Marketing Software When You Are a Small Company
Last updated: 6/5/2002; 8:34:16 AM
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Marketing Software When You Are a Small Company I started my career in a two person company that I founded; just myself and the main product engineer.  And, yes, we were all of 19 at the time.  I was in charge of marketing, sales, administration, documentation, feature set specification -- everything other than coding.  With no financing ever, I took that company to just under a million dollars in sales, sold it and now I'm back working with small companies again.  A recent email from a potential client in Luxembourg made me realize that quickly jotting down some of the information that I've learned about marketing software when you are small (or even tiny) might be useful to others.  These aren't long but I think that they are helpful.

What is Marketing?

Let's start with a definition.  Marketing is the creation of demand for a product or service.  Sales is the execution of strategies that fulfill demand.  For example, you send out a bulk email about your product to a targeted list.  That's marketing -- you are creating demand.  When fifty replies come back that need to be individually answered, that's sales.  When you follow up on those fifty replies three weeks later to see if you can answer additional questions then you have a good sales program.  Read the next section for more on this.

Its All About Follow Up and Persistence

It took me a long time to understand something so fundamental about marketing and sales: It's all about follow up and persistence.  The first thing that you have to understand is simple: People are very, very busy today. Your product is your first priority.  It isn't their first priority.  It isn't their second priority.  It might not be their tenth priority.  Sure, there are the cases where you are really filling a very urgent need but that's rare.  How do you succeed when you're not their priority?  It's very simple: Persistence.  Think about the magazine subscription business.  Have you ever noticed that they're (at least in the U.S.) hugely persistent when you don't renew?   That's just what I am talking about.  My standard basic marketing campaign is something like this:
  1. Hit them with some marketing materials once.  For example, a basic product brochure might be sent out.
  2. Hit them with more marketing materials; again after a short wait, 2 to 3 weeks.  Here you might send an application profile.
  3. Hit them with yet more marketing materials for a third time; again after a wait, 2 to 3 weeks once more.  Finally you might send a case study, ideally, one related to their business.
Depending on the price of the product there might also be sales calls by phone, email or in person between every step. In marketing, persistence is everything.  It is also everything in sales.  While the potential customer has to be able to opt out at any step, you should always see if there is some additional way to connect with them, some way to reach them.   A lot of times people throw your email out until the day that the subject line just appeals.  For example, if you sell an engineering tool that helps with documentation, that might not matter to the potential customer until the end of the project when they're documenting it.


Don't be afraid to price too high.  This is a hard lesson to learn.  One thing to bear in mind is that while you can always cut your price (i.e. a "Sale" or an "End of Quarter Special" or just cut your prices), you can't get them up without re-positioning the product.  An example of re-positioning might be changing the product's name or releasing an enhanced version, the "Pro" or "Enterprise" version.


A less that I didn't learn until I had been in the software business for almost 10 years was how powerful your license statement can be.  Here are some of the things that you can do with a license statement:
  • Sell the same product for different prices to different types of customers i.e. a "personal license" versus a "corporate license"
  • Limit the capacity of the product
  • Collect usage metrics as to how customers use your product

Getting Attention

The biggest challenge when you are a little company is getting attention and visibility.   This seems so difficult, so daunting but it is actually very simple.  Speak up.  Be active.  Join the community you're selling to.  Specific things you can do include:
  • Be active on newsgroups in the area of your product
  • Be active on mailing lists in the area of your product
  • Write a weblog about the area where your product functions
  • Write articles even if you don't get paid for them.  There are lots of places where articles are needed these days thanks to the proliferation of websites.  Often all you have to do is ask since sides are hungry for content.
For example, if you sold a Java programming tool then here are the things that I would recommend:
  • Post frequently to the Java mailing lists and newsgroups answering questions, making sure that you have signature on your posting that includes your product name, web site url and product tag line i.e. "Code Java Faster"
  • Be one of the authors of a Java FAQ or FAQ items, making sure that your name is attached to the entries
  • Write a weblog on Java coding practices
  • Get press releases out to Java programming magazines and websites
  • Try and get review copies of your software to all Java "authorities" i.e. people who write Java books, people at Sun, Java programming magazines, Java websites

Product Literature

For any software product there are different "types" or "classes" of product literature that can be written.  One thing to bear in mind is that, to some extent, the quantity of product literature you need is proportional to the price and complexity of your product.  Simple products might need only a page or two.  A complex product, or an engineering tool, might need all of these.  Another thing to remember is that you don't give them all to a customer at once.  See above under the Marketing section. Types of product literature include:
  • Product Literature, Overview -- The main brochure for a product or service.
  • Product Feature List -- Bullet points of all the features in the product.
  • Product Requirements or Specifications -- Just what you would think, the real details.
  • The Top Ten -- Something that has been very successful for me are "Top Ten Reasons to Buy X" type pieces of literature
  • Product FAQ -- A marketing FAQ, not technical but benefit oriented and problem - solution focused.
  • Product Whitepaper -- An overview of how this product benefits you.
  • Application Profile -- A profile of the product as it might be used in an industry.  Very useful when the product is new or when you are trying to get into a new niche. 
  • Feature Profile -- For very complex products, you can break out just one feature and cover it. 
  • Case Study: Customer Name -- A case study of how a customer uses the software.
  • ROI Analysis -- Although hard to do, an ROI (return on investment) analysis can be a wonderful selling tool
  • Guided Tour -- Basically a screen by screen walk through with commentary.  Lets the customer get a feel for the product without going to the effort of installing it.
  • Quotes -- A sheet of favorable quotes from users and the press

Demos and Downloads

Demo software is a mixed blessing at best.  While sometimes it can't be avoided and must be done, it is important to understand that when people don't pay for software, they don't take the evaluation seriously.  If they hit even a small problem they tend to walk away.  Rather than free downloads, an approach where downloads require a password or download key to be emailed at least gives you a chance at touching base with the potential customer to make sure that their download worked, help them through the initial issues and so on.  This is a very, very tough call and I recommend that you try both and see what works.  When people have to get a password or download key, they may well walk away also.

Looking Big When You're Small

People say "On the Internet no one knows you're a dog".  My answer is "On the Internet no one knows you're small".  Here are some tricks to look bigger than you are:
  • Don't use your first name as your email address -- looks "bigger" than .  You can still have but use an email alias to make the other.  No one ever notices once they start corresponding with you once they've seen it on your webpage that its

  • Have a good web site.  I can't stress this enough.  A good, professional looking site is a huge asset.  It doesn't have to be hugely graphical but the following elements are basically required for a software company's web site:
    • Home page (obviously)
    • About page
    • Contact Page
    • News Page (with regularly issued news releases, one per month usually is fine)
    • Support Page
    • Customers Page (if you don't have customers, see below)
    • White Paper page
    • Demo or guided tour page
  • Don't use your own email address for things like bug requests, support, etc.  For example is better than even if it just goes to me.

  • Offer Consulting, Training and Customization Services.  Even if people don't want them, offering them makes you look bigger and writing a piece of product literature for these doesn't take long.
  • Have two physical addresses -- this makes you look like you are much larger when you have both a West Coast and East Coast address (or addresses in two European countries)


I hope that this essay clarifies marketing in a small company environment.  Please feel free to contact me at with questions or comments.  Also keep checking my blog.  The more people tell me they are interested in this kind of content, the more I'll write about it.  I'm already thinking about a companion piece: Marketing Yourself as a Consultant.  Any takers?
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