Why we can’t sell


Singaporeans were largely descended from coolies and merchants. And given the latter, I’m not sure why we’re so bad at selling our ideas and making them into blockbuster products.

You could blame the humidity, which addles the mind and slows the body. Or the education system, where systematic behaviour produces the best returns. Or sometimes, plain stupidity.

But here’s our biggest issues, IMO of course.

1. Not knowing the target audience

There is this arrogance among many people that they know what other people want. Our ideas and mindset are formed from personal experiences, but it doesn’t mean other people share our worldviews or desires.

For eg. Person A says, hey I’ve got this product I want to sell to this group of people. All we need is XX number of people snapping it up and we’re in the gravy.

But ever thought why would anyone buy your product? Have you asked if people what they thought of your product?

2. Pleasing oneself first

Many projects are born out of personal whim. We get a flash of inspiration, and we start running for the door after that eureka moment.

But in such cases, it is pride that drives us, not common sense. Singaporeans are famed for their pragmatism, so why would people come out with far-out ideas that have little commercial value, and keep pushing the idea till the horse is beyond flogging?

The reason is that most people are followers. Few want to question the status quo out of inertia, and those who want to, stop after a few attempts when they realise it’s such a frigging waste of energy.

The Dilbert nature of office politics dictates that you don’t pick a fight unless you know it’s an absolute win, and unfortunately, the ones who will usually win are those pushing those stupid ideas! If they didn’t have the power, they wouldn’t come up with such self-elevating projects to begin with.

This is especially apparent in the corporate world, where many projects begin with a big bang and fizzle out almost immediately. No amount of networking or corporate favours can save such doomed projects. But you know what? The initiator often gets away while others take the heat.

3. No business/marketing/common sense

This is the biggest problem facing entrepreneurs. Trust me, I’ve met my fair share and most of them have more dreams than substance.

But they don’t understand marketing. If you don’t have any idea how to spread the word, you’re a goner. It’s not about having a big ad budget, but having a good pitch and getting someone effective to shout for you.

Do you know you can have a crap product and have it sell loads by having a good marketing campaign? People often believe it’s all about content. BS, these days, it’s all about the packaging. All the seller needs is for you to buy once. Even if you swear never to buy again, he’s made his buck off you.

Of course, certain products require both good content and packaging as they are daily consumables – foodstuffs, newspapers, toiletries and so on. Most of them are well packaged, but I’ll reserve comment on those items that need a serious rethink and revamp.

4. Being too specialised

Most smart people here are horrid at marketing. That’s because well-educated Singaporeans are mostly highly specialised creatures in fields of finance, teaching, engineering etc. A marketeer requires an aesthetic outlook, a keen understanding of the average consumer’s tastebuds, a love for hamming things up and high-level networking skills.

Most importantly, he should not be overly-intellectual. These brainiacs are often the ones who are disconnected from the ground with their flighty ideas.

How many people do you know have all these traits?

I guess all this ranting will explain why I don’t really bother to read local entrepreneur stories. What I’m more interested in are entrepreneurs who have shown results after a year.

Why read about some young punk who just came out of school and had a bright idea? Where will he be 6 months from now? Probably not in the same newspaper, dude!

2 Replies to “Why we can’t sell”

  1. Your No. 2 just makes me go “yeah, that’s right.” Misguided people often call such self-pleasing ideas, “passions”.

  2. Hi Ian,

    I agree and disagree with you. Our environment has created the type of people in Singapore. The Education, The Media, The Government.

    Everything is controlled. Your Right to think. Your right to Shout.

    Thus we are all severaly under-developed in Marketing, Public Speaking, and thus knowing what people are thinking or want.

    However, all is not lost. 🙂

    The Harro Team

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