Selling what you believe in

At School of Everything lately we've been preoccupied with how to sell what we're building to teachers and learners.

Some of our more commercially-minded advisors have told us that "you can sell anything", and they're right. Why worry about how good the site is, we just need to get the word out, then we can make it better afterwards - right? But within the team we've actually been quite reluctant to go telling the world about our product until we're happy with it ourselves.

The reason for this isn't just perfectionism, or a fear of "doing it badly" - it's about relationships. Sure, you can sell anything - but if your focus is on creating an ongoing relationship with the person you're selling to, the rules about that change. You don't sell something unless you're confident the buyer will still be happy with that transaction when you next see them. Or, to express it in another way, the commercial relationships you create should translate into sustainable social relationships too.

In some product development methodologies, they talk about the first and second "moments of truth" in a product-consumer relationship. The first is the moment when you realise the role the product could play in your life ("I'd look great in those jeans..."); the second is when it actually starts to play a role in your life ("Wow, you look great in those jeans..."). All too often sales is used to force the former and disguise the latter - leading to the "Why the hell did I buy these horrible purple jeans?" factor. (Come on, we've all done it...)

If you see product development as about creating a relationship between a product and its consumers, it's very easy to "sell anything" and forget about your community. But if you see your product as a tool to create a relationship between you and your customers, then the rules change. You have to create something more worthwhile, more long-lasting.

By designing for positive relationships, we are forced to design better and sell with integrity. The point of School of Everything is to create and serve a sustainable community, and if we really stick to that, we can only sell what we believe in. To do anything else wouldn't just miss the point - it would be bad for business too.