by Al Harberg of DP
On every software newsgroup on the Internet,
I read developers' complaints about how a lot
of their customers are idiots. What a bummer!
been blessed. In seventeen years of doing marketing
work for software developers, I've never had an
idiot customer. I've had some clients who had
some misconceptions about what a press release
is, or how publicity can help build name recognition
and generate sales. I've had people who will never
win a prize for clarity of communication. But
I've never had to deal with an idiot.
the old days, I hear it told, people had to have
a decent level of computer knowledge to load and
run an application. Children had perfect manners,
snowdrifts were deeper, and everybody knew that
if the multi-disk archive you were trying to install
used version 2.04g or later of PKZIP, you should
start unzipping the archive by putting the last
disk into the floppy drive first. All computer
users were geniuses.
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.
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 a
couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, then you'll
treat them that way. And they'll know how you
feel about them. Your message will be loud and
clear. If you think that your customers are particularly
bright people, then they'll feel that sentiment
too, and respond appropriately.
Ziglar is a sales trainer who built several successful
sales careers. A decade or so ago, he started
his own company which markets sales training books
and audio cassettes. His work is widely available
in book stores, in libraries, and on eBay, and
I recommend it highly. He believes that sales
skills are learned, and that successful salespeople
don't manipulate their prospects.
tells a great story about rats. It's a true story
about a bunch of Psychology 101 students who are
required to spend several hours working with graduate
students to document how well rats run through
a maze. The students are divided into three groups.
The first group is 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 told that they had 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
mighty smart rats.
third group of students was told that they had
the idiot rats. Sure, they'd eventually find the
cheese, but they'd bump into the maze walls, and
make wrong turns. After all, they're idiot rats.
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 finding their cheese. The second group
wrote with pride about how adept their rats were
in negotiating the maze. The third group wrote
a sad report about their idiot rats' struggle
to find their way through the maze.
punch line, of course, 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
it true that today's software users are less competent
than users were a decade ago? I'm not so sure.
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 guarantee you that they'd had first-hand
experience with seven of them. These people weren't
idiots. They were 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
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 simple explained to them. If you can make
people understand why you offer a big download
for people who need VB run time files, and a small
download for people who don't, you'll have an
advantage over your competitor who sees the users'
ignorance as a character flaw. And a larger group
of less-experienced users means that the entire
marketplace is expanding.
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 savvy
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.
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.
You'll get more direct sales, and more referrals
to their friends and colleagues. Friends tell
friends about people who treat them nicely.
Al Harberg represents DP
Directory. Al specializes in press release
distribution specifically for the Software and