By Bob Walsh

In a recent post, usability guru Jakob Nielsen makes a point every micro-ISV needs to learn by heart: “Annoyances matter, because they compound.Jakob was talking about online forms that use unfriendly dropdowns for state instead of the standard 2 letter abbreviations everyone in the U.S. knows and uses, but the point applies to the entire micro-ISV marketing, selling an support process.

If you annoy prospective customers too much – whether out of indifference, ignorance or misguided objectives – they will not buy from you and your business will fail.

Here’s a breakdown of 13 annoyances you should avoid, how customers perceive them and what you, in my opinion, should do as an alternative:

The Web Site:

  • No contact (address, name, phone, physical address) information listed.
    You want to sell me something and you won’t tell me who you are? This is not just an annoyance – it’s a dealbreaker for most online customers. State your contact info clearly.
  • Only means of contact is an online form.
    I have to use a form that asks me all sorts of irrelevant questions just to be worthy of conversing with you? Post your email, not an anonymous sales@acme.com. Put the customer’s convenience ahead of your own. Why? Because they are paying you money, not the reverse.
  • No price visible.
    You won’t tell me the price unless I agree to be annoyed by your email, or even worse, telemarketing call? Are you crazy? State the price on the home page or no more than one click away. If your sell big ticket software, state the base price, and what the typical sales price range is.

The Trial Version:

  • Require a name and email address or worse to download.
    They’re going to nag me to buy, or sell my email or telemarket me! You don’t care how many people download your trial version; you care how many buy it. Or you should. What value are you providing your prospective customers by making them jump through this hoop?
  • Cripple your trial version.
    They want me to buy their product but they don’t trust me. Do not cripple your own product! Don’t limit the number of things it can do, or its ability to save, print or any other functionality. All you do by crippling features is demonstrating you don’t trust your prospective customers, your coding abilities or your product. By all means, limit the trial to the industry-standard of 30 days, but breaking a leg of you product and then expecting it to go out there and sell is unrealistic.
  • Don’t offer trial version tech support.
    If I can’t get answers to my questions now, when will I? Treat prospective customers like they are customers and they will become customers. Sure, some of that will be “wasted effort” – but surprisingly little, and those who stand and not buy also serve your word of mouth reputation.
  • Hard sell the prospective customer during the trial.
    Great, another spam email from those guys. And they want me to give them money? Your marketing has already worked because they downloaded the trial version – now it’s time to make them comfortable about their relationship with you – and if and only if they want to. Want to send them a getting started email? Ask them. Have a great video? Ask them. Offer them real, understandable, respectful value.

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    Not convinced? Consider this – there was a time when there were dozens of Windows screen capture programs for sale by micro-ISVs, with no clear market leader. TechSmith became the market leader – and a mid-sized ISV – by offering a solid product with fewer annoyances than its competitors and keeps that position today by not succumbing to internal motivations to annoy the customer. Here’s what they do:

The Purchase:

  • Use your own ecommerce process, because it’s better.
    Why can’t they do things right like Amazon? What if they screw it up or steal from me? Can I really trust this company? Unless you sell an ecommerce shopping process, go with an established vendor. Digital River, Avangate, PayPal, 2Checkout.com, ClickBank, Google Checkout, SWREG and RegNow are among the many vendors out there who provided a trusted third party to your interaction with customers and who lend you credibility as a vendor.
  • Be vague about what you’re selling.
    So does that license mean I can run this on my work PC and at home? What about upgrades? Be clear what the customer is getting for their money – state how long they will get major upgrades after they purchase.
  • Make them reinstall the product.
    You mean I have to download this thing again? If the rest of the industry manages to avoid inflicting a second download on their customers, you can too. Yes, there are products out there that require you to download the full version, but fewer every year.

The After Sales and Tech Support:

  • Provide tech support only through a phpbb forum.
    I have to read all these fracking messages just to find out why I can’t install? Why did I buy this piece of crap? I hate phpbb forums. Large ISVs like game ISVs use them as a cheapie go to hell way of not providing support. Large companies use them because they are hopelessly bureaucratic and don’t give a crap about their customers. Micro-ISVs use them because they can mess with the code. Offer your customers a way to at least get tech/sales support via email. As much as I hate phpbb forums, I agree they can – if part of a range of support options and done right – be positive. By way of example, consider micro-ISV Thraex Software’s forum.
  • Don’t update your product.
    It’s been months since I reported this bug and it’s still not fixed – dump it. Updating your software lets customers know you are still alive and that boosts sales. Yes, it’s hard to find time to do updates, but it’s the single most important thing you can do to boost sales. I know from personal experience just how hard it is to update, and what it costs you in sales to allow even trivial bugs to fester: learn from my mistakes.
  • Don’t respond to each and every query.
    I emailed them a week ago – why don’t they answer? You may not like that they found a bug in your app, are rude or too stupid to read the help screen. Tough. Tech support requests are how the universe tells you that you have screwed up because there is a bug in your app, because you’ve pissed them off or not connected to them so they feel they can be rude to you, because no one gets your way of doing something and they think should be done some other way. This is called feedback, valuable feedback, feedback you can use to make a better customer experience and make more money – not something you can ignore.

There are plenty of other annoyances that need to be squashed out there, but the above are the biggies in our micro-ISV world. Consider them carefully. By rooting out annoyances people have to contend with to do business with your company, you prove your micro-ISV is worth doing business with. And that’s a very, very good thing.

7 Comments

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  2. Cripple your trial version.
    They want me to buy their product but they don’t trust me. Do not cripple your own product! Don’t limit the number of things it can do, or its ability to save, print or any other functionality. All you do by crippling features is demonstrating you don’t trust your prospective customers, your coding abilities or your product. By all means, limit the trial to the industry-standard of 30 days, but breaking a leg of you product and then expecting it to go out there and sell is unrealistic.
    This doesn’t work. You have to limit smth (besides the trial period) in order to get more sales. A few years ago there was a research/report on this.

  3. bobw Reply

    smth = something?
    Sorry, I’ve not heard of such a report, nor can you – I think – name one well-known ISV who does this. Think about it this way: you want the customer to be to get used to having their problem solved via your micro-ISV product. Why would you want to imped that? Of course limit how long they ride for free, but that’s it.

  4. Bob,
    > Sorry, I’ve not heard of such a report, nor can you – I think – name one well-known ISV who does
    > this.
    As far as I remember, I’ve read the report in 2002 (and it was made even earlier) and I can’t find it now. It was not a research from a well-known ISV, it was a part of someone’s dissertation or kind of that scientific work. It was a research among users – what conditions should be applied so they will pay for software.
    Some of the conclusions were:
    – if there’s an unlimited fully-functional trial, people tend to use the product without purchasing it
    – nobody likes nag screens and therefore people prefer to buy the product before its trial 30 days is over
    > Think about it this way: you want the customer to be to get used to having their problem
    > solved via your micro-ISV product. Why would you want to imped that? Of course limit how long they
    > ride for free, but that’s it.
    Of course it’s great when a customer gets used to the product. But whether to provide a fully-functional trial greatly depends on the product. For some products it’s ok, for other products, e.g. which are used once a year/month (like password recovery tools or Passport Photo Maker) this is not reasonable.
    P.S. smth = something. Sorry for my poor English

  5. Stephane Rodriguez Reply

    There are counter-examples to every single point of yours.
    For instance, my customers ask for an online forum for getting support (searching in existing posts, and possibly getting a sense of the community around the product).

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