Tag Archives: sales

Promoting your software through 1-day sales and bundles

Hyper Plan, my visual planning software for Windows and Mac, has now been for sale for a bit less than 2 years. Given that I am (by choice) doing all the development, marketing and support for both Hyper Plan and my other product, PerfectTablePlan, I have had a limited amount of time to promote Hyper Plan. But Hyper Plan is in a  competitive market, where it is hard to get noticed using traditional promotional techniques such as SEO and PPC. So I have been experimenting with promotion via 1-day sales sites and bundles.

I did several promotions through both bitsdujour.com and macupdate.com promo. These were 50%-off sales for 1 day (sometimes extended for another day). The site takes 50% commission on the sale, so I only got $10 of my normal $40 ticket price. But I also got exposure to a whole new audience I wouldn’t normally reach.

I also included Hyper Plan in bundlehunt.com and macupdate.com software bundles. In these bundles customers purchased some 10 items of software at a big discount. The promotions lasted for a few weeks each. I am not at liberty to divulge how much I got for each licence, but a quick calculation based on the price of the bundles and the number of items in the bundle tells you that it was a lot less than $10!

My hopes related to sales sites and bundles were:

  1. A worthwhile amount additional sales revenue.
  2. Increased feedback, giving me more insight for improving the product.
  3. Making money further down the line from major upgrades (e.g. v1 to v2).
  4. That I wouldn’t be swamped in support emails from people who were paying me a lot less than the standard price.
  5. More word-of-mouth sales after the discount has finished.

On analysing the results, the first 4 turned out to be true.

I had previously tried promoting my PerfectTablePlan table planning software on bitsdujour.com, but the results were disappointing. It just wasn’t a good match for their audience. However Hyper Plan is a more general tool and it did a lot better. The bundles also sold in impressive volumes. The source of Hyper Plan sales revenues to date after commission (but not including upgrades) is show below.

sales-revenue-source

So the extra sales were certainly significant from a revenue point of view, bearing in mind that Hyper Plan is a relatively young and unknown product.

I also got some very useful feedback from the bitsdujour comments section.

I released v2 of Hyper Plan in March 2016. I have crunched the numbers to see how many v1 customers to date have paid for upgrades to v2.

percentage upgrades

I expected that the 1-day sale customers who had paid $20 for the initial licence would be less likely to pay $16 to upgrade to v2 than those who had hadn’t purchased at a heavy discount. I was surprised that the opposite turned out to be true. I don’t have a good theory why.

I don’t have any figures for bundle customer upgrades, as the bundles happened after v2 was released. Given that bundle purchasers probably only wanted a subset of the software in the bundle, I expect the upgrade percentages to be a lot lower than above.

I wasn’t swamped in support emails. In fact things were surprisingly quiet during the bundles, which makes me wonder how many people who purchased the bundle were interested in Hyper Plan.

There were no sustained jumps in traffic or sales after the 1-day sales or bundles ended.

Best of all, the 1-day sales and bundles don’t cost anything, apart from a modest amount of time to set-up.

I know some vendors promote these 1-day sales and bundles to existing customers. But I don’t understand why you would do that. The whole point of these channels is to reach new audiences. Also you risk annoying customers who have paid list price. If you already have an audience you can promote a sale to, then you don’t need 1-day sales sites or bundles. Just email them a discount voucher.

I had one complaint from an existing customer on a forum who had paid full price and then saw Hyper Plan in a 1-day sale. I offered to refund the difference back to them, but they didn’t take me up on it.

In conclusion, the sales and bundle sites brought in useful spikes of additional sales (especially when you include upgrades later on) and feedback, without a big jump in support burden. But they didn’t lead to a noticeable long-term increase in traffic or sales. Obviously every product is different. But if you have a product that needs exposure, isn’t too niche and doesn’t require a lot of support, it may be worth giving 1-day sales and bundles a try.

Why have my sales dropped?

why have my sales dropped?If you spend as much time as I do hanging around forums for independent developers, you will often see questions of the form “I only made X sales today/this week/this month, has something gone wrong?”. There are two distinct possibilities:

  1. Something has changed (e.g. your website is broken); or
  2. It’s a statistical fluctuation.

Rather than guessing, we can use some stats to work out the probability that a drop in sales is just a random fluctuation.

The Poisson distribution gives us the probability of a given number of discrete events occurring in a fixed interval of time (or space), if these events occur with a known average rate and independently of each other. It can be used to investigate the accuracy of v1 flying bombs, the number of 19th century Prussian soldiers kicked to death by horses and the number of South Africans attacked by sharks. It can also be used to calculate the probability of getting <= n sales per day/week/month, if we average N sales per day/week/month.

Poisson distribution

A comparison between the number of PerfectTablePlan sales per day over 90 days (blue histogram) vs predicted by the Poisson distribution (red histogram). We would expect the prediction to become more accurate with more data, assuming nothing else changes. Obviously things do change over the lifetime of a software product, hence the relatively short time span chosen.

Using this online Poisson distribution calculator we can work out some example probabilities:

expected
number of sales
over period
Probability of drop in sales of: 5 10 50 100
>= 20% 44% 33.3% 8.6% 2.3%
>= 40% 26.5% 13% 0.2% 0%
>= 60% 12.5% 2.9% 0% 0%
 = 100% 0.7% 0% 0% 0%

(0% = too small for the calculator to display)

For example:

  • If we average 5 sales per week, the chance of a 40% or more drop in sales (i.e. a week with 3 or less sales) is 26.5%.
  • If we average 50 sales per week, the chance of a 40% or more drop in sales (i.e. a week with 30 or less sales) is 0.2%.

So the less sales we make (or the shorter the period we look at), the bigger the random fluctuations we can expect. If I was averaging 5 sales per week, I wouldn’t be too worried about a drop of 40% in sales for one week. In fact, I would expect it to happen approximately one week in every 4 (running a business that averages 5 big B2B sales a year, must be very stressful!). But if I was making 50 sales per week, a 40% drop in sales should only happen by chance approximately once every 10 years. I would definitely check for other causes.

Assuming it isn’t just a statistical blip, the most likely cause of non-random change is an issue with your website. Rather than waiting for a problem, I suggest you set up continuous monitoring that emails or SMSs you if a problem occurs. There are various services for this. I use free pingdom.com and siteuptime.com accounts. Using 2 different services protects you against one of them silently failing.

If your website is up, what else have you changed recently? Check your analytics for changes and your Google webmaster tools account for warnings. Has traffic dropped (perhaps you been slapped by Google)? Has the number of downloads/trials dropped while the traffic stayed the same (perhaps there is a problem with downloading/signing up)? If you have made a new release, double check there are no major bugs in the installer or software. “It works on my development machine” doesn’t cut it with customers, so check it on a non-development machine or a clean VM.

Don’t assume that random strangers on the Internet will email you to tell you that something is broken. Perhaps 1 in a hundred or a thousand will. The rest will just click the back button. You can improve your odds by having loyal and engaged customers and a clearly displayed email address and/or phone number. But still don’t depend on it. When is the last time you noticed an issue on a website and took the time to report it?

Also some seasonal variation in sales is likely. The pattern depends on your market. Many businesses see a drop in sales in the northern hemisphere summer. But my wedding table plan software sells better in the summer. Hopefully you will know the pattern for your product after a year or two.

Random fluctuations and the lack of visitors to report issues means that it is hardest to tell whether a drop in sales is real when you start out. This is  when you need the sales most, both financially and emotionally. It gets easier as your traffic and sales improves. No one said that life was fair.

Farewell to software on CD?

I currently offer a CD as an optional extra when customers buy my wedding table plan software. I have put stamps on so many CD envelopes that I might instinctively lick the Queen’s face if I ever met her. The graph below shows the % of sales that have included a CD over time.

% CD sales

The overall trend is hard to miss. Some factors have varied over that time:

  • I have stopped CD sales for periods of a few weeks at a time, e.g. near a new release.
  • I have emphasized CDs less over time on my purchase page.

But I don’t think these have had much effect on the general trend. Download speeds are always increasing and customers are getting used to buying downloads instead of physical media. Anyone with a broadband connection can now download PerfectTablePlan in a minute or two. The demise of CDs is hardly ground breaking  news, but I thought it might be worthwhile to show some real data.

I won’t really miss CDs. They are an extra hassle to organize and the profit margins are slim and decreasing. I didn’t want to use the ugly looking CDs in a cardboard mailer that print-on-demand CD companies offer. I didn’t really feel it reflected well on the quality of my software. Particularly in the wedding market, where aesthetics are important. Instead I send a full colour silk screen printed CD, in a DVD box with a professionally designed, full colour wrap and insert.

I order the CDs and packaging in batches of a thousand and burn and post them as required. I have managed to delegate quite a bit of this to a family member. But it is still a fair amount of hassle. CDs go missing in the post or get eaten by dogs. Also the UK post office recently hiked the cost of sending a CD + DVD case in a Jiffy bag by airmail from £2.10 to £3.86. A monstrous overnight price increase of 84%. But I don’t feel I can increase the CD price much above the current £7/$10 when you can buy game and film DVDs for less in the supermarket. The only plus side of CDs is that my data shows that customers that order a CD are 3 times less likely to ask for a refund (my terms stipulate that they have to return the CD). Given that refund requests are low, this isn’t a huge advantage. Also (repeat after me) correlation does not imply causation.

I might run an A/B test to see if removing CDs from the purchase page makes any difference. But, given that only around 3% of customers are now buying a CD, I can’t see it making much difference. If I was starting a new product now, I don’t think I would even bother to offer a CD option, unless the download size was huge.

Am I the only one still sending out CDs?

100 ways to increase your software sales

Increase targeted traffic to your website:

  1. SEO your website.
  2. Write a blog or newsletter of interest to the sort of people who might buy your software.
  3. Get more links to your website.
  4. Try Google Adwords Pay Per Click (PPC) ads.
  5. Write a guest post on someone else’s blog.
  6. Try CNet Pay Per Download ads.
  7. Promote your software through download sites using the ASP PAD repository, a paid submission tool or free submission tool.
  8. Promote your software through platform sites e.g. Apple downloads or Office online.
  9. Start an affiliate program.
  10. Try Microsoft Adcentre PPC ads.
  11. Bid higher for your PPC phrases.
  12. Advertise on stumbleupon.
  13. Write additional content for your site.
  14. Give away a ‘lite’ version of your software.
  15. Offer discount coupons.
  16. Add a forum to your website.
  17. Offer free review copies of your software to bloggers.
  18. Do a press release.
  19. Run a competition.
  20. Write better ads for your PPC campaign.
  21. Direct (snail) mail.
  22. Run ads in print magazines.
  23. Include your URL when posting on relevant forums.
  24. Try Yahoo Search Marketing PPC ads.
  25. Buy banner ads on targeted blogs, forums and other websites.
  26. Add extra keywords to your PPC campaigns.
  27. Talk about your software on a podcast.
  28. Add a viral element to your software.
  29. Do a publicity stunt.
  30. Get word of mouth recommendations by giving great support.
  31. Get listed in online directories such as DMOZ.
  32. Post a screencast on YouTube.

Increase your visitor->download rate:

  1. Have an online demo movie.
  2. Offer a free trial.
  3. Offer a money back guarantee.
  4. Port your software to additional platforms e.g. iPhone.
  5. Have a clean and professional website.
  6. Add case studies to your website.
  7. Make sure your website functions with all the major browsers.
  8. Get someone else to proof read the copy on your website.
  9. Talk to visitors in a language they understand i.e. not technical jargon, unless they are techies.
  10. Reduce the number of barriers to downloading the trial (don’t require an email address).
  11. Add a product FAQ to your website.
  12. Show your price prominently.
  13. Improve the usability of your website.
  14. Include your contact details on the website.
  15. Make sure the people can understand what your software does within 2 seconds of arriving at your site.
  16. Make the ‘download’ button more prominent on your website.
  17. Fix any errors in your website.
  18. Include screenshots on your home page.
  19. Add a list of famous customers to your website.
  20. Use a digital certificate for your installer and executable.
  21. Add (genuine!) testimonials to your website.
  22. Create better landing pages for your PPC campaigns.
  23. Add a privacy policy to your website.
  24. Add live online support to your website.
  25. Check your web logs/analytics to find out why/where visitors are leaving your website.

Increase your download->sale rate:

  1. Offer more than one payment processor.
  2. Improve the usability of your software.
  3. Accept purchase orders.
  4. Offer Trialpay as an alternative payment method.
  5. Offer sensible prices in additional currencies.
  6. Require an email address to download your software and follow-up with marketing emails.
  7. Increase or reduce the price of your software.
  8. Fix bugs in your software.
  9. Lengthen or shorten the trial period.
  10. Offer bulk purchase discounts.
  11. Improve your installer.
  12. Make the ‘buy’ button more prominent on your website.
  13. Make your software more beautiful.
  14. Allow users to buy your product easily from within the software itself.
  15. Localize your software into another language.
  16. Offer organizational licences.
  17. Try limiting your trial by features instead of time (or vice versa).
  18. Improve the speed/memory performance of your software.
  19. Improve your product documentation.
  20. Offer alternative payment models (e.g. an annual subscription instead of a one-off fee).
  21. Offer alternative licensing models (e.g. per site instead of per user).
  22. Write an introductory tutorial.
  23. Reduce the number of clicks and key presses required to make a sale.
  24. Add that new feature that people keep asking for.

Increase the value of each sale:

  1. Increase the price of your software.
  2. Charge extra for optional modules.
  3. Upsell additional products and services of your own or as an affiliate.
  4. Charge for major upgrades.
  5. Offer multiple versions at different price points e.g. standard/business/enterprise.
  6. Offer an optional CD.
  7. Charge an annual maintenance fee.
  8. Charge for support.
  9. Offer a premium support plan.

Explore alternative sales channels:

  1. Sell through resellers.
  2. Exhibit at tradeshows.
  3. Cold call prospects.
  4. Allow other companies to sell white label versions of your software.
  5. Include your software on cover-mounted magazine CDs.
  6. Sell through retail stores.
  7. Sell on Ebay.
  8. Sell on Amazon.
  9. Promote your software on one day sale sites, such as BitsDuJour or GiveAwayOfTheDay.
  10. Create a new product.

Notes:

  • Items are in no particular order in each category.
  • Some of the items are mutually exclusive.
  • I have tried about 80% of the above. Some worked, some didn’t. In fact, many of them were a total waste of time and money. But the ones that didn’t work for me might work great in a different market (and vice versa). I discuss my experiences with some of them in more detail here: Promoting your software part1, part2, part3, part4, part5, part6.
  • This is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to suggest more in the comments.
  • Don’t know where to start? Perhaps you need a fresh pair of eyes.

Thanks to Stuart Prestedge of Softalk for suggesting some of the above.