Before Selling Software by Mail

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Selling software by mail requires some specialized tactics. Such factors as pricing, using a one-step or a two-step approach and using a free-trial offer all play a critical role in the effectiveness of a direct mail campaign. Consider these guidelines before using direct mail to sell software:

Price is more important than you think. Pricing is not an afterthought but a key ingredient of the marketing mix. How much the software costs is terribly important to buyers -- much more so than most marketers seem to believe.

When selling software through mail order, always give the prospect a discount price and identify it as such. Even sophisticated programmers and system analysts like to think they are getting a bargain.

One step or two?> Aside from pricing, the most important decision you face is whether to use a one-step or two-step selling process. One-step is the classic mail-order approach in which the reader orders directly from the ad or mailing. In a two-step approach, the ad or mailer generates an inquiry, which is then converted to a sale whether by a live salesperson, telemarketing representative or a fulfillment package.

Which should you use? For one-step mail-order marketing, the lower the price, the better. PC packages such as add-ons, simple utilities and programming tools in the $59 to $299 price range are good candidates for the one-step approach.

In the $399 to $899 price range, you may want to test a one-step vs. two-step approach and see which works best.

Once you start to edge near $1,000 and above, the two-step approach is usually best. Very few people will send payment for a $1,999 software package without some extra convincing by a salesperson or demo diskette.

The free-trial approach. This is sort of a hybrid approach. Here's how it works:

You send the prospect a letter describing your package and offer to send a copy of the product for a free 30-day trial -- no commitment or payment required. If the prospect responds, he gets the software. At the end of the trial, if he wants to keep it, you send the bill, licensing agreement, contract or whatever; and the customer pays for the product.

One of my clients uses this approach with great success, selling mainframe systems software in the $8,000 to $15,000 price range.

To demo or not to demo? The question of whether to use a demo diskette in the marketing of a software product comes up all the time. I have a few suggestions:

First, unless the demo is great, don't send it. Most demo diskettes are thinly disguised sales presentations on disk and don't do justice to the actual product.

The best demos are those that are identical to the actual product except they have a locking code that doesn't allow you to print or save to disk. The benefit: the customer can give the product a thorough test-drive but has not received anything of real value. Because of the high unit cost of these demos, many firms charge $10 to $50 for them; the payment is then credited toward the purchase price of the product when the customer places his order.

Because of the high cost-per-thousand, companies rarely include software demo disks in cold mailings. Reason: Although it would be an effective selling tool, the question is whether the cost would be paid back in increased sales. The best use of single demo diskettes is to mail them with inquiry fulfillment packages sent only to qualified prospects . I would like to see a market research study done to determine what percentage of people who receive demo diskettes actually use them -- and what percentage throw them away.

Visuals. Although ad agencies are constantly pressured by their clients to come up with new and innovative visuals for illustrating software ads, no one has found a breakthrough yet. The old standards -- photos of the product itself and of screens -- still work best. Every screen should be accompanied by a factual caption that makes clear what is going on in the picture.

Most software buyers tend to be more screen-oriented than print-oriented, so showing pictures of print-outs usually doesn't work as well as putting the same information on a screen.

Concept products require a lot more selling effort. A concept product is one that requires the user to buy into a conceptual way of doing things.

For example, to sell project management software, you first have to convince the prospect that the way your package manages projects is best, then you sell the software itself. Another good example is the mainframe computer security package sold by one of my clients. Before they can sell the software, they first must sell the need for extra security protection.

Concept products usually have a longer sales cycle and require a more intensive, step-by-step selling effort. They are almost never sold directly off an ad or mailer.

Robert W. Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business, hi-tech, industrial and direct marketing. His e-mail address is

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