As a software supplier, there’s an intrinsic understanding that the product you deliver to your customer needs to provide value. A difference that the end-user will notice, driving improvements to productivity, ease-of-operation, and profit.
Furthermore, in an age where there’s a demand for software to be ‘future proof’, delivered as a service (SaaS) via the cloud, and in a state of near permanent development, there’s a challenge for software providers to be able to demonstrate this value in real-life scenarios, where clients can see for themselves the worth the software will bring, and the agility of the software to adapt and develop to meet ongoing business needs and challenges.
Of course, we all believe in our software, and know the features and, more importantly, the benefits they can deliver. But potential buyers need convincing before they commit, before they sign the dotted line, and pay the asking price.
Buyers who want to try it for themselves, give it a bit of a test-drive. Which is not an unreasonable request, by any means. The question, however, is how far does such a test-drive go?
A chance to use it in a demonstration / presentation environment? Or are you, as the software seller, willing to let the customer download it to their system for free, for a trial basis?
It’s a dilemma that many suppliers will have faced, and continue to face. And, I suppose, there’s not really a definitive answer as to whether it’s a right or wrong to allow such a trial – horses for courses, springing to mind.
Clearly there are benefits for allowing customers to get their hands on software pre-purchase; but it seems to me that it’s a course of action that could have some risk, and counter-productive outcomes as well.
A Positive, Proactive, and Customer-Centric Move?
Customer relations are important. It’s important for ongoing business, for repeat sales, and for the reputation you garner within the industry. And at the heart of strong business-to-business relationships is a sense of trust between all parties. That the companies (and people within) are trustworthy and reliable, and that you are happy to commit to a long-term relationship with, based on mutual benefits and mutual growth.
By allowing access to the software for use before purchase, it could be argued that you’re demonstrating a sense of trust of both your client, and the product itself. Showing that you trust them with your software while having compete faith that your product will live up to billing.
Before you put the bill in.
Helping with development
Building on this trusting relationship between supplier and client, by allowing access to the software in advance of a sale, you’re letting the customer in on the ground floor.
In essence, the customer becomes an integral part of the software’s development. There’s certainly the potential for dual advantage here, with both client and provider benefitting. For the client, they’re able to familiarise themselves with the capabilities of the software. Presumably the sales presentation, or discussions, would have alluded to the features that would benefit the client – by trialling it, they can experience this for themselves.
On the provider side, having real world feedback can offer extremely useful insight for the ongoing development of the software.
In an environment where there’s greater tendency towards agile development of software, allowing the client to use the product could offer valuable data to help with future iterations, and indeed, future sales; providing a customer’s eye view to help iron out any weak spots, and overcome future objections in the sales process.
It can also be another major step towards fostering strong allegiances with customers as you adopt a partner approach for mutually assisted growth.
On the other hand.
Handing over the software to a customer in a pre-sales situation may offer some benefits, but you really do need to proceed with caution in doing so.
How far does the trust extend?
Of course we want to develop trusting working relationships with our clients, but can we really have absolute faith in everyone we discuss business with?
If you only have a tenuous prior relationship with a client, is it realistic to assume that the integrity of your product will be entirely secure?
Your software has an intrinsic value, and has been developed to provide a unique service, which you hope sets it apart from the competition. Placing it, relatively unchecked – and unpaid for – carries a risk of falling into the hands of competitors, and to your IP.
Complicating things with confused messages
When you’re presenting your software to a new client, you’ll be presenting on the basis that it meets a particular need, performs a specific function that benefits the business.
Invariably this can be demonstrable, and measurable, through data and demonstration.
But won’t a trial truly reinforce these benefits?
Possibly – in fact, almost certainly, if the software is as good you know it to be.
The problem is, by letting it into the hands of clients ahead of sale, you are inviting opinion on other factors. Human nature tends to be reluctant to change, meaning users in the office may take against your software simply because of the ‘hassle’ factor of learning something new, irrespective of whether or not it will make their life easier in the long run.
It’s inviting unnecessary, and unhelpful negativity into the process. Which can, at best, slow things down, at worst, prevent the sale.
Eats into your margins
Furthermore, rolling out software into a new client comes with a cost. From setting up user access to training requirements, are these costs you wish to incur on the basis that the client may NOT actually buy the product thereafter?
So, there you go – clear as mud.
There’s no real right answer to this perennial dilemma. Letting your clients use software ahead of a sale can, in the right circumstances, be a hugely helpful process. Encouraging greater trust, engagement, and closeness between client and provider. As well as having significant potential for future iterations and development.
But you need to really weigh up just how beneficial this can be when compared to the risks, the complications, and the cost that can accompany such a decision.