Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Customer Centricity and Functional Silos

Fifty-two percent of marketers say that the biggest roadblock that they encounter when trying to make their company more customer-centric is the structure of their company. According to a report from SAS and the CMO Council, as reported in Direct Marketing News back in 2013, the companies' "functional silos" get in the way of putting the customer at the center of all of their marketing efforts.

In the fifteen years that I'd spent doing application development work for two Fortune 200 insurance companies in the 1970s and 1980s, I experienced first-hand the barriers that today's marketers are encountering. Back then, the Sales Department wasn't convinced that the people in the Marketing Department knew what they were doing. Neither of these departments paid too much attention to what the home office administrative departments had to do to process and maintain the insurance policies that the marketing and sales people created and sold. And most new computer systems were frowned upon by the end users' managers because these systems were designed to save money by reducing head-count. Absent annual head-count growth, it was hard for VPs to build their empires and increase their perceived value to the corporation.

Today's microISVs have a huge advantage in their competition against larger software development companies. These larger firms suffer from the same types of internal battles that prevent firms from becoming more customer-centric. One- and two-person microISV outfits, on the other hand, can ensure that the customer remains the main focus of all of the companies' activities.

Take advantage of the agility of your microISV. Focus on your customers. Since happy customers are the greatest source of income in the coming years, it makes sense to use your nimbleness to ensure that your customers get the attention that they deserve.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Feedback from Software Customers

The two most important questions that you can ask your customers are "How are we doing?" and "How can we do better?".

Michael LeBoeuf calls these the two platinum questions in his book "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life." LeBoeuf tells us that relative quality as perceived by the customer will determine our long-term success.

Figure out a way to measure the quality of your product or service. Create a questionnaire or launch a telephone survey. Ask customers how you're doing. LeBoeuf suggests that we ask questions such as -

  • Did we listen to your questions and concerns? 
  • Were we attentive and polite? 
  • Did we understand what was important to you? 
  • Would you purchase from us again? 
  • Would you recommend our firm to your friends and colleagues?

If he were in the software development industry, LeBoeuf might suggest that you also ask product-specific questions such as -

  • Did our website describe our software well?
  • Did you have any problems downloading or installing the application?
  • When you ran it for the first time, did you know exactly what to do?
  • Did anything in the program confuse you or frustrate you?
  • Were the help files helpful?
  • Why did you almost not buy the software from us?

Be sure to ask questions about future sales of your software -

  • What new features would you like us to add to our application?
  • What might persuade you to upgrade from the Standard version to the Professional version?
  • What new applications would you like us to develop?
  • What other platforms would you like to see our software run on (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS)?
  • Would you prefer to pay for upgrades each time there is a major new release, or would you rather pay an annual fee and receive upgrades each time we add new functions? 

Be sure to contact customers whom you've lost, and get their feedback, too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Future of
Desktop Application Development

There's far too much pessimism about the future of the Windows desktop/laptop software market. Truth is, small independent software vendors (microISVs) have a bright future for designing, programming, and marketing business applications for the Windows desktop/laptop market. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you're planning your future software development projects.

The economy will help microISVs

The worldwide economy continues to recover. And with this recovery will come more opportunities for small software development companies.

Forrester Research recently predicted that global IT spending will go up in 2015 by 8.1 percent. They say that software is the leading spending component in IT spending.

As the economy expands, more companies will hire knowledge workers. And these employees will need desktop and laptop computers to do their work. Increased hardware sales will drive more software sales. And that's a formula for success for microISVs.

Will knowledge workers use smartphones and tablets at work instead of desktop and laptop computers? Some will. Most companies, however, cannot decrease their employees' productivity by giving them tiny screens and toy, on-screen keyboards.

As the economy grows, more and more companies will be hiring system designers and programmers to develop in-house systems. As more programmers are hired by larger companies, fewer competitors will be available to create the one-person startups that are the basis of the microISV economy. With fewer competitors, microISV income will rise.

The mobile market and microISVs

Lots of software developers have started developing apps for the smartphone and tablet markets. Programmers are grimacing and using the primitive app development tools that simply don't measure up to the development platforms available in the Windows desktop/laptop world. These same developers are trying to ignore the depressed, depressing retail prices that they'll get for their apps in the iOS and Android marketplaces.

As more microISVs turn their backs on the Windows marketplace and move to mobile development, the microISVs who continue to develop Windows applications will find fewer competitors. And that means more income for the successful developers who stay in the Windows world.

Cloud computing and the desktop/laptop market

Cloud computing continues to gain more market share. The industry experts who project continued growth in cloud computing ignore the impact of the handful of security scandals that will no doubt occur in the coming months and years. And it's uncertain how the marketplace will shake out as more and more developers create hybrid apps that will run in the cloud and also run on local devices, from smartphones and tablets to desktops and laptops.

As more developers move their applications to the cloud, the microISVs who remain in the Windows desktop/laptop market will have fewer competitors. Again, fewer competitors could result in increased income and profits for successful microISVs who remain in the world of Windows.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

In the coming years, you won't have to ask your daughter if she spent two minutes brushing her teeth before bedtime. Her electric toothbrush will go online and transmit that information directly to your tablet or smartphone.

With the Internet of Things, many of your appliances, devices, and automobiles will be communicating with you in real time. In addition to receiving tweets from your cousins about what they ate for breakfast, you'll also be receiving feedback from your toaster about the food that it prepared for your family.

Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be 25 billion devices connected to the IoT. While most of these devices will be deployed by home users, Gartner predicts that manufacturing (15%), healthcare (15%), and insurance (11%) will contribute substantially to the Internet of Things.

These IoT devices won't program themselves. Thousands of microISVs will be creating software for intelligent appliances. And that means fewer competitors for microISVs who continue to develop for the Windows desktop/laptop platforms.

Wearables and microISVs

Juniper Research predicts that the wearable technology market will take off in the next few years. Between 2014 and 2016, Juniper tells us, shipments of wearable devices such as smart watches and glasses will be about 130 million units. That's about ten times larger than the 2014 baseline number.

Sales of wearable devices are low, Juniper explains, because there are privacy, legal, and social problems that need to be resolved. And a lot more marketing work has to be done to convince people that these devices aren't just toys, but necessities.

Google Glass has the potential to become a huge force in the marketplace. Put on your titanium-framed glasses, and tell Google Glass what you want. To take a picture, simply say the words "take a picture." Receive navigation information and driving directions on your eyeglass screen. Ask questions aloud, and your wearable device will do a Google search and put the results on your lens. Let Google Glass translate phrases in real time into a different language.

Last year, Forbes Magazine published an in-depth article about the emerging sports wearable device market. They studied 34 companies that have released devices, and predict that there will be many winners and losers among these contenders. "The companies that can build a platform around helping their target customers reach their goals will win. Customer intimacy and tightly integrated technology and services that meet these needs will be ultimate winners."

All of these wearable devices, and the thousands of additional devices that will be released in the coming months and years, will require intensive programming efforts. And as more and more systems engineers leave the desktop/laptop marketplace to work on wearables, the companies that are positioned to develop Windows applications could be in stronger financial shape than they are today.

The bottom line

The Windows desktop/laptop marketplace is in decline. But it's not falling like a stone. It will continue to remain strong for many years to come.

Now is the time to learn more about cloud computing, the smartphone and tablet markets, the Internet of Things, and the wearables marketplace. But this is not the time to panic or jump quickly from Windows to other platforms.

Plan now for a time when the desktop/laptop market will be problematic for microISVs. But that time is not coming for a few years. Don't throw away your experience with Windows development tools, your customer base of Windows software users, and all of the other tangible and intangible assets that you've created in recent years because of the unfounded notion that Windows sales will dry up tomorrow. They won't.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Clever Software Sales Messages

People tend to remember the most clever part of your sales presentation. So says Jay Conrad Levinson in his book "Guerrilla Marketing Excellence - The 50 Golden Rules for Small-Business Success." And Levinson's principles apply to software marketers and to all of us in the software development industry.

Because people will remember the most clever part of our marketing messages, we need to be certain that the clever message is also the critical message that leads to the sale.

Levinson urges us to make sure that the information about our product or service is the only thing that we present in a particularly cute manner. We need to motivate prospects to close the sale. We're not there to amuse or entertain our prospects.

Being clever is okay. However, there are some attributes of a sales message that Levinson believes are much more important. I've translated the author's ideas into the language of the software development industry.

  • Surprise software prospects with your marketing message. Tell them something they don't already know - something useful that will make their home lives more pleasant, or their work lives more productive.
  • Clarity is important. Be clear about benefits. Unless you're selling a technical application to power users, avoid tech talk that might confuse your prospects.
  • Involve the reader. Use second-person writing (you/your/you're words) to paint your prospects into a word picture in which they can envision themselves benefitting from using your application.
  • Make them think. Stimulate their minds. Cater to their curiosity.
  • Demand that they take action. Ask for the sale. Tell them to buy now. Quantify how they will benefit by using your application.
  • Be credible. If prospects don't believe your sales message, they won't reach for their credit cards. Motivate them to buy with a professionally-written explanation of your software's benefits.

Writing a clever software marketing presentation is bad if it takes attention from your software's main benefits. Being clever can be good if it makes your software sales message memorable.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Copycat Software Marketing

"When everybody else is doing it, don't," said Robert A. Lutz in his book "Guts – The seven laws of business that made Chrysler the world's hottest car company."

Lutz is the former President and Vice Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation. He has useful insights about marketing, including notions that can help microISVs sell more software.

Following the herd, Lutz explains, can result in disaster for your company. In most cases, the prudent decision is to not get caught up in the currently popular fad. Translated into the software development industry, I believe Lutz would tell us that the world doesn't need another me-too application.

Lutz talks about alternatives to following other firms. One technique that he found useful for Chrysler was paying a lot of attention to detail. Make customers and prospects think that, if your company spends a lot of time ensuring that each small thing is done properly, your company is probably equally passionate about ensuring that the critical things are done right.

Never be confined by what is currently being done in the industry, Lutz urges. Instead, try to find a category buster – an idea which, if implemented intelligently, can put your company at the top of your software niche.

Lutz believes that our brands should be known for excellence in one or two specific areas. Never try to be all things to all people.

That's a great software marketing strategy, too.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Worry-Free Software Development

"Worrying is rehearsing for failure."

... quotation by Charlie Jones and Kim Doren from their book "That's Outside My Boat"

To learn more about worrying, or to learn more about the book by Jones and Doren, visit my Software Marketing Glossary.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tips for Selling
More Software

In face-to-face selling, you must stop talking once you've sold your product or service to your prospects. If you continue selling after the prospect has made a buying decision, you risk losing the sale. Never oversell.

Stop Overselling Your Software

You can lose Internet sales if you oversell, too. When your prospect clicks your "buy now" link, they most likely have their credit card in hand. They're ready to buy your application.

Don't fill your "buy now" page with additional sales information about your software. Your prospect has already decided to become your customer. Send them to your eCommerce company's order form, and close the software sale.

Stop Confusing Software Buyers

Confusing your prospect can lose the software sale just as certainly as overselling can. Don't confuse your website visitors with tech talk. Your prospects don't have to understand the underlying technology to buy your software and use it to solve their business problem. Unless you're marketing power tools to network managers, data administrators, and computer consultants, don't get bogged down in technical details. Sell your software's benefits.

Don't Bore Software Prospects

Advertising guru David Ogilvy says that you can't bore prospects into buying your product or service. Expert salesman Joe Girard, no doubt, would agree. Girard suggests that you say something such as, "Have you sold yourself yet, or should I continue to tell you more?”

Include "buy now" links throughout your website's sales presentation to accomplish the same goal. Sell your application software. But never oversell it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Selling your Niche Software

Some software developers believe that their software targets such a tiny, specialized market that it makes no sense to blog about it, or write about it on Facebook or Twitter. Not so say Ann Handley and C.C. Chapmen in the case study about Indium Corporation in their book "Content Rules."

Indium manufactures and markets solder paste. And they have had a lot of success with blog postings and with social media sites. Before you decide that your software is too arcane for a blog, or that it targets a market that is too vertical to attract an audience on the social media sites, then I have two words for you - solder paste.

Indium does a good job of tracking their blog metrics. As a result of their blogging work, the number of their new contacts has increased by 600 percent.

The best bloggers, Handley and Chapman tell us, are good listeners, and not just good writers. These bloggers have to understand the problems that customers and prospects are trying to solve. The key to success for Indium is to have their bloggers write like real people, and not like salespeople.

If you love your software, then write about it on your microISV's blog. It's good software marketing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Start with your Strongest
Software Sales Message

The first words that people read are the most important. Choose these words well.

Or as Patricia T. O'Conner says, "Don't start out by clearing your throat."

O'Conner is the author of the book "Words Fail Me - What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing." If she were writing about the software development industry, I think O'Conner would say something like, "On your web site, don't start by saying something vapid like 'Welcome to the Widget website'".

Similarly, don't talk about your mission statement. Instead, deliver your strongest software marketing message first. Or say why your prospect needs to buy your software.

Sell. Talk about your application's most powerful benefit. Say why the features that you offer will help your prospects.

O'Conner suggests a number of alternative ways to start your sales message:

Summarize your sales presentation.

This makes sense. Since your main message is "buy my software application," you could start with a summary of how the prospect will benefit by using your software.

Start with an anecdote. 

This might work - if you're sure that you understand your target audience, and you're sure that you know how to tell your prospects a good story.

Provide a description.

Tell prospects what your application does. That's what most software developers do. Unfortunately, most microISVs deliver a description of the application's features. Describing a rich mix of both benefits and features is a more effective way to sell your programs. Or talk about how your application solves a problem.

Regardless of how you structure your sales message, start by describing your strongest benefit. Explain why your application is different from - and better than - your competitors' software.