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Doug Nebeker ("Doug")
This is a marketing related question.
I know of a small software vendor that provides a specific type of niche software to local and regional government offices. Their software is listed by many local governments as a gateway to certain public facing functions. And a lot of government jobs in some locations require knowledge of this vendor's software. In other words, if you Google the vendor's full name in double quotes, you get hits like these.
This small vendor has absolutely no internet footprint, aside from a really poor website and no online ordering capability. They don't even post prices and they certainly don't have online ordering. The website looks rank amateur level, kind of a Geocities/Tripod vibe.
Rhetorical question - how does such a vendor that is so far out of step with shrinkwrap and SaaS as it's marketed today even survive?
I'm imagining that any of the following happens:
The vendor (probably the owner) is active socially in regional government meetings and conferences, and hobnobs and makes connections that result in new purchases and installs.
The vendor makes tons of outbound sales calls to gov offices.
The vendor advertises extensively in print publications. (I'm kind of doubting this - they appear so rinky-dink that such an expense would be far more than they could handle.)
Government people who like and use the vendor's software in their jobs will change jobs and recommend the vendor's stuff for their new office.
I'm interested in helping this vendor market, er, moar better. But I'd like to grasp how they may be selling their stuff at present. This is a business that seems to be following the marketing practices of the mid-1980s. How they're even keeping the lights on is a mystery to me.
Yes, I know, ask them. I'd like some ideas before I do, so I appear to be well informed, and not like a jerk, before contacting them.
I actually work for the Australian Government, and I can tell you that my superiors higher-up (executive level) don't care about Flash web sites and glossy products. I know this from personal experience when I showed them my Notepad-written website recently. :) So when you say "the website looks rank amateur level, kind of a Geocities/Tripod vibe", that doesn't matter one iota to *our* government. Appearance is not a deciding factor, trust me.
I agree with PSB136, in that Government IT generally isn't driven by modern trends, they are extremely conservative. You only have to look at the numerous 1990's sytle Government websites to see that.
However, this is starting to change. Certainly in the UK, there has been a lot of work done to improve Government websites. They now look like "Bootstrap Templates", which is a vast improvement.
Much of the software used by doctors in the NHS is still abysmal, either green-screen text-based or "modern", but still ghastly design and terrible UX.
In general, it is extremley difficult to get into "the club" of Government software suppliers. It is often effectively a cartel, made up of companies that have got extremely rich on these projects.
I have done some government work (the infamous nuclear sub project as a student, mentioned here before), but that was only after being a sub-sub-sub-sub-contractor and every layer above me, who did all the actual work, working full time on "managing the contract". As an aside, this also gave me a good insight into why Government IT is so insanely expensive.
I bet this vendor does well out of inertia. The government offices started using his software and they stick with what they have, and then recommend it to related offices as needed. In a way, slick stuff may even seem less "sturdy" or "trustworthy". Clunky old crap that works for years is a safer bet in some of their minds, perhaps.
My own government software inefficiency anecdote: I worked for the a U.S. state government at one point at a time when forms on web sites existed, but the office I worked for conducted a giant survey on paper forms, then received the forms in the postal mail, then entered the data manually, then "the system" caught human entry errors, we then had to call the original human form-filler-outers and over the phone or by fax indicate the errors, and then they would have to go find the records in order to correct the forms (records that were by then 18 months old!), they would then tell us over the phone or by fax, and then someone would re-enter the data into "the system". This took about 7 people working full time for months to correct.
Instead, there could have been web forms that would validate the data upon entry and save an enormous amount of time, money, and inaccuracy.
This is all helpful. Thanks. FWIW, I'm in the US in a Midwestern state.
The point of all this is to determine if they would even appreciate or comprehend that they could market their products better online.
I'm thinking that a decent looking site plus decent presentation would generate a ton of new business for them. In fact, when you land on their page, aside from a lame contact form and email and phone numbers, it's not clear what you're even supposed to do in order to get started.
This business's marketing has a vibe of 80s mainframe or 90s DOS networked PCs. They have almost nothing "now": no testimonials, no list of user agencies, a bit incoherent product overviews that are poorly organized, and a "written by programmers" feel. To give an idea, their current website mentions Access .MDB, Novell and Windows NT.
I researched them through the usual commercial biz databases, statewide as well as the Zoominfo and other aggregators. They appear to be a two person business. So I had another idea to add to the pile of ideas above. They may be listed by some state governments as of providers of software in their niche. They are a small biz so I'm thinking they take advantage of set asides for small business, women and/or minority owned businesses. So maybe they live off of internal listings of vendors.
> I bet this vendor does well out of inertia. The government offices started using his software and they stick with what they have, and then recommend it to related offices as needed. In a way, slick stuff may even seem less "sturdy" or "trustworthy".
I completely agree and I understood that before posting. In fact, newer marketing could leverage that aspect. My question was more like, how does marketing and cash flow work for a tiny software business that doesn't seem to do ANY current marketing? IE: how did they even get started and sustain enough business to survive until today?
Their search engine footprint, aside from their own site, the usual trashy mirror SEO sites, and a few government site references, is absolutely zip. If you search for software providers of their type of product, you will find nothing referencing them.
Make sure that if you approach this company that you dont just improve their web site and increase their sales by making them more professional. Because if you do that they wont need you after you have finished - if they fire you they will be left with the lasting benefit and you will have nothing.
If you do work with the company you need to do it in a way that makes you indespensible. Perhaps you could ask if they need sales people, or perhaps they would agree to you distributing their software and paying them a licence fee. That way you could skim off all of these extra sales that you say are possible and they wont be able to make those sales without you. Over time you could make their contacts within the government your own and try to substitute you own software in there instead of their clunky old software.
By the way, can you make some software to compete with theirs or are you just limiting yourself to helping them improve their sales?
> By the way, can you make some software to compete with theirs or are you just limiting yourself to helping them improve their sales?
My experience indicates that most niches have barriers to entry that requires time and money to research and exploit. I'm more interested in selling shovels to miners than joining the gold rush.
I do think they're leaving all kinds of sales on the table by having such crap online marketing.
> If you do work with the company you need to do it in a way that makes you indespensible. Perhaps you could ask if they need sales people, or perhaps they would agree to you distributing their software and paying them a licence fee.
That's actually quite brilliant. I'd have to research how to do that.
Making a decent looking website is pretty trivial these days. They're most certainly bombarded with spam emails and cold calls trying to sell them a new website. I receive them and I don't have nearly the footprint in the market that you describe them having.
You need to better understand how they market before you can offer them improvements on how to do so.
Perhaps they would be willing to take you on as an affiliate. You get a portion of whatever you sell. Try the things you've mentioned and see if it works.
> Making a decent looking website is pretty trivial these days.
For someone who gets it. And if they could, they would. They very clearly can't. They can't even write well.
I'm not being condescending about this because they obviously have business and cash flow. But on the other hand their business operates out of a modest house in a village out in the boondocks. Yes, they probably "like" how things are now but they're probably in denial and have no ideas about how to go. I'm guessing they would do dramatically more business with a decent professional image.
> They're most certainly bombarded with spam emails and cold calls trying to sell them a new website.
And THAT is the challenge, to not sound like every retarded Chinglish/Hinglish offshore SEO service and money grubbing web shop with a one size fits all package.
Their footprint is actually very tiny. What I shared is everything that can be found about their business.
> You need to better understand how they market before you can offer them improvements on how to do so.
That's the exact purpose of this thread, to guess how their marketing works now. I know I won't get it right without talking to them, but I want to start out acknowledging that they have business so they'll at least listen.
> Perhaps they would be willing to take you on as an affiliate.
Don't want to at present. I don't know enough to structure such a deal.
They also may be intentionally keeping it the way it is to not get more business then they can handle. If it's a two person business they could be keeping it small to keep it where they can manage it without anymore people.
I have worked with small businesses with less than 10 people where the business was exactly where the owners wanted it. Enough work to keep them busy and employed but not so much they had to bring on more people to keep up. That way they could work and devote time to other things.
Monday, February 16, 2015
> They also may be intentionally keeping it the way it is to not get more business then they can handle.
That's a REALLY good point.
Or it may be an unconscious decision. I've worked with small businesses that are like that. They stay small and it reflects the self confidence and attitude of the owners.
What Racky and Trippinonit said.
I have a few cities for clients, and they did find me on the internet, but more often due to tips/tutorials I put out there than my actual website. And from people moving from one city to another one. My point - they don't seem to care about my website. Which also has no pricing. (Nor do most of my competitors give pricing.)
You sound like my husband who does some marketing but no programming for our business "We need a new website, we can sell so much more...." and I'm saying "Slow down!!!"
If you approach them you might consider going in with a partnership type offer where you could help them keep up if you do generate more business than they can handle.
Of course they may be leery. I would not want to turn over my code to a potential partner or give up any control of how I run my business. You'll only know if you ask. They may be waiting to be discovered!
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