(Note: originally ran this post when this ebook came out nearly 2 years ago – which may mean you missed it. Also, I’m considering doing the not inconsiderable work to reformat and sell for the Kindle. What do you think?)
[The following is a free sample from my ebook, MicroISV Sites that Sell! – Creating and Marketing your Unique Selling Proposition. You can get the rest of this ebook designed to substantially improve your software/SaaS sales for $19 USD.
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Before we can get to the good stuff, we need to do a bit of garbage collection. We need to take a look at six mistakes microISVs often make. These are mistakes for one simple reason: they turn off sales.
Mistake 1: Where’s your Hook?
We will talk about the Hook in much more detail in the next section, but the lack of a Hook is easily the number one mistake I see developers who sell software make. Simply put, the Hook answers the question, “Why should I spend another second on this web site?”
You have to put yourself in the mind of someone who for the very first time arrives at your site. They may be coming from Google search results, your Google Adwords campaign, your signature line in a forum posting, a blog post that mentions your product and three others or who knows where.
The first time visitor has no emotional investment in staying on your home page or landing page whatsoever. Yet. What you sell is completely irrelevant to them. For now. They have no reason to believe you actually sell something, let alone something that they want.
The Hook is your initial statement which answers why your product is relevant to them, why you might be credible as a solution provider and how exactly your solution is in one or more ways better than either continuing to have the problem or whatever they are doing or using right now.
Note: Initial means just that. It not everything about your product; it’s just enough to get them to read the next paragraph of your copy on your home page.
Second Note – it has to be the very first thing on the page that gets their attention – because if it’s not, either because it isn’t concise enough, compelling enough, big enough – most first time visitors will leave right then and there.

Mistake 2: Ugly hurts.
The bald fact of the matter is that most programmers suck at graphic design. Making a web page look good is hard work – you can do it, but it’s not a trivial effort.
If your site is ugly, no matter how much time you put into it, no matter how long you’ve had it, no matter who made it, it’s ugly. And ugly costs you sales.
I have seen this particular anti-pattern among more than a few attendees at both the Software Industry Conference and the European Shareware Conference: Joe has been a microISV longer than that term has been around. He did his site ten years ago when blinking text, frames and five different fonts for tons of text were cool. Joe gets emotional and upset if anyone tells him his child web site is ugly: he resists any and all suggestions to update it and thereby improve his sales.
If Joe sounds a bit like you, it’s time to get over it. Your web site is nothing more than a way to sell (and possibly deliver) you software. It is not your child, your puppy or a part of your anatomy. If it’s ugly, it’s ugly and it’s costing you sales.
Mistake 3: Too many words.
Consider the following. If I convince you my software will let you code five times faster and better than you can right now, really convince you of this, how much time and effort would you put into learning how to use it? A lot. You’d read every page of my documentation, my web site, my support forum. You’d watch every screencast, checkout every function, try every example.
But you’d only do all this if you were convinced it was worth your while. Enter Mistake #3. Maybe it’s the 23 bullet points of features, or the 14 paragraphs that explain 28 different functions you can perform in your app, or even the 12 paragraph testimonial from “A Customer”.
Too much text before you’ve convinced that first time visitor that you are worth their precious time drives away customers in droves. That visitor (it’s too early to call them even a potential customer) takes one look and without reading a single one of your 14 bullet points clicks off your page. They have no reason to put the time and effort into reading all your text, so they don’t.
Mistake 4: Google AdSense on your site.
Just as there is no better way of reaching your target market presently than Google AdWords, there is no better way of convincing visitors to forever leave your site than running Google Ads on it.
Text ads fine if you are running a professional blog – they are your revenue model. But if you are selling a product, it breaks trust with the visitor to sell them other people’s products and services when by happy circumstance they’ve come looking for what you have to offer. You want – you need – their undivided attention for at least a few seconds if you are going to have any hope of selling what you have to offer.
Text ads also poison your business credibility: If you don’t have enough confidence in your product to not try and make a few bucks advertising other people’s products on your site, why on earth would I consider buying from you?
Mistake 5: The Invisible Man.
“Psst! Wanna to buy some software that will solve your problems? Just give me your credit card number and we’ll get it out to you in a jiffy. Never mind who I am – what do you care? You want that problem solved or not?”
If this sounds like what you’d expect to hear in a dark alley or in a badly done online scam, you’re right. It is most emphatically not what you want your customers to be hearing when you’re selling your software to them.
The lack of an easy to find, clear legal identity in the real world is a sales killer. Other than drug addicts and spies, we all want to know who we are dealing with, who exactly is asking us to give them money for the promise they will give us something we want in exchange.
Yet at software site after software site, the identity of the seller is either buried 3 clicks down, missing key information like a physical address and telephone number or cloaked in corporate-speak.
I think for developers in North America, Europe, and elsewhere in the developed world this mistake is born from naively thinking that just because all the companies you know and interact with are anonymous “thems” with no visible people involved, you can be too. Leaving aside companies who succeed bucking this trend, you need to remember those companies are a hundred to a hundred thousand times your size, have been consistently selling their products for years if not decades. They have established trust – you need to earn it.
Not being able to find a physical address, telephone number and business name within one click of the home page is a deal breaker for me when shopping for software: most people feel the same.
For developers trying to sell to North Americans and Europeans, the widespread perception (based on the effects of years of spam more than anything else) that software from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East or Africa is also dangerous is a huge, real issue. But the solution is not hiding your identity – it’s making it abundantly clear who you are.
Mistake 6: Customer as Circus Animal.
For some reason, some microISVs think that just because “real software companies” treat them like crap, that they should do the same. So they spend time and effort creating ever more complex hurdles between what their customers want to do and what they are selling.
Here’s a couple of examples:

  • Requiring people to register before you will let them download a trial.
  • Requiring people to register before they can send you a pre-sale question.
  • Requiring people to complete a form and surrender their email before you tell them what your software costs.
  • Requiring people to email you before you will tell them what your software costs.

If by some great good fortune (and maybe the help of this ebook) people actually are prepared to trust you and spend their time on your software, why would you slap them in the face and make them jump through various hoops?
Again, this is an attitude and a worldview you’ve probably been subjected to – it’s not the way a microISV or startup should function if they want to succeed. More often than not in those large companies, collecting data becomes a goal onto itself with nothing but bureaucratic inertia going for it.
Wrap up.
In preparation of getting to the meat of this ebook, we’ve just eyeballed a lineup of mistakes fledgling microISVs often make. Most of these mistakes stem from one of two sources: thinking your microISV or startup should act like a “real” company or assuming that because you’re a developer not a marketing suit or copywriter you can’t create a web site that’s attractive, engaging, professional and effective and that that’s okay.
These six mistakes:

  • Not hooking your first time visitor before they can punch their next hyperlink,
  • Forgetting that attractive attracts and ugly doesn’t,
  • Drowning your visitor with words,
  • Dividing their attention with other people’s ads,
  • Not leveling with them as to who you are,
  • Making them jump though hoops that from their point of view has no benefit…

…will all cost you significant sales. But clinging to either of the two attitudes I mentioned above will likely doom your efforts.
The good news is you don’t have to be anything you’re not – a new software company bravely coming to market to make people’s lives better. And by approaching the marketing you need to master to sell not as some dreaded poison that will turn you into a phony suit-droid but as a programming problem, as a way of “programming” your site to get the outputs you want, you can succeed beyond your hopes.
In the next section we’ll dive into that programming problem – marketing your software. It’s not the first time people have needed to solve this problem, so why not do what savvy and experienced programers do: apply a design pattern to solve the problem?

1 Comment

  1. Ahmed Memon Reply

    Thanks for the writeup, I liked “Mistake 5: The Invisible Man.” I agree that being truthful pays in long term, but in return what price we have to pay? http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?biz.5.794324.2
    I m planning to purchase Kindle versions of your Blogging & Micro ISV books, I dont know how many readers you have from Non-US countries, but kinddle seems more economical (no shipping fee, lesser price).

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