How to sell software
While I could pick apart the author’s review, I’ll focus on two bigger ideas instead: that selling software is about managing expectations, and that selling software does not mean giving it away.
Selling software is about managing expectations. No real software is perfect. Real software crashes, has usability issues, and has limits in its capabilities. Unfortunately, when users lack details about the software or don’t understand them, the expectations about the software can break free and ride well ahead of reality. The challenge is how to keep users from being disappointed.
With Blurity, the comparison is inevitably made to the deblurring software that will “surely” be in “the next version” of Photoshop. While Adobe did put together an impressive research demo of single-image deblurring in the autumn of 2011, they have since been mum about including the technology in commercial versions of Photoshop. Why? I suspect that they set expectations too high.
The most impressive images from that demo were synthetically blurred (a much easier problem than natural blur), and the deblurring results they displayed were the result of close user direction of the algorithm. The real software, operating on real blurred images, in the hands of real users, probably can’t perform at the level of the technical demo.
The trade-off is always between perfection and shipping something at all. Engineers and artists are notoriously reluctant to let go of anything that is not “perfect,” which is why so many products seem to die due to failure to ship. In the case of Blurity, the decision was between shipping something that doesn’t quite meet the “Enhance!!!” Hollywood-style expectations of the populace, or shipping nothing at all. I chose the former.
So how is a software developer supposed to keep expectations low while still running an effective sales campaign? One way is to show numerous real-world examples on the web site, like I do with Blurity. All of the examples are available for download in blurry and processed forms, so the user can do their own before-and-after comparison. Going a step further, every image on the Features page also shows the exact settings used to produce the results.
Another way is to outline the limitations of the software. This is done in the Blurity user manual. It is also done with clear alerts display at runtime when the user attempts to do something that is not allowed.
Unfortunately, users don’t read. I’ll admit it: I don’t always read the manuals myself. So, I deal with this by providing great, personalized customer service. Often times, the questions asked have already been answered in the user manual, but instead of giving a gruff “Read the manual!” reply, I simply give them the answer itself. Quicker resolutions, happier customers.
Selling software does not mean giving it away. If software is your business, it is there to make money. The most difficult and important change I made in the development of Blurity was to stop producing a free-trial version, and instead switch to a watermarked demo.
From April through the end of June, Blurity was distributed with a 30-day free trial. During those 30 days, it was completely unrestricted. Hundreds of people installed it, and almost nobody bought it.
I was crushed. I thought that the problem was that people simply didn’t like Blurity.
However, further investigation showed that wasn’t the case. Instead, many of the people installing Blurity had just a photo or two that they wanted to fix, and since the free trial fully met their needs, they had no reason to purchase a copy. What’s more, by the time the free trial expired, a month had elapsed, and Blurity had passed to the dark recesses of their minds — or out-of-mind completely.
My inner businessman silenced my inner engineer, and I got rid of the free trial period. Moreover, I made the demo watermark so obtrusive that there was no practical way to avoid it.
Switching from a free trial to a crippled demo was the best decision I’ve made in the history of Blurity. In the first month alone, sales increased by 2400%. Let me repeat that, just to drive the point: changing to a demo model, in which the only limitation of the unregistered program was to have a watermark on the output image, increased month-to-month sales by a factor of 24. If that was the wrong decision, then I don’t want to be right.
The heavy watermarking has been the most common complaint in reviews, and that’s fine with me. Enough of the image is visible for the software to prove it works, and enough of the image is degraded by the watermark to ensure that there are no freebies.
The second most common review complaint? The price. Blurity used to be far less expensive than it is now, and raising the price substantially was the second-best Blurity decision I’ve made. Blurity is priced on value, and there is nothing else on the market that can do what it can do. While axing the free trial boosted sales volume, it was raising the price that made Blurity a viable business.
So how has that worked out for Blurity?