idiot customers - Clients who don't understand every aspect of your software immediately.
On every software newsgroup on the Internet, I read developers' complaints about how a lot of their customers are idiots. What a bummer!
I've been blessed. I've been really lucky. In more than 25 years of doing software marketing work for developers, I've never had an idiot customer. I've had some clients who had some misconceptions about what a news release is, or how publicity can help them build name recognition and generate sales. I've had people who will never win an award for clarity of communication. But I've never had to cope with an idiot.
Have software customers gotten worse?
In the old days, people had to have a decent level of computer knowledge to load and run a typical application. Children had perfect manners, and snow drifts were deeper. All computer users were geniuses.
Today, they let anybody buy a computer, and some of these new computer owners barely know which end of the mouse to plug into the computer. Life has gotten a lot tougher for software developers. Or so I've heard.
You treat software customers the way you see them
I believe that you treat people the way you perceive them, and that most people can sense how you feel about them. If you think your customers are dim, then you'll treat them that way. And they'll know how you feel about them. If you think that your customers are particularly bright people, then they'll feel that sentiment too, and respond appropriately.
Zig Ziglar, software buyers, and rats
Zig Ziglar is a sales trainer who has built a number of successful sales careers. He believes that sales skills are learned, and that successful salespeople don't manipulate their prospects.
Zig tells a great story about rats. It's a true story about a bunch of Psychology 101 students who have to spend several hours working with graduate students to document how successfully rats run through a maze. The students are divided into three groups.
People in the first group are told that they have the average rats. There's nothing wrong with average rats. It may take them a while to run through the maze and find the cheese, but that's what average rats do. The second group was informed that they were working with the smart rats. These rats, the students were told, would run through the maze and find the cheese so fast that the students would be amazed. Sure, they'd make some mistakes, but these were some particularly intelligent rats.
The third group of students was told that they had the idiot rats. Yeah, they would eventually locate the cheese, but they'd bump into the maze walls, and make incorrect turns. After all, they're idiot rats.
At the end of the experiment, each group of students wrote up its findings. The first group wrote a boring report about average rats doing an average job of locating their cheese. The second group wrote with pride about how effective their rats were at navigating the maze. The third group wrote a sad report about their idiot rats' struggle to find their way through the maze.
The punch line, as you have undoubtedly guessed, is that all three groups of students worked with the same group of rats. You treat rats (and customers) the way you see them, and they respond the way you expect them to respond.
Software buyers competency over time
Is it true that today's software users are less competent than users were a decade ago? I don't know. I did a little dBASE consulting for a local company back in the mid-1980's, and of the eight ways that you can insert a 5-1/4 inch disk into a floppy drive, I can tell you with certainty that they had first-hand experience with seven of them. But these people weren't idiots. They were just inexperienced. Once I'd put a label on each of their floppies, and explained that they had to put their thumb on the label when they inserted the disks, they never had another problem. Inexperienced users can learn. Most of them want to learn.
Software customers experience over time
But aren't today's software users a lot less experienced than users used to be? I sure hope so. Because that means that there's an enormous marketing opportunity for somebody who is willing to treat users like valued customers, and not like idiots. If you can find a respectful way to tell users why they have to choose between your .exe and your .zip download files, then you're going to have a competitive edge over your competitor who resents the fact that idiots need to have something that obvious explained to them.
Teaching software customers to be better buyers
Do you need several different sets of instructions for how to download, install, and use your software? Probably.
It would be nice if you had a Quick Start guide for power users, normal documentation for knowledgeable users, and very simple, very detailed, step-by-step instructions for less sophisticated users.
Do you need to include a tutorial (or several tutorials) in your help file? Do you need to beef up your fly-over hints? I think you should do whatever it takes to make these folks comfortable with trying and buying your software.
Treat customers well, and sell more software
Find a friendly, respectful way to show inexperienced prospects how they can benefit by using your programs. Most of your competitors won't take the time to do this. You'll get more direct sales, and more referrals to their friends and colleagues. Friends tell friends about people who treat them nicely.
All of this results in more software sales.
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