Easy Data Transform and Hyper Plan Professional edition are both on sale for 25% off at Winterfest 2022. So now might be a good time to give them a try (both have free trials). There is also some other great products from other small vendors on sale, including Tinderbox, Scrivener and Devonthink. Some of the software is Mac only, but Easy Data Transform and Hyper Plan are available for both Mac and Windows (one license covers both OSs).
Category Archives: Hyper Plan
Easy Data Transform and Hyper Plan Professional edition are both on sale for 25% off at Summerfest 2022. So now might be a good time to give them a try (both have free trials). There is also some other great products from other small vendors on sale, including Tinderbox, Scrivener and Devonthink. Some of the software is Mac only, but Easy Data Transform and Hyper Plan are available for both Mac and Windows (one license covers both). Sale ends 12th July.
Easy Data Transform and Hyper Plan Professional edition are both on sale for 25% off at Winterfest 2021. There is also some other great products from other small vendors on sale, including Tinderbox, Scrivener and Devonthink. Some of the software is Mac only, but Easy Data Transform and Hyper Plan are available for both Mac and Windows (one license covers both). Sale ends 11th January.
Tracking your sales pipeline
The purpose of marketing is to generate prospects. People who are interested in your product and might buy it. The purpose of sales is to try to convert these prospects into customers. The key difference between these activities is that marketing is one-to-many and sales is one-to-one. Each sales prospect is going to have different questions depending on their requirements, timescales and budgets.
For low cost products there is generally very little selling. You simply can’t afford to spend significant amounts of time engaging with someone who may or may not buy a product with a $30 lifetime value. But for higher price products (typically B2B), sales becomes more important. Sales activities might take the form of answering questions by email or phone, video conferences, quotes, online demonstrations and perhaps even site visits.
Many of my customers purchase from my website without any active selling. But organizations who wish to buy more expensive licences typically have questions about licensing, pricing, functionality, upgrading etc before purchasing. I characterise the stages of selling to these companies as:
- Enquiry – Someone has expressed an interest in one of my products and typically has questions about functionality, licensing and/or pricing. Initial contact is usually by email.
- Qualification – I answer the prospect’s questions. If my product isn’t a good fit for their requirements I let them know, as I don’t want to waste my time or theirs or end up with unhappy customers.
- Quoted – If the prospect looks like a good fit and is still interested I send them a quote.
- Verbal agreement – The prospect expresses an interest in buying the product. There may be some negotiation over number of licenses, discounts, payment methods, tax etc.
- Won/Lost/Cold – I either win or lose the sale, or the prospect stops responding (goes cold).
This step-by-step process is known as a ‘sales pipeline’ or ‘sales funnel’. Different companies use different terminology and a high-value enterprise sale would probably have more stages. But the process is the same in principal – your marketing (SEO, PPC, word of mouth etc) feeds people into the pipeline at one end and a certain proportion will drop out at each stage. Some will end up as customers.
You can take a very ‘hands-off’ approach to sales and only respond to communications that the prospect initiates. But this is not going to get you the best conversion rate from prospect to customer. People are busy and have lots of conflicting demands on their time. One of your response emails might get lost. Their initial contact might leave the company. It seems a pity to let a prospect slip away, just because you can’t be bothered to send a few follow-up emails.
I don’t really want to do a 30 minute online demo if I think I am only going to sell $50 of software (unless I think the feedback might be particularly valuable). But the more a sale is likely to be worth, the more effort I am prepared to put into it. I have found that I can make a pretty good guess at how much a sale is likely to be worth based on the organization they belong to and the initial questions they ask. And these guesses becomes more accurate as they travel along the pipeline.
Note that I am not trying to cajole or pressure the prospect into buying. I am simply trying to provide them with the information they need so they can make the right choice. If I don’t hear anything for a while I will email them something along the lines of:
Did you make a decision regarding purchasing ? Please let us know if you need any further information. We would be happy to call if you would prefer to discuss it on the phone.
If they reply that they aren’t interested or don’t reply after 2 or 3 emails from me, then I stop chasing them. No need to be an asshole about it.
I’m confident that I could increase my conversion rate by following up prospects by phone, instead of emailing them (most B2B prospects include contact details in their sig or are easy enough to Google). But that isn’t something I can summon up enthusiasm for, so I don’t do it. If I was less secure financially, I would be on the phone a lot more.
The issue is then, how to track the various sales prospects so you can follow them up as appropriate? Initially I just tracked sales by having a ‘prospects’ folder in my email client. I would put email from prospects in this folder. Occasionally I would go through the folder and email prospects who hadn’t replied in the last few weeks. If they didn’t reply to a few emails I would move them out of the ‘prospects’ folder. It wasn’t very efficient and there were all sorts of questions I couldn’t easily get answers to, including:
- What stage was each prospect at?
- How long was it since I last contacted a prospect?
- Was there anyone I needed to follow up today?
- How many prospects were there at each stage in the pipeline? What did I think those prospects might be worth?
- How were the sales divided into industry sectors (e.g. businesses vs charities vs government)?
- What proportion of sales was I winning and losing?
- How did the sales breakdown between new customers and upgrades? Direct sales and resellers?
But it just so happens that my own Hyper Plan product is excellent as sales pipeline software.
I now add a card into Hyper Plan for each prospect that I think might realistically purchase $200 of software or more.
I can then very easily slice and dice the data in any number of different ways. For example:
This has given me a lot more insight into how I am doing at sales and made me a lot more organized at following up prospects.
A few random things I have learnt about sales over 13 years of running my own software business:
- Some organizations will buy on the same day they first contact you. Other may take years. Generally the bigger and more famous the organization and the bigger the order, the longer it takes.
- Organizations sometimes ask for changes to my licensing agreement. I always refuse as it just isn’t worth the expense and stress of getting a lawyer involved. They usually buy anyway.
- Don’t give additional discounts to ‘value subtracted resellers’. It almost certainly won’t make any difference to whether they purchase or not.
- Sometimes it is quicker and more effective to talk on the phone, rather than sending lots of emails. But I will generally ask if it is ok by email, before calling.
- Trying to get video conferencing to work so you can demo your product can be a real headache. Every organization seems to have a different preferred video conferencing solution.
- Once you are confident your product is the right one for a prospect ask for the sale (‘close’). ‘Would you like to talk about licensing?’ is a not-to-pushy way to move the conversation onto money.
- You don’t have to be dishonest or pushy. Just give prospects the information so they can make the right decision.
- Prospects generally won’t tell you that they aren’t interested. They just stop replying to emails.
Hyper Plan is available for Windows and Mac. The Home edition, which has everything you need for sales pipeline tracking, is just $40. Download the free trial and start tracking your sales pipeline.
Hyper Plan v1 launched
I quietly launched Hyper Plan v1 yesterday. I thought I would write a bit about the approach I have taken, as it might be of interest to others planning product launches. It is also a good way for me to gather my thoughts for later reference.
I like the idea of validating a product without actually creating it first. I did that for my start your own software business training course, waiting until I had enough deposits before I actually sat down and wrote the course (all 460 slides of it + exercises). But I didn’t know how to do that with Hyper Plan. Validating software is harder.
No-one was telling me that they needed a better visual planning tool. It was just an idea for a piece of software that I wanted. I could see that a lot of people spend a lot of time sticking Post-It notes to walls. But I couldn’t see any other software quite like what I had in mind. And I had no idea if other people would buy the product I had in mind. So it is quite risky. It would be much less risky to make a variation on an existing successful product. But I just can’t get excited about that. Also I have a steady income from PerfectTablePlan, so I can afford to take some risks.
I talked to various people I knew about my idea. But it was difficult to get far without having some software to show them. Also I didn’t want to ask friends for money, so this limited the value of the feedback. I could have phoned up some businesses and told them “It’s like a planning board, but in software” and asked for some money. But I didn’t really see that getting me far either.
I could have started an AdWords campaign and put up a landing page. But it was hard to describe exactly what the product was going to be. Partly because it was different to anything else I had seen. But also I didn’t know myself! I had lots of ideas and design scribbles, but I didn’t really know what the end product was going to look like in detail without creating it first.
So I decided to build something quickly, iterate on feedback and see what happened when I asked for money (the only true validation). Even if it failed, at least I get to do some programming!
I started coding on 08-Sep-14. By mid October I had thrown up a website with the first beta version for Windows and Mac. I allowed people to download the beta in return for giving their email address. The beta put up a warning that it would expire on 17-Jan-15. This meant I didn’t initially have to write any trial/licensing code. I made it clear that the plan was to have a commercial version for sale before then. I emailed the list each time there was a new release and encouraged them to send feedback.
I put out a number of beta releases and got some very useful feedback. A lot of the feedback was from fellow mISVs giving me a hard time about the shortcomings of the early UI, but that was still very welcome. The first release was very rough and ready. But it improved significantly in terms of UI and features with each release. I put out 5 beta releases over October, November and December. The world didn’t beat a path to my door, but the feedback was encouraging enough that I kept going.
Hyper Plan is written in C++ and Qt and compiles into Windows and Mac binaries. I have written about why I decided to develop it as a desktop tool elsewhere. It is around 20k lines of C++ code. About 100 lines of that code are platform specific, mostly to try to improve the look and feel on Mac OS X.
I also planned the marketing, wrote a quick start guide, created the website and built installers for Windows and Mac. Not bad for 18 weeks, part-time around various other commitments (mostly PerfectTablePlan and a little bit of consulting)! It helps that I was using technology and tools that I have used extensively before.
I have tried to follow my own advice and cut some corners:
- I did the Hyper Plan logo myself. It isn’t great.
- The website is fairly basic. I’m not a web designer.
- I did the website video+voiceover myself. It isn’t great.
- The software doesn’t have all the features I would like it to have.
- The software UI could be more polished.
- There is minimal documentation (just a quick start guide).
I can improve on all of these later. However the software seems very solid, with only 1 crash reported in third party testing (now fixed).
I would have liked to have got to v1 even quicker, but (inevitably) quite a few shortcomings in my original ideas had to be addressed during the beta to make it a useful product. Also, I couldn’t resist a bit of gold plating (animations with easing curves, oh yeah!).
I decided to go for a fully functional, time limited trial for Hyper Plan on the grounds that the more invested in it people become, the more likely they are to buy it (see this article for a discussion of the merits of different trial models). I didn’t want the standard 30 consecutive days trial, as I know many people install software, forget about it for 30+ days and then can’t continue with the trial. So I went with 7 days of non-consecutive use. I may A/B test longer trial lengths in future.
I am a big fan of multiple price points. But I don’t yet know enough to segment the market for this product. So I decided to go with a single price point. I can always split the product into multiple price points later on (e.g. add a more expensive ‘professional edition’), as I did for PerfectTablePlan.
The product is positioned (in my mind at least) as a better alternative to sticking Post-It notes to the wall and a cheaper and simpler alternative to fully fledged project management tools. This rather limits what I can charge for it. I wasn’t sure whether to price the product at $30 (for an impulse buy) or $50 to try to send a signal that it is aimed more at serious users. So I split the difference and went for $40. Also that gives me some room to experiment with discounts. I may experiment with different prices in future.
Avangate has been doing the payment processing for PerfectTablePlan for some years now and I have been generally very happy with their service. Also they protect me from the horrors of the new EU VAT legislation. So it was a no-brainer to use them as the payment processor for Hyper Plan. They set me up with a separate account/control panel for Hyper Plan.
I haven’t added it all up yet. But the total expenditure to date for Hyper Plan is a few hundred dollars. This was mostly third party testing by testlab2.com, the cost of the hyperplan.com domain (which I have been sitting on for a few years) and fees for sending out email newsletters. I already had icons, a hosting account and a web template from previous projects, so there was no additional cost there. Obviously the opportunity cost of my time is a lot more.
Initially I plan to concentrate on:
- cross-selling to my PerfectTablePlan customers
- SEO (content + back links)
Some of the keywords I would like to get traffic on have an estimated top of page 1 bid price of £23 in AdWords. Yikes. But I have a lot of experience with AdWords. Hopefully I can pick up some well targeted and much cheaper clicks with a long tail strategy (using the Keyword Funnel software I developed). Only time will tell.
I have quite a few other ideas that I can try. But I am still very much validating if this product has a market and, if so, what I have to do to get the elusive ‘product-market fit’. I don’t plan to spend much effort and money on marketing until I have that better figured out.
Version 1 launch
292 people had given their email address to download the beta by yesterday. Most of the sign-ups came from mentions of Hyper Plan in my PerfectTablePlan newsletter, on this blog and on a couple of forums. I didn’t do any paid advertising and, as yet, there is very little organic traffic to the Hyper Plan website.
There was no big launch. No press release. No party. Not even a tweet. I just announced v1 to my mailing list of 292 people yesterday morning. I offered a discount to anyone who purchased a license in the next 7 days. I had absolutely no idea how many sales I would get.
I got 12 sales and a couple of enquiries about organizational licenses yesterday. That is better than I expected for day 1. So I am quietly encouraged that there may be a market for this product. But it is very early days yet. Thankfully I have PerfectTablePlan paying all the bills, so there is no pressure to hit any revenue targets.
Always Be Selling
Obviously I am not going to miss the chance to try to flog you a license, dear reader. Are you interested in visual planning software? Do you know someone that might be? Hyper Plan is very versatile. I have used it for planning Hyper Plan development and marketing, my daily TO DO list and tracking Xmas present purchases. It is also highly suitable for agile/Kanban/Scrum type planning. You can find out more here and download the free trial here.
If you buy a license by the end of 22-Jan-15 you can get 20% off (feel the marketing!). Use the coupon SSWBLOG in the shopping cart to get the discount.
If you have any comments on the product or website, I would be happy to hear them.
Hyper Plan update
I have been working hard on Hyper Plan, my new visual planning software. I have put out several releases since my last blog post.
- better user interface
- sortable columns in the table view
- full support for dates
- export to CSV/PDF/PNG/JPG
- open recent files
- auto save
- bug fixes
Many of the improvements have been based on user feedback (thanks!).
Hyper Plan can be used for a wide range of planning/scheduling/tracking/visualization tasks, including:
- event planning
- project management
- software release planning
- kanban/scrum/agile planning
- staff/resource allocation
- todo list
It runs natively on Windows and Mac OS X. If you need to distribute your plan across multiple machines, you can use DropBox.com or similar.
I am planning to release a paid version in 2015. Until then you can use the beta version completely free and unrestricted. Please give it a try and let me know what you think.
My new product : Hyper Plan
I have just launched a new product. First some back story. A few years ago, my wife and I were renovating the house we live in now. Trying to schedule and track all the different tasks, tradesmen and quotes was a real pain. We stuck Post-it® notes onto a whiteboard to try to keep on top of it all. The Post-it notes represented the various jobs that need doing. We placed them in columns (representing what stage they were at: needs quote, accepted quote, scheduled, doing, done) and rows (representing the various trades: plumbing, roofing, electrical etc). It worked, but it was far from ideal:
- I wanted to see status vs trade, status vs room and room vs trade. But changing the layout was a pain, so I had to pick one layout and stick with it.
- Colours were useful for extra information. But we were limited to just the few colours that Post-it notes come in.
- There was only limited space to write on the note.
- My wife couldn’t read my handwriting.
- We had to use a separate spreadsheet to track the budget.
- Post-it notes would fall off and get lost after being moved a few times.
- I ran out of Post-it notes.
That is when the idea of Hyper Plan first occurred to me. It has been burning a hole in my brain for the last 5 years. Now I have finally got around to implementing it.
Hyper Plan is Post-it note style planning, implemented in software. In software you are no-longer limited by the number of Post-it notes you can afford, the amount of wall space you have or the number of colours Post-it notes come in. You can even change the layout and colours with a mouse click. All with animation and easing curve loveliness.
The sorts of planning you can use it for include:
- project planning
- planning what is going into your next software release
- event planning
- Kanban / Scrum / Agile
- planning a holiday
- to do list (I know!)
Anything where you have discrete tasks that you want to be able to categorize (e.g. by person, status or type), schedule or track in a visual form.
Here is a 2:42 minute overview in video form (with audio):
Can’t see the video? Try this mp4 version (10.7 MB).
Hyper Plan is quite different to anything else I have seen. That could be a good thing or bad thing. I am putting out an early beta to try to find out.
Hyper Plan is not currently for sale. I don’t want to take the time to set up all the payment processing and licensing until I am confident someone might actually buy it. The current beta version will run completely unrestricted until 17-Jan-2015. There are Windows and Mac versions. Hopefully a commercial version will be available for sale by the time the beta expires. If not, I will release another free version.
Currently it is very much an MVP (minimum viable product).
- The UI is a bit rough around the edges.
- The logo was done in 5 minutes in Word.
- The documentation is just a quick start guide.
- Some important features are not implemented yet (e.g. printing, exporting and undo).
But I have tried to follow my own advice and resist foul urges to spend months polishing it (which is hard!). What is there is pretty robust though, and I think it demonstrates the concepts. Hopefully I will know in a few weeks whether it is worth taking the time to polish it to commercial levels.
I would love to know what you think. Particularly how useful you find it for ‘real’ planning tasks. Even responses of the form “I wouldn’t use this because…” are helpful. Please also email a link to anyone else you think might be interested. Particularly if you have ever seen them sticking Post-it notes to a wall or swearing at Microsoft Project! My contact details are here.
Q: Why is it desktop, rather than SaaS/mobile?
A. I think stories of the death of desktop software are exaggerated. Also:
- I can build a minimum viable product much quicker for desktop.
- Differentiation. Some people prefer desktop apps, e.g. because they don’t have reliable Internet or don’t want to store their data on third party servers.
- Less competition. Everyone else seems to be doing SaaS/mobile.
I might add SaaS and/or mobile versions later, if there is enough demand. Note that DropBox (or the Google, Microsoft or Apple equivalents) allow you to easily sync a Hyper Plan file across multiple computers.
Q: So it’s Trello for desktop?
A. Not really. I had the basic idea before I ever saw Trello. And I’m not stupid enough to compete with a free tool from the great Joel Spolsky! Trello is great at what it does. But Hyper Plan is different in quite a few ways. In Trello the emphasis is on collaboration and workflow. In Hyper Plan the emphasis is on visualization and planning. Hyper Plan allows you to present your information in lots of different ways with a few mouse clicks. It also has a built in ‘pivot table’ type feature that is much easier to use than Excel pivot tables. This is really useful for totalling effort and expenditure by different categories.
Post-it is a registered trademark of 3M.
The scrum photo is licensed under creative common by Logan Ingalls.