Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Relationships Matter

If you don't define yourself, Mark H. McCormack tells us, your competitors will define you. And you won't like what they're saying.

McCormack is the author of the book "Never Wrestle with a Pig - and ninety other ideas to build your business and career," and is best known for his earlier book, "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School."

McCormack tells us to make friends in low places. It's not only the CEOs of other companies who can do amazing things to help your company. Make contacts with people at all levels in the companies which can help you succeed.

The author also advises us to pay attention to our detractors and competitors. Know what they're doing. Resist getting into fights, public or private, with them.

People matter. McCormack urges us to learn to identify and deal with the people who don't deliver what they promise.

The author also believes that we should stay close to our customers and prospects. Be nice. And let your customers and prospects know that you're available to answer questions and provide support.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Business is Not just about Making Money

Many successful businesses make money, Robert A. Lutz tells us. But very few of them set as their primary goal to make money.

Lutz is the former President and Vice Chairman of Chrysler Corporation, and the author of the book "Guts - The seven laws of business that made Chrysler the world's hottest car company."

The title of Chapter 5 explains Lutz' beliefs - "The primary purpose of business is not to make money." Most successful businesses are driven by entrepreneurs with a passion. And making a lot of money is a secondary goal.

You must have top-shelf products and services to succeed. And that requires enthusiasm and dedication on the part of the business owners.

It's not enough to produce really nice products or services. We have to produce things that people can't live without.

To consistently create products and services that prospects are passionate about, you have to have a right-brain process that rewards creativity. And you need a left-brain process that reviews all of these creative ideas, and makes logical decisions about which ones to pursue.

Lutz used ideas like this to turn the Chrysler Corporation around. And microISVs can use Lutz' ideas to strengthen their software marketing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Start with a Box

For Twyla Tharp, boxes are the way to organize projects. She draws on her 35-year career as a dancer, choreographer, and business person, and tells all of us how we can learn to be more creative in everything we do.

Tharp always kicks off a new project by labelling an empty box, and starting to fill it with everything that she'll use to complete the project. As she explains in her excellent book "The Creative Habit - Learn it and use it for life," start a new project. Name it. Label the box. And start filling it with items that are essential for project success. Most of us in the software development industry use software to organize our projects. But the principles are the same.

Make a list of your goals, and put the list into your box. Add all of the research that you'll be doing for your new project. Load the box up with notes and clippings and everything that will help the project succeed.

Don't mistake your project box for creativity, Tharp tells us. It's an organizational tool, and not a way of generating creative ideas. Tharp also assures us that a box is a great tool for getting back on track if you lose focus.

The author believes that the way to get unstuck is to simply begin your project. If you can't begin at the beginning, then just begin somewhere. Work on a facet of the project that's important. Or fun. You can always go back and take care of the natural beginning for your new creative work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Content Rules for Software Developers

Book review of Content Rules - How to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars (and more) that engage customers and ignite your business by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman (published 2011 by John Wiley & Sons Inc.).

Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman agree with the common wisdom that content is the key to success for firms that conduct their business on the Internet. But instead of simply telling us to create compelling, customer-focused content, the authors explain how to do it. And their advice applies brilliantly to the software development industry.

"Content Rules" covers blogs, podcasts, webinars, videos, ebooks, whitepapers, FAQs, and images. With the exception of newsletters, "Content Rules" deals with all of the media that microISVs need to master if they want marketing and financial success.

This is not a technical book. Don't expect to learn WordPress tips and tricks, or the secrets of the inner workings of Blogger.

"Content Rules" is about finding information, writing about it in an appealing way, and repurposing it across a wide range of media so that you're reaching your target audience in many different ways. Simply stated, "Content Rules"  will help you sell more software.

The introduction to "Content Rules" (named the Big Fat Overview) explains how we can find new customers without spending lots of time looking for prospects? We need to create blogs, videos, webinars, websites, podcasts, eBooks, and other online communication vehicles that get prospects to come to us. We earn buyers' attention by delivering content that is real, and focused on our prospects, and fun, and valuable.

This approach sounds easy. Determine what your prospects need, create the content, and deliver it in an appealing manner. Do it properly, the authors tell us, and you'll become a trusted resource that your prospects will rely on for information. Eventually, they'll buy from you.

"Content Rules" delivers some useful information on how to create and deliver effective content to your target market. I've been using it on my website for months, and I'm very pleased with the results.

The introduction to "Content Rules" (named the Big Fat Overview) explains how we can find new customers without spending lots of time looking for prospects? We need to create blogs, videos, webinars, websites, podcasts, eBooks, and other online communication vehicles that get prospects to come to us. We earn buyers' attention by delivering content that is real, and focused on our prospects, and fun, and valuable.

This approach sounds easy. Determine what your prospects need, create the content, and deliver it in an appealing manner. Do it properly, the authors tell us, and you'll become a trusted resource that your prospects will rely on for information. Eventually, they'll buy from you.

"Content Rules" delivers some useful information on how to create and deliver effective content to your target market. I've been using it on my website for months, and I'm very pleased with the results.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Preparing a Competitive Response

When competitors release something new and exciting, your two choices are to ignore their new offering, or come up with something new yourself. So says Liz Dolan, the former Vice President of Corporate Marketing for Nike (as reported in Charlie Jones' and Kim Doren's book "That's Outside My Boat.")

If you decide to respond to your competitor, Dolan explains, you can either respond in kind by building and releasing a competitive product or service, or by trying something completely different to get the attention of your prospects.

Dolan recounts a story of how Nike handled competition badly. Reebok released The Pump, and Nike responded by spending a huge amount of time and capital to create a competitive product. In retrospect, Dolan realizes that The Pump was more of a gimmick than a technological breakthrough.

Sometimes we react, Dolan explains, when we should have responded.

The proper way to respond to a competitor's introduction of a new product or service is to understand what they've done, to assess the impact on your business, and to respond in an orderly way.

Dolan does remind us, however, that everything that a competitor does could possibly have an impact on our business. We need to pay attention to our competitors' businesses, and prepare an appropriate response.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Office Politics and Wrestling with Pigs

Mark McCormack achieved worldwide recognition for his best-selling book "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School." But I've enjoyed even more his 2000 book "Never Wrestle with a Pig - and Ninety Other Ideas to Build Your Business and Career." Almost all of his nearly 100 essays are about developing the people skills and long-term relationships that we all need to make our businesses succeed.

Part 4 of McCormack's book deals with office politics. With most of us working for one- or two-person companies, it might seem that we don't have to think much about office politics.

Truth is, we all deal with other people, even if they don't work in our office. We have eCommerce providers, colleagues, friends, relatives, employees, and even competitors. And our relationships with them matter. Lots.

McCormack believes that every enterprise - even the one-person microISV, I'm sure he would say - needs teamwork to succeed. I agree. I think building a team of stakeholders is the only way to succeed in the software development industry.

The author lists a number of characteristics to look for when building your team. Translated into the software development industry, McCormack's ideas include -
  • Find people who truly want you to succeed. Friends, family members, and employees are great candidates.
  • Identify team members who are not mirror images of yourself. You need people with complementary talents to help you make your microISV a success. Perhaps your website sales presentation is too technical. A fellow software developer is not the ideal person to ask about this potential problem.
  • Loyalty matters. Surround yourself with people who will be there when you find yourself in trouble. Or when you have pressing questions and you need tough answers.
  • Spend time with people who generate good ideas, good sales leads, and good contacts for your business. Feed them good ideas, and tap them for their insights.
  • Share ideas with people you can trust.
  • Surround yourself with people who are saying good things in public about you, your company, and your products/services. Cross-post on each other's blogs. Write articles for each other's newsletters. Find ways to strengthen each other's businesses.
You need a team to succeed. Find colleagues, employees, contractors, beta testers, eCommerce companies, marketing specialists, bankers, and tax professionals that you can count on.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Me-Too Marketing for microISVs

"Me-too marketing is the number one killer of new products." So say Robert M. McMath and Thom Forbes, the authors of "What Were They Thinking? Marketing Lessons You Can Learn from Products That Flopped."

The authors believe that new products succeed when "just about everything that needs to go right does go right." By examining some of the particularly bad things that have been done by large, established, well-funded companies, we can avoid making similar mistakes in our own businesses. Most of the authors' ideas apply nicely to the software development industry.

Clearly the release of thousands of copy-cat me-too applications in the software business has damaged our industry.

McMath and Forbes believe that the established product has a big-time advantage over copycat products. As examples, they cite soft drinks and food products.

Software is different, you might argue. But there is something to be said about being the first to open up a new market.

You can make money on a me-too product, McMath and Forbes believe, if you have a LOT of money to spend on advertising and promotion. But the authors believe that the only way to succeed with a me-too product is to make it "demonstrably better" than the product that you're copying. That's good software marketing advice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing Your Press Release

Press releases are a software marketing tool. Software developers won't get much of a response from the editors if they simply use their news release to tell an interesting story about their software. microISVs have to craft a sales message in the proper format, and it has to perform two functions.

First, a software press release has to capture the editors' attention. If it does, chances are good that they'll print it in their magazines or newspapers, or post it on their news sites or blogs.

Second, developers have to write their sales presentations effectively for their end-users - the prospects who will ultimately make the software-buying decision.

Your press release has to perform both of these functions, without resorting to sales hype.

Software press release writers get better with experience. So microISVs can start climbing the learning ladder and write the press release themselves. Or developers can hire an experienced software marketing professional to write their press releases. Choose a native English-speaking person to do the writing. And choose somebody who knows the proper format, structure, and flow for crafting a press release about desktop/laptop, Android, iPhone/iPad, or SaaS software.

When deciding whether to write your press release yourself or hire a professional, you'll find that product knowledge is a two-sided coin. Surely you know your software better than any outsider ever could. But you might be too close to your software. You might be in love with a program feature that took you two months to write, and it's natural for you to talk about it in your press release. But an outsider is more likely to write a balanced press release that emphasizes the features that would most benefit your prospects, and not the features that were tricky to code.

If you hire a marketing pro to write your press release, be sure that he or she has a background in computer and smartphone software. An experienced press release writer who doesn't know computers and iOS/Android simply can't craft a good software press release.

Writing a press release is more of an exercise in software marketing than in writing. Your press release writer needs to understand your competitors' software, and how you want to position your application in the marketplace. Is your software the easiest to use, or the most full-featured, or the best supported, or the most affordable? Product positioning should be at the center of attention when designing and writing your press release.

New Product Announcements put your software in front of thousands of prospects.

Be certain that your prospects are finding write-ups about your computer, tablet, and iPhone/Android applications in the blogs, magazines, and newspapers. Send news releases regularly to the media, and keep your name in prospects' memory.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

microISV Business Success

Book review of The Best Advice Ever for Becoming a Success at Work by Robert McCord (published by Andrews McMeel Publishing).

Here's a short book (178 pages) that's full of stories and tales that will help you with your software marketing.

As with most business books, you'll have to translate the author's opinions. He's talking about the general business marketplace, and all of us are working in the software development industry.

Here are two examples of McCord's advice:

As a software developer, it would be easy for your to quickly dismiss McCord's advice about Wal-Mart's "everyday low price" philosophy. After all, you sell distinguished software, and not a bunch of commodities. On further analysis, however, you need to think about your applications' prices. Are you hurting your brand and your income stream by putting your software on sale from time to time? Do your discounted prices cause your prospects to defer the software-buying decision until a later date, when they can buy from you at a lower price? And, if so, how many of these prospects remember to return to your website to make the purchase?

Michael McCarthy is quoted in a 1997 article in The Wall Street Journal as saying: "During the early 1990s, Frito-Lay researchers found that most people preferred a (potato) chip that broke under about four pounds of pressure per square inch. And consumers demand consistency. They would complain if chips were just eight one-thousandths of an inch too thick or too thin." As a software developer, you could quickly move on to the next story, without giving this one a lot of your time. Alternatively, you might consider how your prospects will react to the deviations that you've introduced into your program's graphical user interface (GUI). Will your prospects and customers embrace GUI changes as exciting and innovative, or will they reject them because your customers require consistency?

Like so many business books, the amount of wisdom you extract from "The Best Advice Ever for Becoming a Success at Work" is related to the amount of work you're investing in translating general business principles into your microISV market niche.

"The Best Advice Ever for Becoming a Success at Work" is the kind of book that you can pick up, select a page, and enjoy for four or five minutes, confident that you'll learn an idea or two that will strengthen your software marketing.

A lot of McCord's quotations and advice are not relevant to a mom-and-pop company in the high-tech world of application software development. But software developers can get thought-provoking material from many of these articles.

I'll leave you with one of the book's quotations from Po Bronson, author of the book "The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest."

"If Microsoft made cars...we'd all have to switch to Microsoft Gas."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Billboards versus Literature for microISVs

Website visitors treat your sales presentation as if it were a highway billboard, and not as if it is fine literature. So says Steve Krug in his book "Don't Make Me Think - A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability."

Steve Krug reviews websites for usability. He wrote this book for people who can't afford to hire him - or people like him - to review their websites. The book is targeted at web designers, developers, marketing people, and entrepreneurs.

Few people read websites. Prospects skim web pages. If you include uninviting blocks of text, many visitors will ignore them, or lightly skim them. And they click the first thing that's close to what they're looking for

Krug defines "satisficing" as choosing the first reasonable option, versus finding the best option. There isn't a huge downside when we make a less than optimal choice. Besides, guessing is fun. And there's always a "back" button if we guess wrong.

The author believes that prospects don't need to figure out what each web page is about. They're happy to just muddle through.

If you make your web pages simple enough - simple enough that your prospects won't have to think - then they'll go where you want them to go, and hopefully buy your software.

Simple web pages can boost your sales. Steve Krug, who owns the copyright to the phrase "It's not rocket surgery," makes a convincing case for straightforward, uncomplicated web page design.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The End is Near

"When the rate of change inside the company is exceeded by the rate of change outside the company," said Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, "the end is near."

Change is good. Growth is good. But trying to be part of every new industry trend - that, too, is a signal that the end is near.

There are problems with embracing every change in the software development marketplace -

Time and money are scarce.

You don't have the resources to hitch your horse to every new trend in the software development industry. The typical one-person microISV cannot continue to develop laptop and desktop applications, develop and market Android and iOS apps, master software as a service (SaaS), and become a major force in cloud computing. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.

Software fads look like software trends.

It's not always easy to distinguish between fads and trends. I know a number of developers who have spent countless hours marketing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and several other social media sites. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if these microISVs had dedicated their efforts to developing innovative desktop/laptop applications instead.

The flip side of the innovation coin is equally troubling. We all know people who took too long to move from DOS to Windows in the early 1980s. Early adopters of Windows 3.1 were able to grab significant market share and guard it from the developers who took longer to embrace Windows.

Every year, Apple makes it harder and harder to figure out who the winners and losers will be. We've all been taught that we need to do market research before we devote months or years to developing a new application. Apple, on the other hand, created a really cool interface, and worried later about populating it with business and home apps that people really needed. Apple won that round.

But remember what Sergio Zyman said in his book "The End of Marketing As We Know It" - "You don't have to win every round to win the fight."

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to Buy Software

"Any fool can write a bad advertisement," David Ogilvy tells us. "But it takes a genius to keep his hands off a good one."

Ogilvy said this in his 1983 book "Ogilvy on Advertising." Time Magazine described David Ogilvy as the most sought-after wizard in the advertising business. "Ogilvy on Advertising" teaches us how to write ad copy. Ogilvy wrote ads for direct-mail and magazines, many years before the Internet was created. But his ideas apply to microISVs' work in the software development industry, where it's important to write website presentations, advertisements, blog postings, PAD files, newsletters, and software upgrade offers.

Ogilvy dedicates a chapter of his book to explain how his prospects should choose an advertising agency.

I think this is a great idea. I've done something similar on my site. In my press release FAQ, I ask and answer the questions "Who should write the press release for your software?" and "Who should distribute your software press releases to the editors?"

Would you benefit by doing something similar? I believe it's a great idea for every enterprise to include this type of information on its website. Your prospects need to decide which software application to buy. Help them make this important decision.

Ogilvy leaves us with a P.S. - If you don't have the budget for a well-known ad agency like his hugely successful Ogilvy & Mather, then you should hire a good copywriter. That's good advice for people doing software marketing, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Customer Satisfaction with Software

"Your job is not to deliver a service," says Harry Beckwith. "It is to create satisfaction."

Beckwith is the author of the book "The Invisible Touch - The Four Keys to Modern Marketing." He tells us, however, that it isn't enough just to satisfy your customers. You have to build and market software that surprises and delights prospects if you expect them to tell their friends and colleagues how great your application is.

Customers have become more and more discerning. In the world of software development and marketing, prospects know that they have a lot of applications to choose from. Because of this, microISVs need to continually make their software and their marketing messages more powerful.

Demonstrating quality, Beckwith tells us, is as important as delivering quality to consumers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hosting Your microISV Blog

When I planned the launch of my new Software Marketing Blog, one of my major goals was to minimize the technical overhead that I would have to deal with. So I spoke with a couple of successful tech bloggers who had a lot of experience with creating and maintaining blogs.

If I had only listened to Andrei Belogortseff, I might have chosen to host a WordPress Blog.

"My main reasons for choosing WordPress were simplicity, extensibility, and performance," Andrei explained. Andrei runs WinAbility Software, a Utah-based microISV that develops and markets Windows utilities and security software. And he uses WordPress for his main website as well as his blog. With the addition of a handful of WordPress plug-ins, WordPress delivers the power and flexibility that Andrei needs to manage all of his online content.

Blogger and WordPress

Rosemary West is the Educational Software Cooperative's (ESC's) webmaster. ESC's blog is hosted on Google's Blogger system. In recent months, Rosemary moved several of her personal blogs from a WordPress environment to Blogger.

"If you host a WordPress blog or any content management software on your own site, you need to constantly pay attention to security issues," Rosemary explains. "If you haven't done any customizing on your site it's not so bad because you can just accept the constant stream of security updates and be done with it.

"But if you have customized your site as most of us are likely to do, it's a real pain upgrading without breaking your blog. So the tendency is to let it slide, and that's what I did. My blog got hacked and I didn't know it for a long time. The bad guys are clever."

I post a lot on ESC's and ASP's blogs, so I'm familiar with both the Blogger and the WordPress GUIs. From a poster's perspective, they're pretty much the same, so that wasn't a factor in my decision. I chose to host my new Software Marketing Blog on Blogger's site because I believe that hosting my own blog would require the ongoing management of some technical issues.

Before I started my marketing company in the mid-1980s, I had spent more than 15 years doing application software development work for two huge insurance companies here in Connecticut. I had gotten my fill of technical challenges, and to this day, I prefer to concentrate on business and marketing issues, and minimize the technical overhead that I have to wrestle with.

There are no hosting charges on Blogger. I'm able to use my own domain name - www.software-marketing-blog.com. My favicon (versus Blogger's favicon) appears on every page. And because Blogger is owned by Google, my postings get indexed within seconds of my posting a new article.

"Moving from WordPress to Blogger was less about the brands involved and more about changing the way the blog is hosted," Rosemary points out. "WordPress also offers hosted blogs as Blogger does, but in my opinion the features offered in the free version of WordPress's hosting are not as good as Blogger's."

Your can read more of Rosemary's ideas about setting up a blog on her Romantic Marriage blog.

Blogger Gadgets

For some bloggers, it's the extras that determine their choice of WordPress or Blogger.

Rosemary uses Blogger's Subscription Links, Follow by Email, Blog Archive, and Popular Posts gadgets. "The one I use most often is the HTML/Javascript widget," she explains, "a box that lets me include any HTML or Javascript routines I like. This gives me a lot of power to add functionality and customize the look of my blog.

"For example, I wrote a script that delivers a daily tip which is displayed at the top of the blog. On the side is a box that shows my most recent Twitter posts. I wasn't satisfied with Blogger's widgets for adding a blogroll and link list, so I made my own. There are lots of free, third-party widgets that you can customize and add to your blog this way. I also use this widget for my AdSense ads and links to books on Amazon."

WordPress Gadgets

Andrei points out that there are an amazing number of blog themes and plugins that are available for WordPress, allowing you to tailor your blog's appearance and functionality. "The All in One SEO Pack helps you optimize your WordPress pages and posts for the search engines," Andrei tells us. "Exec-PHP executes the PHP code in the posts, pages, and text widgets."

Andrei also recommends:

  • Google XML Sitemaps, the automatic sitemap generator.
  • HiFi, which makes it easy to add statements to the header and footer of WordPress pages and posts, without modifying the theme files.
  • Redirection, a useful plugin for migrating old web pages to WordPress. It redirects the old URLs to the new WordPress pages, while maintaining the statistics of their use.
  • Sniplets, a plugin that lets you define reusable strings of information that can be embedded within your WordPress posts and pages. If you need to update the information, you update the sniplet, and each of your pages gets updated automatically.
  • W3 Total Cache, a WordPress performance plugin.
  • WordPress BlockYou, which keeps the bad guys out by blocking selected IP addresses from accessing your WordPress blog or website.

The bottom line

"Blogs work when they are based on candor, urgency, timeliness, pithiness, controversy, and utility," Seth Godin tells us in his book Small is the New Big. "If you can't be at least four of the six things listed above, please don't bother."

One way to meet Godin's standard and concentrate on your blog's content is to minimize the time that you'll spend worrying about technical considerations. WordPress and Blogger both offer ways to simplify the technical overhead.

You can host your blog yourself, or host it on WordPress' or Blogger's sites. Unless you need to create a blog that looks unusual, or a blog that has some extremely unusual functionality, then I'd recommend that you minimize the technical complexities by hosting on the WordPress or Blogger site. Spend your effort on turning your blog into a money-making machine.

For many software developers, the technical challenges are a lot more fun than solving marketing puzzles. But conquering the marketing challenges often delivers significantly increased software sales. I recommend that you concentrate on content, and sell more software.

Would you like more ideas about setting up a microISV blog? Check out the feature-length posting "How to Plan a Blog that Thrives for Years" that I wrote for the Association of Software Professionals' (ASP's) blog.