Startup DNA

For those in the software / SaaS business, an interesting slide deck from a guy involved in some fairly high end startups.

The last third of the deck is not as impactful as the first 2/3rds, where in addition to his comments, the author offers some pretty helpful resources.

It’s worth a look.

The single most painful lesson software companies learn

The most painful conversations I have with small software business owners are about marketing.

One of the more common ones relate how another company “stole” their business with “more aggressive” marketing.

The victim of this “theft” blames it on someone else’s marketing despite watching it happen right in front of them and doing nothing more than grumble about it.

Sometimes they’ll drag out the old programmers’ tale that “the best software never wins”.

It’s an attempt to imply that better marketed software must be a lesser product and those who effectively market their software are less professional by doing so. All they’re really doing is deflecting their inability to take responsibility to someone who is running the business better than they are.

It’s a bug in their mindset.

It’s your competitor’s fault?

Most software business owners who watched someone use a better tool to create software would take steps to evaluate that tool to see if it made sense for their business.

The exception? When that “better tool” is better marketing and sales.

In that case, they’ll usually just watch, grumble about that competitor’s so-called “unfair behavior” and do nothing about it. It’s as if someone has emasculated them.

If you sit and watch better marketing executed in your market and then you do nothing to improve your own marketing, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If you allow your relationship with an existing customer to degrade to the point where one of these “aggressive” marketers could gain your client’s attention and demo their software, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If your favorite team ignored the quality of one critical aspect of their game, you’d recognize their mistake. You might even yell at your TV over it. Would you blame the teams that win against them because of better skills in that one critical area?

I think not.

A lack of knowledge

Ignoring the quality of your marketing is no different than your favorite team ignoring recruiting or developing young players. You’d think they were inept, at best.

Yet you might still feel that marketing (“aggressive” or not) is unethical and/or unprofessional.

Ultimately, that shows a lack of business knowledge. You have a duty to have knowledge about your profession and to continue to develop that knowledge – and not just the technical part.

Done right – better marketing is typically nothing more than better executed, better targeted marketing used with a better knowledge of your market, your industry and what keeps your customers up at night.

Good marketing is one of the essential components of your business. Calling it “snake oil” doesn’t make you more professional and it doesn’t improve your position in your market. I’m not talking about companies marketing a solution that won’t work for a particular customer or group of customers. That’s the real “snake oil”.

When you don’t understand what good marketing is and the how/why of executing it, you’re simply not taking care of business.

That your software company would let someone else (particularly the snake oil types) wriggle in the front door and undermine your position with the customer is your responsibility. Why would you let your relationship with the client disintegrate to the point where they would even consider having a conversation with anyone else?

When you let someone else do this and do nothing about it, you are shirking your responsibility to your market, your staff, your family and your community.

Making a decision

The good news is that it isn’t a terminal condition. You can change your direction today.

If you’re willing to sit and watch it being done to you and then complain about it without doing anything to fulfill your responsibilities, that’s your choice.

If you’ve watched it being done and are smart enough to realize that you need to raise your game, then it’s time we had a conversation.

It’s time to decide that this is the last time another business will do this to you. It’s your responsibility to do something about it – and better code isn’t going to do the job all by itself.

The painful thing is that most companies will sit and repeatedly watch this happen to them – and then do nothing about it.

What would happen if yours was perfect?

bzzzzzzz
Creative Commons License photo credit: ruurmo

If your software business was â??perfectâ?, what would it look like?

What do I mean? Here are a few ideas to get you startedâ?¦

  • Whatâ??s your product line look like?
  • What services do you offer?
  • How big (or little) is your staff?
  • What benefits do you offer?
  • How much vacation do you enjoy per year?
  • What would your customers say about your company?
  • How many customers would you have?
  • What trade shows do you exhibit at?
  • Whatâ??s your position in the market?
  • What would happen when a support call came in?
  • What would happen when a bug was found?

Not in the software business? So what. Replace “software business” with whatever you do. Alter the question list to fit your business.

You might be thinking none of this could ever happen.

Or you could start with your answers and work backwards to figure out what it will take to get there. Take one step, then another.

If you don’t ask yourself the hard questions…who will?

PS: Are you really in the <whatever> business? A drill bit manufacturer doesn’t sell drill bits. Ultimately, they sell holes. A coffee shop sells comfort, even to take out customers. What do you really sell?

Did You Know…That You Should Follow Up?

misty
Creative Commons License photo credit: antaean

If you look at the path a prospect follows on the way to becoming a customer and then, at their path as a new customer; youâ??ll see plenty of places where it would be valuable for them to receive an occasional tap on the shoulder.

With that tap comes just a little bit of info, but it won’t/shouldn’t always be a sales message, at least not explicitly.

Consider these 3 little words: â??Did you know?â?

They start sentences like these:

  • Did you knowâ?¦ that if you get stuck, we have 24 x 7 customer support lines?
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that 90% of businesses fail after a fire destroys their business – and much of that is because they are underinsured. Those who might have made it often donâ??t because they donâ??t have their current customer/order data backed up, which means that on fire day + 1, they have no idea who needs a follow up, who placed an order yesterday, etc. Using the automated backup feature in our software can save your business. Weâ??ll be happy to show you how it works.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that many of our customers find our software’s dashboard feature motivational to them and their staff? Here’s a link to a video showing you how to turn it on.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that we offer a 180 day money back guarantee? Thereâ??s simply no risk to putting our product/service to work for you.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that we offer free online training videos that are broken down by function and only last 2-3 minutes? You can take a brief break, learn what you need to know right now and get back to work.

You get the idea.

Look at the typical timeline for a prospect.

Where do YOUR prospects need a little bit of assistance, a hand on the shoulder or a Did You Know?

After theyâ??ve bought, when do they need a little help? For customers youâ??ve had for months or years, are there new features or new things you do for your customers? Put each of these items in your follow up system and let them know when it is appropriate for each customer.

They can be emailed and blogged, but they should also go out in your printed newsletter.

You *do* have a printed monthly customers-only newsletter, right? 4 pages is enough. Seems like a little thing but itâ??ll never get ignored if itâ??s good.

All of these things put together will start to build a follow up system that no competitor will duplicate. And thatâ??s exactly what we want.

Service before the no-sale

This is what can happen when a legitimate customer hits an artificial wall within your business.

It’s made worse when customer service is setup to fail. Clearly the service person has no power to do anything positive to seal the deal and help / retain this customer.

The guy is standing there with money in his hand and she is forced to tell him they can’t take it unless he’s willing to buy an old, backdated version of the product.

What’s worse is that the rep has been trained to say something like “I understand why you would be concerned.”, which is code speak for “Yeah, it stinks but I can’t do anything about it, sorry.”

Don’t put up artificial walls.

Don’t make customer service (much less your website) into a “sales prevention department”.

Make it easy to buy.

Setting Expectations

Publishing an about page as a guest post does not mean I’m desperately short of guest posts (nowhere near, actually).

I’d like you to read a most un-software-company-like about page from a software company.

Any guess what their USP is?

Any guess what expectations you should have about their software and doing business with them?

Finally, think about how it positions them in your mind (and in their market).

Check it out at: http://humanized.com/about

Outstanding.

Startups, Apollo and head bobbing

Moon Dreams
Creative Commons License photo credit: jurvetson

This piece by Paul Graham talks about a survey of startup founders, but it reminds me very much of my software company days.

Too much, perhaps.

It may not describe the business you’re in – since it’s mostly talking about software businesses – but the attitude, expectations, “reason why” and much more is certainly something that should be on your radar.

Not altogether different than the energy this country had when it was racing to the moon.

Where is your business racing off to?

Yeah. It’s software again.

Once again, I’ve somehow managed to find myself lured back into the software business.

More on that in the future, as I’ll likely use what happens there as fodder for “This is how/why I always advised that this should be done” (and perhaps, “should not be done”) posts.

As such, here’s a little treat for any of you who are in startup mode in the software biz: http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark

In addition to tech support and marketing resources (some of which are actually pretty good), BizSpark gives your geeks access to MSDN, which the pocket protector crowd is aware of as the place where you can get development copies of pretty much any software Microsoft makes – including operating systems and programming tools.

Unlike the Empower program, which has varied from $250-350 a year (or free, if you join at the right time in the right way), the BizSpark program is free (hmm, where did you hear that word before?) for 3 years, then has a $100 one time charge after 3 years is up.

$100? Heck, it probably costs Microsoft more than $100 to process a check.

The program is intended for startups with less than $1MM (as Austin Powers would say, “One Meeeylon dolllarrrrrrs“) in revenue who are creating internet-enabled Microsoft-based software.

Approval typically takes no more than 72 hours and is often faster. Access to MSDN typically takes another couple of days after that.

Bring your 2 paragraph elevator pitch and a new URL. Enjoy.