The Business of Software Wiki

A part of Joel on Software, and a companion to the Business of Software discussion group.

Top 50 ways of selling more software

By Dave Collins

Lists are popular. We all like reading them, and quite rightly so.

My particular list is infinitely more useful than most. If you follow my advice, I can help you to sell more software. Really.

Disclaimer: This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that you can or should do to sell more software. It’s a collection of 50 items that I think are important. Are there others? Definitely. But the top 60 just didn’t do it for me. And the thought of compiling the top 100 made me want to cry.

Useless yet fascinating facts: Within the top 50 list, the word “don’t” was used 18 times, “you” 48 times, and “marketing” 4 times. Draw your own conclusions.

  1. Google AdWords. Invest the time, learn how to tame it or get someone to do it for you.
  2. Search Engine Optimisation. If you don’t think SEO is worthwhile, then you probably shouldn’t bother reading the rest of this list.
  3. Press Releases. Don’t just go for the free options. PRWeb is a good option if you can write a good release, and companies like DP Directory – http://www.dpdirectory.com - are very good value if you can’t.
  4. Blog and RSS feed. If you have something to sell then you should have something to say. But don’t (i) just talk about your dog and favourite Star Trek episodes and/or (ii) only post once every two months. Marcus’ Macro Blog gets the balance right - http://www.mjtnet.com/blog/ - and FeedForAll makes creating an RSS feed simplicity. http://www.feedforall.com.
  5. Social bookmarking. Learn what it is and how to tap into it. It works.
  6. Blitz the software sites. There are a choice of reputable services out there that can do this for you. Doing it yourself is no longer necessary.
  7. Online demo. If your application looks good in action then show people. Watching a good demo can be as good as installing a trial version, without the headache. But do it right. Listening to a slow-talking muffled voice over the sound of someone hammering away at his keyboard is painful. BB FlashBack is a good choice - http://www.bbsoftware.co.uk.
  8. Pushing it in front of the right eyeballs. Droning on about your app to your grandmother is futile and a little cruel. Making sure that the people who could use and buy it know about is a better idea.
  9. Set yourself up as a friendly expert. Forums, notice boards, discussion lists, blogs, panels at conferences and print publications all give you the chance to show people how much you know. We’ve been using this approach for years, and are happy to testify how well it can work. What, you thought I was just a nice guy?? http://www.davetalks.com.
  10. Targeted discounts. Depending on your markets, people really like time limited “special offers”. If they’ve already heard about your product and were interested, this can be a good means of boosting your sales.
  11. Set the right price. Low pricing is one of the more common mistakes in the online software industry. Experiment and track.
  12. Have a fresh set of eyes look at your software. There is no way that you can possibly look at your own software objectively; you are blind to how it looks, feels and works. Have other people look at your software for you – without your hovering over their shoulder telling them what to click and how cool it looks. http://software-evaluation.info or http://www.reviewmysoftware.com/
  13. Use your time more efficiently. Are 20+ postings a day in the ASP newsgroups really more important than developing your product, website or marketing? If you have time to spend hours in the newsgroups and forums each day, you’re either incredibly wealthy and successful, have a lot of spare time on your hands, or have developed procrastination into a fine art form. Be honest with yourself.
  14. Accept that you can’t do everything yourself. Look into outsourcing or taking someone on. It’s not as big a hurdle as it might at first appear.
  15. Know your strengths and build on them. Are you a golden sales person, a marketing wizard or a code guru?
  16. Always know what your competition are doing. Software makes doing so very easy, and you should be aware of what they’re up to.
  17. Be the first to know when the winds of change blow through your industry. Don’t wait for your customers to educate you.
  18. Expand into new markets. Unless you have the most targeted of niche applications (Excel plugin for UK-based Organic Egg Farmers in the South of England who only export to Germany) then there are almost certainly a whole range of brand new markets just waiting for you to dip your toes in. Find them.
  19. Know what your website visitors are doing. Repeat after me: Log Analysis is Essential.
  20. Learn to prioritise your work. And don’t do so by reading 15 books about time management. Software like Action Outline makes setting and managing your priorities very easy. http://www.actionoutline.com
  21. Have a fresh set of eyes look at your website. You’re far too used to seeing it, and are probably missing the obvious. http://sharewarepromotions.com/website_review.html
  22. Use technology to save you time – tools like Macro Scheduler and Type Pilot can save you literally hours every week. http://www.mjtnet.com/ and http://www.colorpilot.com/typepilot.html.
  23. Diversify. The more products you have, the more sales opportunities you open, and the more you cover yourself for the future
  24. Strike the right balance between a trial version that’s too restrictive and one that’s too generous. Don’t give your software away, but don’t nag them into uninstalling either.
  25. Look into partnering. Learn to recognise partners who are worthwhile and the black holes of time and effort.
  26. Software bundles. Easy to setup, nothing to lose.
  27. Plan. If you drift from day to day, responding to whatever happens upon you, you may want to either get your head looked at or do a little planning. Stay in control.
  28. Learn how to upsell. Once your potential customers have jumped over the “I don’t like parting with cash” barrier, they are usually receptive to buying the better version and/or other products at a discount. With one hand on their credit card and the other on their mouse, seize the opportunity.
  29. Be seen, be sold. Never miss an opportunity to get your name and/or product in front of people. Within reason.
  30. Be prepared to spend money. If you’re looking for a marketing company but are only prepared to spend $100 a week, you’ll get what you pay for. Those who pay peanuts get monkeys.
  31. Newsgroup/forum signatures are not just a means of filling space. They are useful. And they work. See rule 9.
  32. Be prepared to try everything once. Again, within reason. Every form of advertising or promotion carries a risk. If you don’t try you’ll never know.
  33. Set yourself sales goals with action items to make sure they happen. You may have more control over your sales than you realise. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
  34. Set aside time for planning every week. Never let the business run your days for you.
  35. Invest in time. A part-time assistant to deal with admin can prove to be an effective means of freeing up some time that can be put to better use. And let’s face it, who has ever said “Man, I miss the paperwork”?
  36. Walk away from your business once in a while. Make sure you occasionally realign your priorities, and remind yourself why you work hard.
  37. Tap into experts. Whether it’s a local business advisor, a friend with a good business head, a mentor or a marketing guru. Hint: If a person describes themselves as a guru of anything, then they’re probably not.
  38. Read books that are good for your business. Anyone who will give you new ideas and inspire you (with more than “the world IS my oyster” type of rubbish) is worth reading. And when you’ve bought them don’t just leave them on the bookshelf – that’s my particular specialised sin!
  39. Don’t read self help books. They only help the authors and publishers. If you need to gain more confidence, become more attractive, feel more successful and make more money, follow every one of these top 50 pointers.
  40. Keep up to date with new technology. Don’t ask your customers what an RSS feed is, or whether your software works on their Vista system.
  41. Be flexible with accepting payments. Purchase orders, American Express, PayPal & Debit Cards should all be there next to Visa.
  42. Don’t be stingy with your software. Don’t give editors a 90 day trial version, and don’t battle for days with the person who wants a $19.99 refund. See rule 20.
  43. Remember that there is a world outside the borders of the US. And most of us are friendly.
  44. Insure your company. If you rely on your internet connection, then having a second (low cost) ADSL connection with a different provider on a second phone line might make the difference between being able to work or tear your hair out for a week. Imagine your connection goes down tomorrow for 4 days. It happened to our company last year. $20 a month is very cheap price to pay for peace of mind.
  45. Speak the language of your customers. Know what makes them tick. Techies and veterans of Windows 3.x hate the Windows XP child-friendly look. Your parents would hate the power and flexibility of Windows NT. Give your customers what they want and are looking for.
  46. Make sure your website looks up to date. Retro isn’t cute, and jagged pixels don’t create confidence. Animated animals that bounce across from side to side, fluorescent green backgrounds and midi music all cause pain. To your visitors as well as your sales.
  47. Learn how to write properly. If you can’t, or don’t have the time, then get someone else to do it for you. If English is your second language, I know it isn’t fair. Such is life. Becky Lash from Epic Trends has a well-deserved excellent reputation. http://www.epictrends.com/
  48. Reassure your visitors and potential customers. Show them how established you are. Show them your money back guarantee. Reassure them with how secure their transaction will be.
  49. Keep it brief. If your website makes me scroll my mouse for five minutes to get to the bottom of the page then I never will.
  50. Keep in touch. Make sure that when your website visitors want to contact you they can do so with ease. Every visitor is a potential sale.
  51. Always provide more than is expected. Anyone who complains that my top 50 list contains 51 items should follow the advice of rule 36. Fast.