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From the Trenches

Avoid the 7 Common Software Marketing Mistakes

Mike Sweeney | January 19, 2010

Software is ubiquitous these days, and there are so many flavors to choose from.  We have business software as well as personal/consumer software.  We have software that barely dents the wallet as well as software that requires a complex business decision-making process and millions of dollars.  We see Software as a Service (SaaS) models as well as Software as a Product (SaaP) models.  ERP, CRM, CMS, MAM, IVR, SFA…the list of software acronyms is dizzying at times.

The broad range of software types makes it difficult to identify the most common marketing mistakes, but not impossible.  Having worked as employee, consultant and agency for multiple software companies, I possess a somewhat unique perspective on what often goes wrong on the marketing side of the house.  Let’s take a look at 7 common software marketing errors and offer some quick mindset fixes:

1) Allocating marketing resources and dollars to the big product launch and leaving virtually nothing for ongoing marketing.

The launch, and the buzz generated in anticipation of a launch, is obviously very important.  That being said, unless your product is inherently viral to the nth degree (there’s not many of these), you’re going to need to support it and your sales force (if you have one) with ongoing marketing programs.

Quick Fix: Consider the ongoing marketing resources and dollars when you’re asking angel investors or VCs for some initial capital, and build it into your initial 12-month plan.  The initial launch buzz typically lasts no more than 1 – 6 weeks, after which you’d still like to acquire more customers, right?

2) Underestimating customer acquisition costs.

We’re in a new decade.  It’s not 2005 anymore.  Back then, between the “newness” of certain marketing vehicles, low barriers to entry and the relative lack of clutter, software companies could bank on certain tactics to drive leads and/or customers in a consistently cost-efficient manner.  That’s not the case anymore – software marketing requires a much more holistic strategy.

Quick Fix: There’s no quick fix here, other than trying to be realistic with your metrics projections from the onset.  Focus on lifetime value of the customer instead of the one-time license or subscription fee, then make sure you’re allocating dollars to different forms of customer retention.  If you look at potential lifetime value, it will get you far more comfortable with a high customer acquisition cost.

3) Not coordinating the efforts and mindsets of marketing and sales.

I don’t want to regurgitate information I’ve detailed in other posts, such as B2B Lead Generation Tip: Build a Strong Roster of Stakeholders or BFF: Marketing & Sales, but the lack of coordination between marketing and sales continues to be a failure point for software companies.  This lack of coordination typically leads to less qualified leads, a lower closing rate, animosity between marketing and sales, and a marketing investment that underperforms (and that is the nicest way I can say it).

Quick Fix: Don’t build your marketing plan as a lone wolf.  Coordinate with whoever is in charge of selling the product, whether it is a VP of Sales, Sales Manager or Account Executive.  Even the so-called “self-service” software products employ some type of sales process, and if your marketing efforts are not in sync with that process, your marketing investment will fall flat on its face.

4) Building your product for the technology buyer only.

This mistake is made over and over and over again.  Unless you are absolutely certain that your product will be evaluated and purchased exclusively by IT staff, build the product so it can be used and understood by a business audience first and foremost.  While IT types have more control than ever over software and technology decisions, smart organizations align an IT leader with a marketing, sales or finance leader to make important decisions in this area.  If those marketing, sales or finance leaders don’t “get it”, you’re going to have a hard time acquiring that customer.

Quick Fix: Get business-oriented eyes on the product even in its earliest stages.  Even if you don’t have those business-oriented eyes on your startup team, you can find them.  Your angels can help.  Your VCs can help.  Hire a consultant in the space.  Ask friends that have a business and technology mindset to help.  If these types look at the demo and can’t figure out why and how they’d use the product, you’ve got some problems to fix.

5) Overcomplicating the features and benefits list.

We’ve all seen what I call the vomit list.  I don’t call it that because it makes me want to vomit (although some lists do give me a queasy feeling), but rather because these lists look like someone just got a little sick and blurted out every possible item that might help sell the product.

First of all, this doesn’t work because the average business person scans this type of material, and doesn’t actually read it.  Second, these lists make it look like your product is trying to solve every problem, instead of just one or two problems that are actually causing the pain for the prospect.

Quick Fix: Restrict your lists to 3-5 core features and benefits.  You can always provide a link or another page that contains deeper information for those that want it.  If you can’t narrow it down internally, get some outside marketing help.

6) Ignoring the importance of a lead nurturing program.

Leads will come, and leads will go.  Some will be ultra-qualified, others merely qualified, and still others completely unqualified.  If you don’t have a system in place to capture, evaluate and nurture leads into legitimate opportunities, it probably doesn’t make much sense to spend resources on lead generation to begin with.

Quick Fix: At a bare minimum, put a simple schedule in place to “touch” leads over the span of the first 3-4 months from the point they declared interest in your product or service.  Using solid content as your weapons and email and social media as your distribution engines, you should be able to come up with a simple plan of attack.

7) Waiting too long to bring in marketing leadership in the form of an employee or consultant.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”  This holds true for software and the companies that produce software.  No matter what type of software you develop, there are likely alternatives.  Consumers and businesspeople are likely exploring these alternatives.  If your message is off, and you’re using the wrong distribution channels to reach your audience, or you don’t put a nice presentation layer around the software, then most prospects will never get to the point of seeing your world-beater of a product.

Quick Fix: There are many, many ways of accessing marketing leadership.  Folks on your Board may provide a sounding board.  Your VC may have access to strong marketing leaders.  There are a multitude of consultants that can help you build your marketing plan.  Last but not least, you can always hire someone on as a full-time employee.  Don’t go without some level of assistance from a professional marketer though.

As I was writing this, I came up with 2-3 more that probably belong on a secondary list, but we’ll save that for another post.  I’d love to hear from others in the software industry – what are some other common marketing mistakes you see?

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About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.