How to make sure people don’t want to buy your software

Since a few weeks, I have to look for software to solve certain problems and to evaluate it. During these weeks, I have learned that many companies seem determined to make sales as hard as possible. Really, I think I saw a complete 101 about “How to make sure no one wants to buy your stuff” that just makes me think “How are these companies still around?”.

You’re in a Marketplace, competing against others

Okay, this may come as a surprise to some CEOs, maybe it will even shatter their view of the world: Your company and your products are not alone in the world. There are other companies and other products, which target the same audience. The sooner you start realizing that you’re not alone, the sooner you can evaluate whether your sales force is competetive.

During the initial research of my current task, I ended up with around 20 different product names. I want to cut down that list as fast as possible. I don’t have time to do a thorough evaluation of each of these 20 solutions. So I’m naturally interested in cutting down that list to maybe 3 or 4 products which then get a full, deep evaluation. If you want to be one of the 16 companies that get cut without any evaluation, here is what you have to do:

Do not list any prices on your Website

Ah, I get it: You’re providing enterprise solutions for enterprise customers. So no need to list prices, just “Contact Sales to get a Quote”. Yeah, right. There are exactly two outcomes of this: 1. You look at who we are, and then rip us off or 2. You’re too expensive anyway.

Price is a big part of the evaluation. I want to know how much it will cost, and I want to extrapolate the costs for future growth. If I have to contact sales and then have to wait a day or more for an answer because you’re busy or in a different time zone, then that creates a high barrier. Also, it does not help to build trust, because I always have to keep in mind that you’re likely trying to rip us off.

If we are talking about implementing some Six-Figure software that requires people from your company to come over and implement your solution (say, SAP), then I agree that a dedicated contract is perfectly fine. But if you’re just selling a piece of software that is a) priced below 10000 $ and b) will be implemented completely by us anyway, then not having a price listed on the website is almost a guaranteed way to get cut off my list.

Do not list any technical details about the product

So you have this really shiny product brochure, showing how the product looks for the end user, promising that it can do anything? That’s great, I’ll need this brochure when I present it to the people who sign the cheques. But first I need to know if your solution really fits my needs. I want the deep technical details, the abbreviations, the ugly stuff. Your software aggregates data? Great! Where from? Does it still rely on ODBC? Or does it use ADO.net? Can it get data from the Business Data Catalog? When your solution integrates with e-Mail, does it work with IMAP? Can I modify the Output that your solution generates? If yes, how? Do you use XSLT? Or some templating language you’ve invented? If yes, how does it work?

Make sure that I can download the installation, administration and end user manuals. If my task is to aggregate data from Oracle, MSSQL, MySQL and BDC, transform it into a specific format and then e-Mail, I need to know if your solution can actually do that and what technology it involves.

Shiny product brochures are good to get the cheques signed, but technical documentation is what makes me write the cheque in the first place.

Require registration to download a trial/demo version or manual

Okay, so your solution is priced nicely and the technical documentation looks great, so I’ll decide to give it a try by downloading the 30-day trial version (you have a trial version of all your products, do you?). But then I get this nice little message saying “Before you may enter our holy halls and download our sacred software, you must first kneel down before us and tell us who you are”. Well, actually the message is usually saying “Please register to download”.

Let me clarify the roles for a moment: You want something from me. My money. I may want something from you, but I can as well live without. Imagine a shopping mall where you have to give your passport to the owner of each store before you are allowed to do some window shopping or take a closer look at a product on a shelf. Unbelievable? Indeed, but that’s how some companies try to run their business on the internet.

I usually take one of two ways: a) I move you to the bottom of the list or b) I register under a fake name and e-Mail address. Unlike the real world passport, I can easily set up a fake identity on the internet. Tonight I’m Hermann Li, working for the British Government. Tomorrow I am Tom Selleck, working for Paramount Pictures. And maybe next week I am Goan Farkyu from a small Asian company specializing in underwater golf courses.

You say that you would like to know who downloads your solutions, so that you know which markets you need to target? You say that you are just providing better service by being able to contact interested customers in a personalized way? I say: You fail. I add trash to the contact databases of crappy companies every week, and so do others. I don’t work for the government, I don’t work for Paramount, and I certainly do not work on underwater golf courses. But your contact databases say something different now. So while you are planning to increase your marketing in Asia, I am already feeding trash into another contact database, this time I am a Prince from Nigeria.

Also, you should apply a rule that was created in Hollywood: Don’t call us, we call you. If I download a trial version, that does not mean that I am interested in any follow-up call from you. I don’t want your newsletter, I don’t want a call from sales, I don’t want to take a product evaluation survey. We will contact you if we have questions, not the other way round.

Random observation: If you’re working for Pixar, companies seem to be very eager to contact you as fast as they can. As a Pixar Employee, I get contacted usually twice as fast as a Microsoft employee.

Store your passwords in cleartext

Ha, got you. This point seems out of place here, but it fits with the previous point. The first thing that I do after registering with a fake identity: I use the “I forgot my password” feature and see what happens. If you send me back my original password, you’re almost certainly out because you don’t care about your customers. There is no excuse to storing passwords in cleartext. You say “We want to make it more convenient for the user”? I say “Goodbye, not doing business with you”. There are exactly two ways to store passwords: 1. Salted and Hashed or 2. Not at all (i.e. use OpenID instead of implementing your own authentication mechanism). Clear-Text and Non-Salted Hash is completely and absolutely out of question, no exceptions.

I am a programmer, doing a technical evaluation. I know about the stuff I am looking for and working with. If I get the impression that you don’t know about the stuff you’re working with, then we’re not doing business.

In the end, it’s all about mutual respect

At the end of the day, both of us want to create a Win-Win situation. I want to solve my business problem, you want to make a good sale. But if any side is not being treated with respect or feels like getting cheated, that will complicate business relations, or make them impossible.

I don’t know what “the usual” way of corporate business application evaluation is, but I do know what I am looking for. I want to do window shopping and no-friction evaluation. Thus, you have to make the first step: By allowing me to easily get the information I need, you are showing respect and trust. And if I like what I see, I will make a step forward as well and contact you. On the other hand, if you expect me to do the first step towards you, then chances are high that I look at the competition first.