When tech giants stumble, the entire tech world feels the resulting aftershocks. Sometimes, the tremors can even reach the distant shores of sales and marketing land, giving us not only fodder for the watercooler but also valuable life lessons that can help us become better at what we do.
Behind every botched rollout or embarrassing recall is a nugget of sales wisdom waiting to be cracked. In today’s post, we’ll dissect five failed products from tech’s “Big Five”–Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), and Microsoft–and find out what we can learn from these titans in their lesser moments.
Amazon Fire Phone: Adequate is not enough.
In 2014, Amazon unveiled the Fire Phone, marking the online retailer’s entry into the highly-competitive handset market. A little over a year later, the company completely ceased selling its debut smartphone amid dismal sales and steep discounts.
The Fire Phone, as many industry watchers now believe, is arguably Amazon’s biggest flop. The phone had “adequate features” such as 3D graphics and the Firefly function which allowed users to scan and identify thousands of items. But, to carve out a decent share in a market long dominated by Apple and Samsung, adequate simply wasn’t good enough.
In B2B selling, it’s highly unlikely you’re the only provider your prospect is looking into. So, don’t just go for a checklist of features when comparing your solution with that of a competitor. Dig deeper into your organization’s characteristics and relate these to a story of how you’re uniquely able to deliver a benefit or solve a pain point.
Apple Newton: Timing is everything.
Today, most people equate the Apple brand with quality and design excellence, but it can be easy to forget that Apple has also seen its fair share of products that ended up as spectacular flops.
One of these was the Apple Newton, a pioneering device in the personal digital assistant (PDA) space, released in 1993. The product was considered visionary when it debuted, but it suffered from a number of major flaws, including its unreliable handwriting recognition software. The Newton’s marketing materials touted the handwriting feature as its main selling point, but character recognition was still in its infancy when the product was launched. Still, when the technology finally matured enough, the Newton was outclassed by newer and smaller PDA devices.
Although a commercial failure, the Newton’s impact can still be felt today. The idea of making the computer fit in the palm of your hands originally took shape in the Newton. It was quite plainly ahead of its time. So, if a prospect says no to your pitch today, don’t write him off as a lost opportunity right away. It’s just probably not yet the right time to consider your offer.
Facebook Home: Fit doesn’t mean intent.
As the youngest company on this list, it’s understandable that Facebook has taken quite a number of product development missteps in its 13 years of existence. But few are more worth reviewing than Facebook Home, a Facebook-focused user interface designed to replace the home screen in a variety of Android devices.
Facebook Home was launched in April 2013 and immediately garnered poor reception. Users complained that Facebook Home’s almost-exclusive focus on Facebook got in the way of other apps, while others voiced privacy concerns over its level of access on user data. Apart from releasing a couple of updates later that same year, Facebook has all but pulled the plug on the product in the face of low adoption rates.
Anyone in B2B sales can look at the entire Facebook Home saga as a cautionary tale on misreading prospect fit for purchase intent. The main thinking behind the interface was to “make it about people, not apps” since people mostly do social networking on smartphones. Facebook Home’s designers mistook this aspect of device usage as a signal that Android users were willing to give up widgets, docs, and app folders, so the design team left these features out.
In B2B selling, fit and interest are only the starting points when determining whether a prospect is going to turn into a buyer. You need to look at prospect intent (e.g., prospect activities like searching by company name, requesting a product trial, viewing pricing pages, etc.) before aiming for a close.
Google Glass: Always be following up.
Inducted into Sweden’s Museum of Failure last month (alongside the Apple Newton), Google Glass is either a world-changing idea that has yet to see its time or a footnote to the company’s never-ending innovation story. Either way, Google Glass was a massive flop, and there’s a ton of reasons why it failed–including a basic marketing mistake: not following up.
Google Glass’s marketing slip-ups began with how the company decided to initially promote the product, and these gaffes continued throughout much of the device’s brief commercial life. Before being made available to the general public in May 2014, Google Glass units were sold to qualified “Glass Explorers”, a select group of early adopters and celebrities that acted as the product advertisement.
At first, this appeared to be a brilliant PR stunt with Google generating a decent amount of buzz around the product. But Google Glass’s marketing team failed to capitalize on the initial product hype by being unable to clearly communicate what Google Glass exactly was. If you ever try to drive awareness through PR, the only way to turn this into demand is to follow it up with a clear value proposition.
Microsoft Zune: Find products for customers, not customers for products.
If you haven’t heard of Microsoft’s Zune music player, you’re not alone. The Zune was Microsoft’s failed attempt to take on the iPod and, judging by how history unfolded, it was one of the biggest tech flops of all time, with the former barely making a dent in the latter’s market share.
The Zune was launched in 2006, a full five years after Apple released its iconic audio device. Amid lackluster sales, Microsoft released a final version in 2009 and discontinued support for the device in 2015.
There are as many reasons for Zune’s demise as there are Zune post-mortems ever published. But one very interesting side of Zune’s story was Microsoft’s failure to position the device as an iPod alternative. The Zune had features that the iPod didn’t have, but Zune’s target users (most of whom were iPod users themselves) weren’t convinced that Microsoft’s music player solved a pressing issue or fulfilled an urgent need.
In the end, a product’s ability to solve a problem or pain point is what converts prospects to buyers. As Seth Godin puts it: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
Even with the vast amounts of talent and resources at their disposal, the Big Five still mess up from time to time. But the business of innovation is a trial-and-error process, so it’s possibly because of (and not despite) these product debacles and the ability to learn from them that Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are what they are today. The same is true in B2B sales: flops are inevitable, so embrace failure and learn from it.
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