're not addressing a monetizable problem

If you think you are suffering from Problem #1, you have your work cut out for you. Go pick up a copy of The Mom Test, give it a quick read (it's only ~130 pages), and go on a marketplace listening tour to figure out a more painful problem to solve.

Your content isn't communicating the value of your product to your marketplace

If you are suffering from Problem #2, congratulations, you have a Classy Problem! I call it the Hudsucker Proxy Trap.

Warning: Read no further if you haven't seen The Cohen Brother's 1994 classic starring Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Paul Newman(!). Take the afternoon off, rent it on Amazon Prime, and then come back and keep reading.

“You know, for kids!”

“You know, for kids!”

In The Hudsucker Proxy, Tim Robbins wanders around trying to explain his great idea by showing a picture of a circle and saying, "You know, for kids!" like everyone should understand what the heck he was talking about. Of course, no one could understand him, and everyone basically considered him an idiot.

Eventually, he is able to manifest his idea as a world-famous kids' toy that becomes the latest fad. Sales take off. He makes millions of dollars, gets the lady, and lives happily ever after… or something like that (it's been a while).

The point is, no one could see the value of what he was proposing because he was doing a bad job of describing the value. Applying this to your challenge with your customers, the sad fact of the matter is, it's not them, it's you.

Literally shift your demo script from focusing on your product as the star of the show to focusing on your customer as the star. Your product is, at best, a supporting character and probably more of a prop.

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Block off some time on your calendar.

  2. Buy some of your favorite snacks (no need to suffer!).

  3. Lock your door.

  4. Pick your best persona.

  5. Whiteboard their story. Draw out the problem that is causing them so much pain to make them willing to part with their budget.

  6. Now, tell their story again, this time using your product as a prop to achieve their goal without all that pain.

  7. Storyboard it out…

    1. Give your sales team a short script describing your persona's problem and the pain they are suffering.

    2. Make that script the opening of a demo that shows your persona's workflow with the problem magically gone and your product in scene.

Why you got here:

Too many product marketers and product owners put together demos that tell the story of their product. This limits your customers to those who can make the mental leap from understanding how your product works to how that functionality can help them. Most people aren't going to care enough to give you that mental time. They are going to patiently wait until you are done, thank you for your time, noncommittally give you a compliment, and then forget about you entirely once they shut down their Zoom window. Harsh, but true.

Why this works:

Show your customers how you can remove their pain. Lead with this. Tell their story in this beautiful pain-free future that you can manifest for them. If you can show this future state convincingly enough, they will ask all the questions they need about your product to understand it in more detail. You will make millions of dollars, get the person of your dreams, and live happily ever after… or something like that.