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This post is about evaluating business software. We will consider four major factors that together may lead to the popularity and success of a software product. Since a popular product is not necessarily the one that satisfies your business needs, with each factor below we’ve also included a tip. The purpose is to stimulate critical thinking and help you avoid “crowd-thinking”.

Success Factor 1: Free, Free, Free

Very commonly when something is free there is a good chance it will quickly gain in popularity. Although being free does not guarantee true success – after all a software vendor needs money to continue developing and supporting their program – it can help influence customer perception in a positive way. It also greatly contributes to virality, especially when the quality of the program is good enough to make people feel the urge to share their experience with others.


What is the proverbial fly in the ointment here? Product X might not be as free as it seems. First, there can be a really annoying “Buy me” window that nags you every time you run the program. Second, and this pertains specifically to remote desktop software, your free sponsored remote session might get disconnected after a while right in the middle of you helping your grandpa with his urgent computer task.

Tip: There is nothing bad in the freemium model, but a customer should understand that everything comes at a price, and the price is not necessarily paid in dollars, or any other currency for that matter. If you don’t pay in dollars, you pay in time, frustration or lack of features or technical support.

Success Factor 2: Ease of Use

This factor can greatly contribute to a product’s overall success. A simple and easy-to-use interface is a lazy man’s dream. On the other side of the equation, though, are flexibility and security, and both may suffer if ease-of-use is taken to the extreme.

In business, your major concern is not whether windows and buttons look polished and nice, but rather how effectively a program can cope with the task and how quickly the cost of the program will be recovered. It won’t help telling your boss that the software you purchased is used by a hundred million people worldwide if the only thing that your firm got out of the software is sunk costs.

Tip: When evaluating business software, one should consider not only the ease of use, but also other factors, such as the cost, suitability for their specific business tasks, security and configurability.

Success Factor 3: Forum Frenzy

Asking for advice has a long history. Since the Stone Age people, when in doubt, have been doing what others did. In the digital age people keep asking “what is the best program for…” on the forums.

This phenomenon has an explanation. The human mind likes benchmarks and standards. These standards exist in every category, and it’s usually the product or service that a person recalls first when they hear a category name. In marketing this is called a “brand”. If a product or service has a strong brand, it is perceived as the best in its category.


The downside of following advice from a peer is that what is usually recommended is free software. And free does not necessarily mean best. Rather, there exists and ideal collection of features and benefits that is best for one’s specific situation. Using words like “best” in a search inquiry is an indication that the person asking the question has a vague understanding of their own needs.

Tip: When evaluating software for business, one should take advice from a non-commercial user with a grain of salt. For example, certain remote support software can be great for supporting a grandma from time to time, but totally inappropriate for managing thousands of PCs in a corporate network.

Success Factor 4: No Democracy

Democracy is painful. Letting people speak will inevitably bring bad reviews as well as good ones because no software is flawless. The reason why some software websites look like glossy fashion magazines and have no forums is the stereotype corporate thinking like “If we have a discussion on our website and someone criticizes our product, less people will buy from us”.

It’s one thing to have people review your product on third-party sites (there is little you can do about that) and it’s another to let them post their opinions on your own site. The latter takes a bit more courage and less corporate “hush-hush thinking”. In the short run it might be fewer dollars (and fewer bonuses for corporate executives), but in the long-run it builds a strong rapport with customers.

Tip: When evaluating software, look for the signs of overtly positive and laudatory language on the product website. The absence of a discussion board/forum clearly says that the company is not ready to face the customer feedback in public, whatever that feedback may be.

Conclusion

Probably the most valuable advice we can give here is “Beware of cults”. An ability to make one’s own judgment is a distinctive trait of a sharp-minded entrepreneur or engineer. Business is all about what you think is best based on hands-on experience, not what other people believe is best for your business.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles and jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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