Monday, December 8, 2014

Software Developers -
Know Your Audience

"Write as though you were addressing someone whose opinion you value," said Patricia T. O'Conner in her book "Words Fail Me - What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing."

O'Conner urges writers to know the people whom we want to read their sales presentation. Identify your audience. Determine the correct vocabulary, tone, sentence structure, and imagery that you'll need to use to communicate effectively with your audience. Learn their level of sophistication, their likes and dislikes, and their demographic and psychographic attributes.

"Words Fail Me" is not about writing for the software development business. It's about writing in general. But O'Conner's ideas apply beautifully to our industry. In the software development industry, the texture of a microISV's sales presentation has to match the audience that she's trying to reach. Otherwise, prospects are going to find - and buy software applications from - her competitors.

Selling to Large Enterprises

If you're offering a mission-critical application to Fortune-500 line managers, you can't sound like you're an individual working from a kitchen table. Instead, you need to build your credibility and convey the impression that you're an established, thriving firm.

How do you build this kind of credibility when selling to Fortune-500 companies, universities, and large government institutions? Include your phone number and postal address on every page of your website. Brag about the level of customer support that you provide to your clients. Invite prospects to phone you during normal business hours (whatever that means) to discuss any questions or problems that they might have. Proudly offer multi-user and site licenses at attractive prices. Welcome purchase orders rather than requiring corporate buyers to use a credit card to start the buying process.

Selling to Entrepreneurs

If you're offering a business application to entrepreneurs, you can't describe it using technical language because your prospects won't understand you. Don't expect these software buyers to take the time to learn tech talk just to evaluate and use your program.

For example, if you say that your software requires DirectX 11, and your competitors don't say that their applications need DirectX 11, then a lot of your prospects are going to buy from your competitors. There's not one entrepreneur in ten who knows if their computer has DirectX 11 installed. And there's not one in a thousand who knows how to determine if they do or don't have it on their computer. Stop losing sales by confusing your prospects. Speak to them in a language that they understand.

Speak to business customers in simple business English. Avoid technical terms whenever possible. If you can't work around using computer jargon, then take the time to define the terms that you're using.

Many of your prospects speak English as a second language. To convince these people to make a buying decision, it's important to use common words to form short, simple sentences.

Selling Educational Software

If you're marketing educational software to parents and children, explain that you're a parent yourself, and talk in an inviting, conversational tone. You're delivering a sales message to prospects who share your frustrations with today's educational system. Write to them the way you would write to a friend.

Don't craft your online sales presentation the same way you would write about a business program. Instead, explain how you designed your software for your own children. Make prospects understand how easy your application is to install and use.

Fear of Writing

Many people are afraid to write. O'Conner believes that fear of writing is very often fear of your readers - your software prospects. The more you understand and talk to your audience, the easier it will become to write sales messages, user guides, and all of the documents that microISVs create every week.

In the software development world, many microISVs write for people like themselves. Instead, software developers should be writing for their target audience which is often made up of prospects who lack the technical background to easily understand the developer's website, help file, or promotional email messages.

Writing for Multiple Audiences

Never talk down to the reader, O'Conner reminds us. Sure, developers often have to describe their software using simple terms so that computer newbies and non-technical prospects can grasp the fundamentals. Find a way to simplify your writing without dumbing it down, and without talking down to prospects and customers.

One effective way to write for multiple audiences is to create multiple pathways through your website. For example, if you're selling network administration software, your prospects come from a wide range of technical backgrounds.

Some of the people who need your software are experienced networking veterans who understand the business. They're familiar with technical jargon, and they want your sales presentation to speak to them professionally.

You have other prospects who were promoted to the job of Network Administrator last week, and they're practically clueless about what to look for in a software package. They need a lot of hand-holding. Your sales message has to explain to them how your software can make their jobs easier.

How do you write effectively for both audiences? Create a read-out box on your home page with the title "Solutions for..." and include bullet points such as "Experienced Network Administrators" and "New Network Managers". If you're trying to coax users of competitive applications to switch to your software, then include bullet points for "Current users of Product-X".

Give each target audience a web page that speaks directly to their needs. Do a lot of defining and explaining for the newbies, and deliver a "Quick-Start" style presentation for the grizzled veterans.

Treat your reader respectfully, and your attitude will be reflected in your writing. The more you know about your prospects, the stronger your software marketing will be.

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