Have something complex you want to sell?
“Provide a safe and easy first step.”
I picked that phrase up from a Guy Kawasaki blog post. The reason it resonated with me is because it’s harder to accomplish than it sounds. And it’s not limited to any one company. It’s a big problem.
(Disclaimer: much of what follows will make more sense if you’re in a technology business.)
Let’s take an example of an enterprise software business. Dropping code behind an enterprise’s firewall – or even giving them an API to a cloud – is a big deal. In an era where corporations suffer great reputational and financial risk when systems are breached, every company has implemented processes to vet new entrants to the ecosystem, regardless if they are software programs provided free of charge.
And the fear isn’t limited to just the buyers.
The sellers – the software companies themselves – need to adhere to internal controls, external compliance requirements, and need to make sure the crown jewels of any software company – it’s intellectual property – are properly protected through legal agreements. And even if the legal agreements are lightweight (“lightweight legal agreements” = oxymoron), their mere existence is a catalyst to a corresponding legal process at the buyer, which can lead to redlines, turns, conference calls, cost, and eventually a potential customer who finally says “forget it – it’s too hard”.
In many ways, the consumer software market has leapt ahead of the enterprise world with the success of the “freemium” model prevalent among mobile apps. This is the model where you get a feature-poor version of the app to use with an opportunity to upgrade (for a fee) to a more full-featured model. What could be easier?
So how do we enable potential buyers to consume our software (or product, or service) in a manner that is “safe and easy”?
“Safe” means they’re not going to suffer buyer’s remorse after they download it, nor are they likely to suffer a loss of political capital in their companies after they make this first step. We are fearful in our own jobs. We should assume our potential customers are just as fearful. “Safe” means free.
“Easy” means our customers can show value quickly to internal stakeholders. Integration is not complicated. Getting the software to work as it will in production doesn’t require hand-holding and doesn’t require mastery of incomprehensible documentation.
The rise of the developer program is probably the best step in this direction. The details, legal agreements, costs and license limitations are laid out in a website, and developers can access the software with little involvement from the vendor. This may be the enterprises’ response to the app stores’ freemium models.
Even with a developers program, software companies need to make the install scripts, APIs, hooks to backend systems operate intuitively. Note I didn’t say “operate according to the manual”. I said “intuitively”.
Did you get a manual with your iPad? I didn’t either. That’s the standard we’re all held against.
Our customers live in a world of choice. Think about what the breakfast cereal aisle looks like at your local grocery store. Your product, service, or software is on the second row from the bottom, about fifty feet down the aisle.
Good luck making it easy for your customer to grab your box, and throw it into their cart.
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