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If No Shareware Professionals Are 100 Times Smarter Than You, Then Why Do Some Get 100 Times the Results?, Part 2 - by Steve Pavlina* 
Several months ago I decided to conduct an informal but lengthy study of successful shareware businesses.  The primary question I asked was this:  Why are some shareware developers more successful than others?  I looked at dozens of shareware businesses, both ASP and non-ASP, with sales ranging from only a few hundred dollars a year to those with sales of over one million dollars a year.  This article summarizes the absolute best of what I learned (part 2). 
4. Sell.  If you are running a business instead of just a hobby, then you actually need to sell your products.  This is arguably the one area where most shareware professionals perform worst of all, but ignorance of selling is perilous.  Of all seven success factors, selling is probably the single most important skill.  The number one reason businesses fold is simply due to lack of sales.  If you have strong sales, it is much tougher to fail, even if you screw up everything else. 
Selling is both an art and a science, and there are many outstanding books on selling.  Look up Brian Tracy on amazon.com, and buy all his books and tape programs you can afford; they're all rated four or five stars.  A real page-turner is Frank Bettger's How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling, which will give you a lot of anecdotal insights into selling.  Many people feel that selling is beneath them, a shameless, disreputable occupation.  Most of those people are broke!  You can develop the greatest new product in the world, but if you don't know anything about selling, you are doomed to failure.  What business could possibly succeed without sales?  Best-writing authors rarely make any money, but best-selling authors do.  If I could spend a day with either the world's greatest programmer or the world's greatest salesperson, I'd pick the salesperson in a heartbeat. 
For shareware developers, there are two important areas where selling counts most.  You must have a web site that sells and a shareware version that sells.  Your web site should do a lot of the prospecting and selling for you.  It is your on-line salesperson.  You must convince people to download your evaluation versions and to buy your full versions.  Your order form must be easy to use; it is amazing how many sales are lost by poorly constructed order forms.  Your shareware version is your off-line salesperson.  While it is certainly possible to make money where the shareware and registered versions are identical, most successful shareware developers agree that having strong registration incentives will help increase sales.  Many people have time-limited shareware versions.  I offer a free bonus for customers who register in the first ten days.  Both approaches work well.  The more compelling reasons you give your customers to buy, the more sales you will get. 
Sell the sizzle, not the steak.  Product features do not equal customer benefits.  I could have given this article a more logical title such as, "The Shareware Success Cycle."  Instead, I gave it an emotional title.  If these were the titles of two otherwise identical sales letters, the first one would have gone straight to the trash unread, while the second would have had a chance to generate a sale.  It is not uncommon for a simple headline change to make a tenfold difference in response rate.  By all means, you should definitely list product features on your web site, since customers will want that information, but it won't sell your product as well as your benefits will.  To determine the difference between a feature and a benefit, ask the question, "Will a customer buy the product specifically for this reason?"  No one will buy your product because it supports fifty different graphics formats, floating palettes, and customizable colors.  Those are features.  But customers will buy your product because they believe it will save them money, make them feel more organized and efficient, entertain them, etc.  The top six things that people want are survival, power, love, money, recognition, and acceptance.  If you can find ways to tie any of these into your product, you will have some compelling benefits.  Extracting the benefits behind your product can be challenging, but if you are getting any sales at all, then your product does have benefits.  If you're not sure what your product's benefits are, just ask your customers why they bought it.  All benefits are emotional in nature.  For instance, customers may purchase a screen saver because they believe it will make them feel more creative, amused, peaceful, etc.  Customers always buy on emotion and justify with fact, and if you're honest with yourself, you'll realize that you do this too. 
A great place to learn about selling is your local Wal-Mart-type store.  Look at all the products on the shelves.  How do they present themselves?  Do you see the words "free" and "new" on any boxes?  What is the sizzle that these products are using to entice you to buy?  Let's take diapers for instance.  You may see Pampers, Luvs, and Huggies.  Those are all emotion-laden names.  These are products that collect your baby's waste, but they are selling you on the values of pampering, loving, and hugging your child.  If you think you are selling a product, you are wrong.  Your product is a string of millions of ones and zeros.  You are selling values and feelings.  If you sell games, you are selling fun.  If you sell utilities, you may be selling time or power.  If you sell an image editor, you may be selling creativity or beauty.  Know what you are really selling. 
5. Serve.  Provide outstanding customer service with a positive attitude.  Serve the customer better than anyone else serves the customer.  This is one area where shareware can massively outdo retail.  Turn every tech support situation into an opportunity to create a customer who is shocked and amazed to receive such incredibly good service.  Some of my users with the worst technical problems ended up becoming my most loyal customers, referring friends and family members in droves, simply because I went the extra mile to solve their problems.  They know and I know that no other company would have ever gone so far to help them.  See every tech support email as a golden opportunity by knowing that you can provide better service than any large retail company ever could. 
Find new ways to provide value to your customers.  Give away freebies now and then to keep them feeling good about your company.  Fix bugs promptly, and continue to add commonly requested features.  Offer a free newsletter with helpful tips and tricks on getting the most out of your products, and inform customers of updates, bug fixes, and new releases.  If you talk to customers on the phone, stand up and smile as soon as you answer.  Treat your customers as you would want to be treated. 
It always amazes me to see fellow shareware developers complain about their customers.  You may indeed have a challenging customer on occasion, and there are a couple different ways to handle it.  You can blame the customer and ultimately flip the bozo bit on him/her, or you can assume total responsibility for attracting that customer and having a product or system that doesn't adequately serve him/her.  The first option leaves you disempowered with no chance to change the situation.  The second option empowers you to take action to resolve the problem.  If you hold a core belief that your customers are idiots, then this will be reflected in your product design, marketing, web site, etc.  You will then attract idiots as customers because that's the type of person you had in mind throughout your design process.  If, however, you start from a core belief that your customers are brilliant, friendly, honest people who want you to succeed, you will make different decisions in product design, marketing, etc, and you will attract those types of customers.  I chose the latter approach for my last product, and I am absolutely amazed at the brilliant, warm, loving, honest customers it attracts on a daily basis.  Tech support becomes a joy instead of a headache.  Never release a product thinking that someone would have to be an idiot to register it, or you will attract nothing but idiots.  When you release a new product, you should feel that it will attract nothing but intelligent, friendly customers.  Attitude is everything.   
6. Measure.  Keep track of all the metrics in your business.  Measure your web traffic, especially hits, visitors, and top referrers.  Is your traffic increasing or decreasing?  How many hits are you getting from search engines?  What keywords are most effective for you?  How many people signed up for your newsletter in the last month?  Measure your sales, expenses, profit / loss, new customers, and number of tech support emails.  Are these figures increasing or decreasing?  How effective was your advertising? 
Measure the subjective areas as well.  Were your goals met?  Where did you succeed?  Where did you have a learning experience?  What went as expected, better than expected, or worse than expected?  What were the causes?  Did you get any new reviews?  If so, did they contain any constructive criticism?  What kind of feedback did you get about your products and web site?  Take the time to conduct a simple competitive analysis.  Review five or ten competitor's web sites, products, search engine positions, meta tags, etc.  Then ask for a review of your own web site in the ASP members' newsgroup.  If you've never done this before, you'll be amazed at all the constructive feedback you'll receive. 
The purpose of measuring is to gather accurate data with which to make better decisions.  If you don't measure your results, it is very easy to draw erroneous conclusions.  Create a simple spreadsheet to record your numerical results on a monthly basis, and make sure all the figures make sense to you.  If you think you made a profit this month, but your checking account doesn't reflect it, then you may be missing some expenses.  Strive to understand the causes behind every figure.  If your sales spike or dip, always find out why.  Then do more of what causes positive results and less of what causes negative results. 
7. Improve.  Refine your approach in each area of your business, based on conclusions drawn from your latest measurements.  If your current plan isn't working, revise it and try something else.  Apply what you learned from your last competitive analysis.  Ask questions of other ASP members, and bounce your ideas off others.  Read a book in your weakest area, and develop a new skill.  Evaluate new software and web-based services, set up a network, or experiment with some new technology that can help improve your business.  Expand your web site. Improve your on-line order form.  Add new features to your products, and improve your product descriptions.  Based on your latest measurements, how can you do more of what worked and less of what didn't work? 
Master these seven skills, and you will have an outstandingly successful shareware business.  Fail to master any one, and that is the one that will limit the height of your success.  You don't have to be 100 times smarter to make your business 100 times more effective.  The horse that wins the race by a nose may get ten times the prize money of the horse that loses by a nose.  Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten in each of these seven skills.  Then begin working on your worst skill first, since that will provide you with the greatest overall improvement.  If you bring a level nine up to a level ten, that is only a 10% improvement.  But if you bring a level two up to a level six, you can triple your effectiveness. 
* Steve Pavlina is CEO of Dexterity Software, an on-line game publisher dedicated to releasing retail-quality games through shareware channels. He was President of the Association of Shareware Professionals. You can find Steve interacting with Dweep addicts at http://www.dexterity.com 
This article: (C) 2000 Steve Pavlina - Used with permission 
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