Asides from development and overhead, marketing and audience targeting is one of the biggest things that companies invest time and effort in.  And with the amount of effort that we see companies invest in marketing, it’s actually sad to see how some organizations simply never master this art and ultimately fail to do themselves justice.  Really, I can’t even recall the number of times that I’ve passed up what were probably very worthy electronic applications or subscription services because the company responsible for marketing it wasn’t successful in selling me the service and/or product.  So what does sell me?  In this article I will go over a handful of things I personally consider before purchasing or subscribing to something so that you, either as a developer or consumer, can know what to look for and what ultimately closes a sale for folks like myself.

Pricing

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Many people talk about the pricing of apps and services ultimately to come up with the conclusion that lower pricing is better.  To a certain extent, this is definitely a valid point.  But like anything else, pricing really needs to be a “happy medium” in order to be appealing to customers and consumers.  Sure, no one likes overpaying for things; but when it boils down to it I don’t want to “underpay” either.

Really.  I’m not crazy.  Society has this huge notion that we “get what we pay for” when buying anything.  Apps and services are no different.  Take for example a $0.99 app; something that I have seen more and more of with the implementation of the App Store in Mac OS X and the subsequent takeoff of indie (that is, small and independent) developers.  When looking at such an app, my immediate reaction is typically a perception that the deal is too good to be true, often times leading me not to buy something.

Moreover, when I buy an application or subscribe to a service I want to know that the developer or company is committed to maintaining it.  Because I realize that said developers need to make a living and need adequate compensation in order to justify their time and effort to maintain their work, I understand that this has to be factored into the cost of an app or service.  And when it comes down to it, as long as I’m not overpaying for something, I’m more than happy to pay a fair price to help make sure this happens.

Seriously, developers.  I don’t want to finance your private yacht, but don’t undersell or under-compensate yourselves.  It really makes you look bad.  After all, if you don’t think your offering is worth a fair price why should I think that it’s worth my time?

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Trials

Seeing as how I’ve already gotten my point across that paying a fair price for an application or service is always best, I feel obligated to discuss software trials as well.  When a developer makes a fully functional trial or demo copy of their application/service available for use it helps to illustrate their confidence in their own product and that they feel it will win over the consumer.

Having said this, I realize it would be entirely impractical for a low-priced product or service to be offered as a trial or demo.  But as the retail price for a product heightens, so does the importance of a trial.  This allows users to try a product before they choose to buy it, and even gives the developer another opportunity to win over the user that they wouldn’t typically have.

Just as importantly, a consumer should always have enough time to get a real and in-depth feel for your offerings.  While I typically look at a two-week timeframe as Goldilocks, trials that give the end-user a certain number of “uses” before the trial expires is equally insightful for the consumer.

If not a trial or demo, every company or author that sells products with a price-ranges over $15 should implement and layout a clear (and fair) return or refund policy.  This at least reduces the risk involved with buying a service, and in turn will help to increase user confidence in purchasing your offerings.

Los Vegas and Atlantic City are great places if you want to gamble.  The Mac App Store or whatever sales/download mechanism you offer your customers simply isn’t the place for consumers to roll the dice.

Traction and Market Presence

Nobody likes “fly by night” businesses.  When I buy something, I want to know that the company I’m buying from is going to be around long enough to support it, and that they’re ultimately an ethical and moral company that will take care of their customers.  Simply put, I prefer to do business with established entities.

Rarely ever do I actually search out a product when I’m looking for an application, service, or utility.  Instead I get a feel for such offerings based on the recommendations of friends and colleagues who more often than not steer me towards a satisfactory product or service.  Needless to say, developing a reputation to this extent takes a bit of time but in reality isn’t a difficult feat for a legitimate company to make.

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As a company builds their reputation, I even become comfortable with using their newer products as they become released even before they become proven.  Why is this?  I come to trust the people who make the products and trust that they would not release anything below par.

Support

Perhaps one of the best indicators that I use to determine if I should do business with a company is the quality of their support.  One of the things that I love is when an organization implements a forum-like support system where users post issues and technical issues that are viewable by the public.  As a perspective customer I always look for such a forum in order to look at the reply times and quality of responses for such tickets.  There’s no bigger turn-off for me than a company that leaves their tickets unattended for wide durations of time.

I understand that products are going to have bugs, and despite all of the efforts on the part of the developers to find and resolve bugs before release it is not uncommon for bugs to surface only after the application ships.  As computer users, this is something that we should honestly come to expect.  I personally don’t hold such instances against the developer as long as the issues are relatively infrequent.  What I do consider, though, is how a company handles such problems.

Niche Products

Last but not least, my final rule of thumb involves specialty and niche products that have smaller audiences.  The best example of these applications is in more business-like environments where a company deals with a very detailed industry.  You see, just about every industry has their own market for software.  Retail stores are targets for point of sale systems, contractors are often sold on accounting platforms that deal highly with labor billing, etc.

What really irks me is when a company tries to fill the needs of every single industry, because their doing so typically means that they don’t invest a great deal of time with one particular audience and likely doesn’t produce a product that fully fits the needs of businesses or individuals in said industry.

For more fine-tuned consumer-focused products, I have personally found that developers who use their own applications on a daily basis have a better feel for the needs for end-users and ultimately produce better products.

Regardless of if you’re a developer or consumer, I hope that this article has given you an insight as to what to look at (or what to cater to) when dealing with applications and services.


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