Software Selling Ideas from Our Friends at ESC

Apple with the booksThe Educational Software Cooperative (ESC) has started the 9th month of its new ESC Software Marketing Book Club. Each month, ESC members discuss a marketing book in detail. The central theme of each discussion is: How can the ideas in this book help software developers make their businesses more successful?
The October 2009 book selection is “How to Become a Marketing Superstar – Unexpected Rules that Ring the Cash Register” by Jeffrey J. Fox. It’s about using common sense and sound business practices to find and keep customers. It’s about marketing. Most of the concepts in the book apply directly to mISVs who are trying to increase their software sales.
Last month’s Book Club selection was “Then We Set His Hair on Fire – Insights and Accidents from a Hall-of-Fame Career in Advertising” by Phil Dusenberry. The title refers to the creation of the Pepsi ad in which Michael Jackson had an unfortunate accident. But the book is about insights, ideas, creativity, advertising, and business.
Phil Dusenberry is the former Chairman of BBDO North America, an advertising giant that managed accounts for General Electric, FedEx, Frito-Lay, Visa, Mars, HBO, Pizza Hut, Polaroid, and Apple Computers.
One of my favorite stories from the book is about soup. The lessons apply to the software industry, too.
Dusenberry’s firm landed the Campbell’s Soup account in the 1980s. Soup sales were flat. BBDO did some serious research, and learned something unusual – lots of consumers had kitchen cabinets full of Campbell’s Soup.
Campbell’s Soup had been advertised for decades as a safety measure. It’s virtually non perishable, and you need to keep it in the house for emergencies. There was a huge disconnect between the purchase rate and the consumption rate for Campbell’s Soup.
What about shareware?
Most software companies ask their prospects, over and over, to download their software. Lots of people listen to this message and act on it. About one hundred times as many people download software as buy it, so the “download” message is being read, understood and acted upon. Just as the buyers of Campbell’s Soup didn’t receive the “eat the soup” message, many shareware downloaders aren’t receiving the “buy it now” message.
How did Campbell’s address their problem of stagnant sales? They changed their advertising campaign to stress the benefits of consuming soup, and not just buying it and storing it for emergencies. People started eating the soup that they had been buying.
What might software developers do to get more people to buy the software that they’ve downloaded?
The answer isn’t obvious or simple. You have to address each of the decision points where consumers are currently dropping the ball:

  • Some prospects download and forget about your application.
  • Some developers have named the program “setup.exe” so prospects have no idea how to find the program after they’ve downloaded it.
  • Some people install it, intending to try it later. And they forget about it. Or when they try it a month later, the trial version has expired.
  • Some developers have no quick-start guide or tips of the day or sample files that can get their prospects using the software quickly and easily, so the application is abandoned in frustration.
  • Some developers use registration incentives that aren’t very persuasive, so people using the trial version rarely purchase it.

Again, you have to identify every decision point where users can either buy the application or not. Find a way to entice them into making a buying decision.
Campbell Soup’s new tag line was “Reach for the Campbell’s. It’s right on your shelf.
What’s your solution to break out of the one-percent download-to-sales conversion rate?
These are the type of topics that we talk about in ESC’s Software Marketing Book Club. You can read more of these discussions in the “Learn More About Marketing, and Sell More Software” article in the September, 2009 issue of ASPects, the monthly newsletter of the Association of Shareware Professionals.
Learn more about the ESC on their website. Be sure to follow the Book Club announcements in ESC’s public blog.

Since 1984, Al Harberg has been helping software developers write press releases and send them to the editors. You can visit him on