Why Hammers Sell Better Than Your Software

4 minutes

Hammers Sell Better Than Software
Hammers Sell Better Than Software

Back in April my friend and fellow microISV Andy Brice conducted a software vendor survey that highlighted something that doesn’t get the attention it should: while about a third of the people that visit your site download your trial version, only 1% end up buying.

Why is that? Now maybe the 92 respondents to the survey were atypical, but I don’t think so: I’ve heard that “only 1% buy” adage for years.

Here’s a related factoid Andy’s survey unearthed: the average Mac product conversion ratio is more than 4 times higher than the Windows product conversion ratio.

Now maybe Mac owners are four times richer than Windows users, or maybe because there’s four times less software to choose from. But as a Windows developer who switched two years ago, I haven’t noticed four times more money in my bank account or not found a decent range of software to accessorize my MacBook Pro with. In fact, I’ve noticed – and so has my spouse – I’m much more likely to buy a Mac app I trial than I was likely to buy as a Windows guy.

Try 100 and Buy One?

Something else to think about regarding that abysmal 1% visit to sale ratio: it’s way out of whack compared to other things we buy like books and clothes (low end price range) and consumer electronics (business software). Ever try on 100 shirts and buy only one? Me neither.

The more I pondered the above, the more I realized that there had to be something else, something uniquely broken, in the process of buying software to cause such a huge failure rate. I think what’s broken is that unlike nearly everything else we buy, we don’t know how to use an application until we learn at least the basics of that application- or the vendor teaches us. And that’s where most software vendors, especially Windows desktop software vendors, drop the ball.

A good, well-made hammer costs more than most consumer software applications. Imagine yourself in a hardware store where you pick up a hammer. You know immediately how to use it: you don’t have to read the manual or guess what it can do – you know.

There’s two things going on here – intellectually you know how to use a hammer (even if you don’t know the subtle technique differences between using a claw framing hammer as opposed to a brick layer’s hammer). Secondly, you feel emotionally empowered – you know you can hammer in a nail in three whacks where before all you could do is rip open a finger trying to push it in – and that’s a positive feeling

Knowledge and Empowerment Sell.

Now compare that with how you reacted to the last app you downloaded a trial version of. Do you remember the frustration of an empty screen? Of not knowing what you could do, or where to start? I don’t – the Mac product I last added had a quick, professional screencast that showed me exactly how to use it. And the product before that had a really good screenshot that told me enough of how to use the product in one glance than many of the 50-page manuals I read in years past when I bought Windows software. Call it the Steve Jobs effect, but Mac vendors go out of their way to make their software easy to adopt and start using – and it pays off.

There’s a gap, a chasm, a divide that separates the nearly a third of site visitors who download trial versions from the measly 1% who actually buy, and it’s your responsibility as a software vendor to bridge that gap. Interestingly enough, there was one respondent to Andy’s survey who had a whopping 13.94% sales:visits ratio – and I’ll bet that vendor has engineered an excellent “out of the box” customer experience for their product.

Here’s three techniques software vendors have employed to get me across the threshold and in turn have gotten my money:

  • A really good screencast. A professionally made short screencast helps the viewer understand what you are selling and what they will get for their money. And note the professionally part of that – I recently had a professional screencaster create the first screencast for StartupToDo.com, the training/productivity community for startups and microISVs I’m launching soon. I could have spent a year at the job and it would never have been as compelling, comprehensible and well made as the 3 minute video Ian created.
  • A really good screenshot. Like I said, this one screenshot sold me on this task management application. This technique of magnifying the few key points you want to stand out is a really good technique and something anybody can do: just follow this, this or this tutorial.
  • Sample data. How did MoneyWell beat out a company at least a thousand times bigger for my 50 bucks? The trial version came with a sample data file that let me get a feel for the app in seconds, and that I could play with to my heart’s content without screwing up my real financial data. It made a huge difference in how I felt about the idea of not just changing software vendors but changing my mental model of how personal financial software worked.

I would submit to you that focusing on how to get your prospective customers immediately comfortable with your software, helping them through those first few minutes of uncertainty, doubt and confusion, helping them in essence to imagine themselves using your software will definitely improve your startup’s or microISV’s overall conversion rate. Now imagine how you would feel if your visit to sale ratio went from the 1% to something like 14% percent.

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