Idea Validation: Problem, Willingness to pay

Sell the Future

Sell your future feature before implementing it

Illustration of Sell the Future
Run a Sell the Future play

Also called: Solution Interview, Demo Pitch, Pre-sales Test

Difficulty: Intermediate

Evidence strength

Relevant metrics: Acquisition, Customer Feedback

Validates: Viability, Desirability

How: If a customer wants a specific feature, say that it's on your roadmap, but if the customer is willing to put out money for the feature now, you will move it to the top.

Why: For companies selling B2B solutions, selling an unbuilt future to a customer can help validate market demand and willingness to pay, and also help finance development costs.

This experiment is part of the Validation Patterns printed card deck

A collection of 60 product experiments that will validate your idea in a matter of days, not months. They are regularly used by product builders at companies like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Amazon.

Get your deck!

Before the experiment

The first thing to do when planning any kind of test or experiment, is to figure out what you want to test. To make critical assumptions explicit, fill out an experiment sheet as you prepare your test. We created a sample sheet for you to get started. Download the Experiment Sheet.

The Sell the Future experiment is a strategy where companies promote or sell a product or service before it’s fully developed or available. This approach is often used to gauge customer interest, secure funding, or validate a market hypothesis. A classic example of this would be how many tech companies announce upcoming products or features to measure market anticipation and potential demand. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are also prime examples where companies sell the idea of a future product to validate market interest and secure funding based on the concept alone.

The Sell the Future experiment involves marketing and pre-selling a product or service based on a future vision or an innovative concept that has not yet been fully realized. The essence of this strategy is to gauge market interest, secure early adopters, and validate a product’s viability before full-scale development and launch.

The experiment is grounded in the philosophy of validating a market hypothesis by selling a vision or an idea. It diverges from traditional market validation methods that rely on existing products or services. Instead, it taps into the potential customer’s imagination and desire for innovation. This strategy is particularly effective in industries undergoing rapid technological advancements or where there is a clear trajectory of future needs.

An example of this strategy in action is Salesforce’s introduction of cloud-based CRM solutions. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when on-premise solutions dominated the CRM landscape, Salesforce envisioned a different future. They foresaw the potential of cloud computing transforming business operations, offering scalability, flexibility, and cost-efficiency.

Salesforce began marketing this vision to businesses, highlighting the benefits of a cloud-based CRM system, which at the time, was a groundbreaking concept. They focused on the advantages of accessibility, real-time updates, and lower maintenance costs compared to traditional systems. By pre-selling this concept, Salesforce not only validated the market’s readiness for cloud-based solutions but also secured early adopters who were willing to invest in this future promise.

Why should you run the Sell the Future experiment?

The classic experiment comes with a number of benefits:

  • Early market vlidation. It allows companies to test the market’s reception to a new concept without the need for a complete product, minimizing initial development costs.
  • Funding and investment. Pre-selling an idea can generate early revenue streams, which can be crucial for funding further development.
  • Building customer relationships. Engaging with customers during the early stages of a concept fosters a sense of partnership and loyalty.
  • Competitive edge. Being a pioneer in proposing new solutions positions a company as an innovative leader in its industry.

While it is a powerful experiment, it comes with its challenges. Selling an idea requires a compelling vision and the ability to instill trust in potential customers. There is a risk of market rejection if the concept is too advanced or not well-articulated. Moreover, this strategy demands a careful balance between selling a vision and setting realistic expectations to avoid customer disappointment.

It’s an experiment - not a sales team excuse

When the ‘Sell the Future’ approach is used by a sales team in B2B settings - not in an experiment setting, but as a way to sell - it can have significant implications for a product’s roadmap, especially if it involves selling features or capabilities that are not yet developed or planned. If managed carefully, this strategy can indeed help prioritize features on the roadmap and secure additional funding. However, if not aligned with the product team’s vision and roadmap, it can lead to several challenges:

  1. Shifting priorities. When sales teams sell features not yet on the roadmap, it forces the product team to shift focus from their planned trajectory. This can lead to a misalignment between the product’s strategic direction and the features sold to clients.
  2. Resource reallocation. Developing new features that were not originally planned requires reallocating resources, potentially delaying or compromising other critical features or improvements that were scheduled.
  3. Overpromising. There’s a risk of overpromising and under-delivering, especially if the sales team sets unrealistic expectations regarding the feasibility or delivery timeline of the new features.
  4. Customer trust and satisfaction. Selling non-existing features can lead to customer dissatisfaction if the delivery fails to meet their expectations or timelines. This can harm the company’s reputation and customer trust.

Mitigating risks

To mitigate those risks, the sales team should be informed about and aligned with the product roadmap. Ensure that the sales team is well-informed about the current product capabilities and roadmap. Any promises made to clients about future features should align with what the product team can realistically deliver.

Maintain a degree of flexibility in the product roadmap to accommodate valuable features that arise from customer feedback or sales discussions, provided they align with the overall product strategy.

Train the sales team to manage customer expectations realistically. This involves clear communication about timelines, the development process, and the potential for changes or delays.

Utilize customer feedback obtained by the sales team to inform and enrich the product roadmap. This feedback can be a valuable source of insight for future development.

After the experiment

To make sure you move forward, it is a good idea to systematically record your the insights you learned and what actions or decisions follow. We created a sample Learning Sheet, that will help you capture insights in the process of turning your product ideas successful. Download the Learning Sheet.



B2B mobile communication platform provider, Actimo (now acquired by Kahoot!), has created a “Product Partnership” with key customers. If enough key partners are willing to help finance a roadmap feature, it is moved up the backlog. Beside paying money to shape the future product, the partner also commits to sharing critical insights and knowledge about their own wants and needs.

Source: Actimo

Star Citizen video game

Star Citizen, a space simulation game by Cloud Imperium Games, used a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 for funding and market validation. They pre-sold the game, offering early access to backers, successfully raising millions and validating high player interest.


Before cloud-based CRM solutions were widely adopted, Salesforce marketed its product as a revolutionary way to manage customer relationships, compared to traditional on-premise software. They pre-sold the concept of a cloud-based CRM, which at the time was a futuristic idea, to businesses. This approach helped validate the market’s readiness for cloud-based solutions and also generated early interest and investment in their product. Salesforce’s strategy was instrumental in establishing cloud-based services as a standard in the CRM industry and demonstrated the effectiveness of selling a future vision in the B2B domain.

This experiment is part of the Validation Patterns printed card deck

A collection of 60 product experiments that will validate your idea in a matter of days, not months. They are regularly used by product builders at companies like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Amazon.

Get your deck!

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