The New Dynamic of Selling Software
The way retailers get customers to buy products has changed significantly, particularly as the web has become the mainstream choice for delivering software. Vendors can no longer sell a software license with a maintenance contract for a large flat fee and wait for a significant problem or for the license to be due for upgrade. Instead, the month-to-month nature of cloud services more closely reflects the fickle nature of consumer goods — consumers can easily drop your product for a competitor with a few clicks of the mouse.
Customers want to know, and be constantly reassured, during ownership that they're extracting maximum value from their purchase. This means outbound marketing and communications have a far more dramatic impact on sales than just being a corporate megaphone. They've now become feedback lines that reach further into the traditional sales cycle.
So what to do in this new era?
By 2014, two-thirds of software will be sold and delivered online. Whether it's a B-to-B or B-to-C service you're offering, buyers expect the shopping experience to be universally similar. Start looking for not only where customers most want self-service but also at what point self-service requires intervention. With the average buyer seeing 14 touchpoints before engaging with sales, outbound tools like mobile notifications, email marketing, social channels and even direct mailings are all subject to the "instant gratification" buyers demand today. These marketing channels need to be enabled properly to allow for a purchase from any of them.
Take the Money However They Give It
Software buyers’ various preferences for paying for products have to be accommodated in order to ensure their retention. One size no longer fits all when it comes to revenue streams, and your business model needs to be flexible enough to accommodate whichever method the money comes in. Whether you have just a handful on an ad-supported freemium version, the bulk on month-to-month subscriptions and a few more on prepaid contracts, you're now capable of growing your business more readily and are more adept at serving your customers the way they want. The marketing piece of this component comes into play with regards to finding new understanding of market segments, experimenting with offer packages and prices in campaigns, and communicating with the customer on usage value as often as possible.
Take Control of Your Channel Completely
Channels are very much a boon to your online sales today, particularly when you manage them closely. They can act as valuable extensions to marketing operations and, when managed well, distribute your message consistently to a targeted audience and provide the "instant gratification" experience across more verticals and locations than your growing business can by itself. This is particularly important in the online era where, for smaller software vendors, it's easy to get drowned out by bigger players thanks to their stronger efforts in search engine optimization, pay per click, etc. To this end, supporting channels through unified portals and APIs creates a unified experience that the customer expects.
The most important theme to take away from these tips is that the sales process is no longer about selling; it's about ease of access and accommodating disparate preferences. To do this, your marketing efforts must enable an active dialogue that can convert into a sale at any moment. Additionally, establishing marketing prowess creates an ongoing feedback loop with current customers improving value on both sides, as well as retention. Start thinking like a soda producer and upping your marketing ante!
Michael Ni is the chief marketing officer/senior vice president, marketing and products, at Avangate, an e-commerce platform for online software sales.