Let Research Guide Software Sales Online

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Selling software online depends on two disciplines: implementing research to find the audience that will benefit most from your software and showing them how your product fills their needs.

There's nothing new here. There always has been and always will be a basic axiom to success in business: Find a need and fill it. Obviously, any company selling existing software thinks it has already found the need. Now, the time has come to fill it.

Here are tips on how to sell your software by filling the need:

All successful online marketing has its roots in research. Research tells you where to find your audience online and the best way to reach them with a compelling message.

For companies with big marketing budgets, basic research can be purchased from analysts like Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA; GartnerGroup, Stamford, CT; and Jupiter Communications, New York. These companies may have part of what you need, but their research reports are expensive, and particular demographic information that you will need is often lacking. These firms also will conduct research for you, but that is even more expensive.

Much of the information needed to determine where your online audience is can be found on your own. People looking for new technologies and software applications usually convene at the same watering holes. Begin by searching technology Web sites like Cnet, slashdot.com, Wired.com, etc. These sites, along with others that offer information about new technologies, will often provide leads if you're willing to take the time to read what people are talking about in the public forums on these sites.

Forums are invaluable because people share information about which software is good and which ones work best for them. They also talk about new applications, and many of the forum participants will state their needs and ask other participants to recommend a solution.

Other fertile areas for your research include Usenet groups, listservs -- bulletin board systems like America Online and MSN, newsletters and e-zines and chat groups. Discussion groups and communities are all over the Internet, but you must be willing to allocate much time to monitoring them -- in the case of Usenet, Chat rooms and e-zines -- and subscribing to them -- listservs and newsletters. These public access areas are the places your audience visits to find out about and share information on new software.

If you don't have the bandwidth to conduct your own research, you can save money by hiring some of the smaller market research companies that have a dedicated staff of creative people.

Having good positioning in the major search engines and directories is absolutely mandatory.

Eighty percent of all Internet users say they use search engines to find new Web sites. Because search engines and directories have become so specialized, it is necessary to find a company that specializes in submissions to these engines and can get you good positioning. Submissions to these search engines must be done according to the preference of each engine. It makes the search engines' work easier, and you'll get better results.

The same company that helps you with submission to search engines can also be an invaluable guide in directing you to keyword buys on the major search portals like Yahoo, AOL, Excite, Lycos, etc. These are advertisements that pop up and promote your company when people type in keywords during their search.

For example, suppose you make accounting software. People looking for what you have may begin their searches by typing in the word "software." After getting into the software categories, they may type in "accounting." Bingo. This is where they would find you if you had bought the keyword "accounting" at a particular search engine or directory. The company you hired to make your submissions should be able to advise you that "accounting" is the word to buy rather than "software," which is too generic and more expensive.

After identifying the most active Web sites and communities toward which your audience tends to gravitate, it's time to start addressing that audience with your message, and different strategies must be implemented for each audience.

Media buys should be made only on those sites that research has determined your target audience visits most frequently. Don't let ad agencies or media buyers tell you which Web sites are best for your advertising dollars. Agencies and media buyers generally make their money on placement, not research, so you can end up spreading your budget across a broad spectrum of sites that, though popular, may not be focused enough.

Creative -- the banner -- must be designed with trial as its main objective. The banner has to let your audience know that they can try your software before they buy. No customers will buy software that they can't try out unless the software is an extremely popular brand.

The next most important task to advertising on Web sites is measurable and quantifiable tracking. Many companies offer tracking and measurability, and research will uncover the one that's best for you.

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