Selling Stars

In 1610, Galileo Galilei published 550 copies of a small book entitled Starry Messenger. In that book Galileo described the observations of the night sky he made with his telescope. Galileo intended Starry Messenger to be more than a book about astronomy. He wanted it to be his ticket out of a teaching position at the University of Padua for a position in Florence, his old home town. And the position Galileo envisioned was more than just another professorship: he aimed to be head mathematician to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo Medici.

So what did Galileo do? He decided to give the moons of Jupiter names that would appeal to the Grand Duke: he would call them either the Medician moons or the Cosimic moons. He let the Grand Duke himself decide (the Duke chose Medician). And when Galileo distributed copies of his book, he included a telescope so that people could see for themselves what he had described!

400 years later, Galileo’s actions still provide us with an example of brilliant selling:

  • He knew his audience. Florence was in a slow state of decline and the center of power was moving to Rome. Florence needed something big to regain the spotlight. Galileo’s discovery of the moons of Saturn, his descriptions of the surface of our own Moon and several other astronomical findings were of immense importance. They could provide Florence with much needed prestige.
  • He sold to the decision-maker. No one cared more about Florence, or had more power in Florence, than the Grand Duke. By offering the Duke the choice of names for the moons of Jupiter, the gift of a telescope, and first rights to the important information contained in the book–Galileo gave the Duke an offer he couldn’t refuse.
  • He sold an experience and not just a product. Galileo offered his readers more than dry theory or novel science. He provided an opportunity to experience something that was literally “out-of-this-world,” a chance to see things never before seen. Telescopes were a new invention and providing his readers with them magnified the experience of his Starry Messenger.
  • He received full value for his sale. Galileo’s goal was to be head mathematician to the Grand Duke. By making clear to the Duke the significance of his astronomical observations, Galileo ended up not only head Mathematician but head Philosopher as well. Not bad.

What does Galileo and sales have to do with brilliant ideas? Truth is, it doesn’t matter how brilliant a team’s or individual’s ideas are if nobody else knows why they’re important or valuable. As Seth Godin put it in Free Prize Inside: “It’s not about good ideas. It’s about selling those ideas and making them happen.” Galileo was a sales super star.

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