Huh, you can sell a product while it's still in beta? Of course. In fact, you can sell a product that is still in prototype. And I'm not talking about selling it to an investor, but selling it to your target customer. Heck, with a few enticing screenshots you could probably sell it in the conceptual stage. It all has to do with these three principals: how strong is your vision for the product (how much you believe in it), how well you can articulate the advantages (how detailed is your vision), and how easy you can make it for your prospective customer to make a buying decision (how good you are at selling).
These core principals combined will together form your…sales pitch. Yes: this is all about selling. And I know many of the software programmers & designers out there will cringe at the thought of having to sell an incomplete product. But once you understand that people aren't buying your product - it becomes easy. People are buying YOU. They are excited about YOUR vision and how it can help them. They trust you because of your unshakeable belief in that the product will do what you says it does (or eventually will do).
Of course, the one prerequisite is this: that you truly do have a vision for a product that can produce a positive impact in the lives of the people you will share it with. Until and unless your product vision has reached this level of magnitude, you go back to the drawing board.
On then, with the strategy: how to sell your Prototype. That is 'Prototype' as in, 'barely yet somewhat functional'. Perhaps 3 to 6 months away from reaching public beta.
This is a tremendously useful strategy for bootstrapped entrepreneurs because it provides a way to fund the development AND create some real sales figures that can be leveraged in upcoming negotiations for outside capital. Not only that, but this can actually work for even the introverted entrepreneur who hasn't the luxury of an existing network of qualified contacts.
Step 1: Official 'Teaser Website'
To sell a product that is still in prototype, you need to start by creating the official 'Teaser Website'. This is essentially your product's 'temporary official website' that will serve to preview & entice the reader enough to give you their email address . And in a moment I'll tell you exactly how to ask them for it - but first, it's important to understand that this website is a lot like an official website for a movie that has yet to be released in theatres. The movie has only just been announced. Your job now is NOT to tell the whole story & spoil the ending, but rather to give them an enticing preview. To hint at your bold vision. And to get readers excited enough to want to learn more.
Step 2: Google Adwords
You need a way to drive qualified traffic to your new website. Qualified, as in: the type of people who would be interested in buying your product. This is what is perfect about Google Adwords. You can use it to target key search phrases that only your target customers would type. Setup a Google Adwords campaign. Even a modest budget of $100 will be able to generate for you a handful of prospective 'Prototype customers'.
Step 3: The Beta Wait List
The key tactic in getting the visitors (from your Google Adwords campaign) to give you their email address is to setup a 'Beta Wait List' sign up form. After reading your enticing preview, anyone genuinely interested in trying out the product will be happy to sign up for the Beta.
You can leverage this dynamic as an early sales opportunity. Because once on the Beta Wait List, you can contact them personally to offer the unique opportunity of trying out your Prototype before the public Beta. The genius part is that - before you even send them that offer, they've already & automatically received from you a pre-planned series of emails that has helped to build up a relationship with them (this is the essence of an auto-responder - a page out of the internet marketers playbook)...
Step 4: The Auto-responder
Your auto-responder series will initiate shortly after they sign up for the Beta Wait List. These messages can reveal even more details about your vision beyond what the website has already indicated. You will also need to give them details about your progress with the development - to get them to care about what you're doing. And you personalize each message by referring to the reader by their first name (from which you collected during the Beta Wait List sign-up form) and signing the bottom of your messages with your real name. Remember: the reader is going to buy YOU, so you have to communicate with them at a very personal level - because soon, you'll be asking them to pay you for the benefit of trying out your prototype. And that is going to require you to get up close & personal!
Step 5: Making the Sale
After the prospect has clicked your Google Adwords ad, has been enticed by your Official Teaser Website, has signed up to your Beta Wait List, and has received a personalized series of emails from you - it will be time to contact them one by one: and invite them to try your prototype. But this is not a free invite. They will have to pay to get access.
If you've structured your communications in such a way that they are A) excited about your product vision, B) educated about the development progress and C) genuinely interested in your success with this project - then you'll be in a good position to ask for money. Because not only are you building an innovative software program that they will love, and that they can try right now - but they will understand that you are at an early stage in development - and that it is critical you are able to bring in some cashflow to continue development. Sell them on being apart of the vision!
"This is the opportunity to be among the first in the world to try out a new program that could change the world. "
And that is the mindset both you and your Beta Wait List subscriber need to have in order to put together a deal. Backed by an offer to refund them the full value of the program if they don't like it (within a specified time period) and you'll have a recipe for a sale. Give them a link to checkout online and move on to sell another.
The Big Picture
Before you can build a multi-million dollar software company, it seems prudent to first figure out how you can sell just 1 software license. And if you can sell 1 prototype, it's probably not to much harder to sell another 9 more. And if you can sell 10 prototypes, you can probably sell 100 betas. And if you have 100 paying beta testers, it's not unrealistic to sell 1,000 licenses when you finally launch version 1.0. The earlier you start selling, the better your results will be.