This week’s volunteer for the Site Review Monday post is Scott Meade, founder of Synap Software.

Synap Software’s main micro-ISV product is LeadsOnRails.com, a Web 2.0 small business leads management application. With LeadsOnRails, a small business such as an insurance agency, elective surgery practice, consulting firm, software development shop or micro-ISV selling to businesses can capture, manage, track and most importantly move through the selling process prospective customers, clients, patients.

If you’re looking for places Scott fracked up, you are going to be very, very disappointed with this review. I looked hard at the LeadsOnRails.com site, at their signup process, at his blogs, even their privacy policy and I found exactly one error and one area that needs work. This is a sterling textbook example of how to do a micro-ISV web site.

The USP:
(The Unique Selling Proposition a.k.a “the elevator pitch” should be the first thing the visitor sees, communicates the value of the product and must immediately be relevant to the visitor.)

Here’s the above the fold part of LeadsOnRails.com home page. Can you tell me what the USP is?

Of course you can. And that’s very, very good. Let’s take apart each of the two sentences in the USP. “Lead management software that you can use now.” zeros in one of the biggest issues with small business software – it’s too damn complicated – and creates a differentiation between LeadsOnRails and the rest right off the bat.

Furthermore, only someone who really understands how frustrating the life of a small business sales person or owner would get this. The next sentence, “More capable than contact managers or autoresponders and easier to use than large CRM systems, LeadsOnRails helps small businesses convert leads into customers with its unique “track” system.”, does the following:

  • “More capable than contact managers or autoresponders” – again, Scott demonstrates he really understands his market niche: Many of the small service/product firms out there that decide to automate start – or try to start – with Act!, Goldmine or some similar product. If they automate, their first tentative step is likely to be an autoresponder.
  • “and easier to use than large CRM systems” – if the service firm survives it’s encounter with a contact manager (I know of two insurance agencies that did not!), and they still have cash to burn, a Big CRM System like Siebel will latch onto the unsuspecting small business owner who will soon learn to their sorrow the vast distance between “works the way we work” and “works this way out of the box”. Want to make a grown small business owner break down in tears and rent their hair? Just find one who went for a Big CRM System because that’s what Big Business uses and ask them how much they spent before they abandoned all hope.
  • “LeadsOnRails helps small businesses convert leads into customers” the words “leads into customers” are magic, special words to the small business owner. They don’t want to track each paper clip in the office with an asset management RFID tag, be able to generate regression analysis reports on lifetime customer value. They just want to convert leads into customers. Period.
  • “with its unique “track” system.” Again, smart move. While LeadsOnRails is indeed a Ruby on Rails app, this means exactly nothing to 999 of 1,000 prospective customers who, charitably, tend to be holding up the late adopter part of the curve. You could call the workflow that LeadsOnRails supports a sales funnel, sales process, decision tree or Christmas bush for all prospective customers care. But they get “track” (reinforced with the bold heading in the body of the page) and they get unique.

Benefits and Features:

LeadsOnRails could have derailed (sorry) at this point by doing a laundry list of features, leading with the ultra sexy (to programmers), ultra cool (to programmers), fact it’s in Ruby on Rails; that it’s not a Web 1.0 app, but a Web 2.0 app (only programmers understand this), that it’s driven with clean URLs (I barely understand this), etc., etc., etc.

They did no such thing. They understand that while these features appeal to programmers, benefits – especially benefits couched in terms of what small business owners care about – was the way to go.

Further, Scott layered the seven bulleted benefits by highlighting key phrases (“consistent marketing process and message”, “who is accountable for each activity and when it is due”, “view of your pipeline”). Nice touch and effective: nothing is more off-putting to the small business owners who are looking at this site because they want a believable solution to a really painful pain than line after line of text.

Credibility Markers:

Scott establishes LeadsOnRails.com’s credibility right off the bat in the USP and then backs that up in three ways:

  • Three short, attributed, testimonials scattered through the main text. Attributed with links is the gold standard for online testimonials.
  • A bit of humor and understanding re pricing for this hosted service: “Hosted (but not Hostage)” will ring a bell with anyone who’s put all their eggs into a hosted service basket.
  • “Find out here how LeadsOnRails is more capable than contact managers.” This line right under the USP that contains the claim “More capable than contact managers” is exactly the right way to go. If you make claims in your USP, or in your Features and Benefits, or anywhere, you must offer something to support those claims or they – and you – will fall flat on their face.

Visuals:

LeadsOnRails.com is not an overly complicated site: it uses as its entire navigation structure and the structure of the site is a product walk through starting on the home page:

By the way, here’s the only error I could find. On the home page it’s called Product Tour. On the rest of the pages the headline reads, Product Features. Bad, bad bad Scott! Earth-shattering cataclysmic showstopper! (No, I don’t mean it – I should be so lucky if my micro-ISV site once it’s redone only has that bad an error.)

Here’s the screen shot from the LeadsOnRails.com home page (actual size):

Notice you can read the text? That’s good. Notice too that even though it’s a demo account, it’s reasonable and credible? That’s good too. Finally, notice it’s simple? That’s very good for an online application that is selling effectiveness and simplicity.

One more visual note: there’s no company logo. None. Just a link. This both frees up space for the important business of selling this service and subtly reinforces the idea that LeadsOnRails.com is all about their customers, something their customers are sure to like.

The Blog:

LeadsOnRails.com has not one blog, but three, starting with two right at the top of the home page:

Small Biz Marketing blog sounds interesting if you are a small business, a product blog defines up front what you will find there, and having the company’s phone number right there certainly communicates credibility and confidence and is to the good.

Scott has broken with the idea of one blog, multiple topics, and gone with one blog re small business marketing and then two other blogs, one re the product, one for other programmers interested in Rails.

I think this might work given the situation, but, in my opinion, Scott would be better off focusing on the small business marketing blog leavened with a sprinkling of posts directly about LeadsOnRails.com. I noticed that in March there were four non-Scott comments on the small business blog, and zip on the product blog.

Scott has a lot of experience when it comes to making small business marketing and sales work – I’d like to read more about that. Success stories/very short case studies would be good (of LeadsOnRails.com customers of course), but Scott needs more posts, and above all more reasons for people to comment to get his marketing via blogging up to speed.

The takeaway:

There is no substitute for understanding the needs, motivations, attitudes and world view of your market, and LeadsOnRails.com is a great example of how compelling a micro-ISV site and offering can be when that comes into play. You don’t necessarily have to have Scott’s level of experience, but you have to make the effort to get to know what your customers are all about and to think through your product from their point of view.

I may have more to say about this excellent web application down the road – I found the site so compelling I signed up for the trial!

1 Comment

  1. Bob,
    Thank you for taking the time to so thoroughly review our product site and for such generous feedback. We worked hard on this and continue to tweak it all the time based on feedback like yours .
    Updates:
    I’ve changed the site so that all pages now read “Product Tour” – good catch. Also, based on the introductory paragraph of your post, I guess I’m going to have to go find some “elective surgery practices” to market to – who knew!
    The blogs…I have been thinking hard (maybe too hard) about them for some time. I created separate blogs in an attempt to provide focus for readers and allow me to go into details about product updates or Rails coding that might not interest those who just want to know more about marketing. I was afraid of writing about small business marketing while also throwing in occasional posts that detail product developments – fearing that they would just look like blatant product plugs to readers instead of useful information.
    Nonetheless, I’m throwing that fear aside and am taking your advice. For the month of April I will focus on the small business marketing blog with the goal of increasing readership and comments in that blog by more frequent posts and short success stories and case studies. At the end of April I will evaluate how it feels and how it’s going. (I’m going to keep RailsWeek.com going seperately though – it’s sort of a side blog with very litte crossover).
    To all microISV’ers out there: Bob is providing a valuable service with Site Review Mondays – take him up on it before he realizes he could charge big money for this type of review and feedback!

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