I have been thinking about the software industry and what is going to happen to companies in this really lousy economy. There will clearly be companies that don’t weather the storm — either because their venture capital backers get nervous or because their customers do. But, as in every downturn, there will be companies that figure out how to do the right thing and actually thrive. There will also be companies that simply have a business model for another time and will not make it. So, I thought that I would put together a list of the characteristics of the software companies that will fail:
- My technology is so revolutionary everyone will want it. I see too many companies that don’t actually know what problems their technology solves for customers. If it doesn’t solve pain — don’t bother.
- The platform we offer to our customers is a complete architecture and we’re going to build an ecosystem. Software companies that think they can offer a complete platform to customers — even if they have only a few dollars in revenue. This isn’t the time to try to do it all. Anyone, no one will believe you. Pick something you do well and stick to it!
- We don’t plan to try to partner with the big players; it’s too hard. In tough economic times, customers want to know that there is someone big and powerful behind the scenes…just in case.
- We’d love to partner with a large vendor if they are willing to put our product on their price list and sell for us. Keep dreaming. Big vendors will partner but only if there is something in it for them. If you can fill a hole in their product line you have a good chance but you have to be realistic.
- We sell a great tool. Everyone needs tools but they are commodities. So, unless a software company has a deep channel, this plan won’t work. I have seen too many really nice tools companies go out of business. It takes a lot of energy to make one sale to a customer. If the return on the sales effort is only $199.00, it will takes a long time to get to a million. And in tough economic times, customers will put a software company throught the same due diligence process for a $200 item as they would for a $20,000. Everyone is afraid to make a decision.
- Our technology sells itself. Just a few months ago companies were talking about how they wanted technology that would foster innovation. Now that desire hasn’t changed and probably won’t. However, customers want to know that they can get a fast return on investment. Therefore, successful vendors are structuring their offerings in a modular way so that customers can quickly prove value.
- We sell an entire turnkey environment. The days of big all encompassing implementations are over — at least for now. Customers need to be able to implement just what they can afford or get budget for. If it is successful, they want to be able to add the next chunk…next year.
- We are implementing precisely what our customers tell us they need. I know that it is important to listen to customers. However, there are important lessons to remember. Customers do not always say what they mean. They don’t always know what they want. They might be asking a software company to add functions that are specific to the way their company operates and may not be wise for the market overall. So, to avoid failure, listen but make sure that you are not walking into a trap. Look beyond fear and to what will make your buyer successful in their jobs.
- We are thinking about Software as a Service (SaaS)…but… In scary times, it is easier to stay with what you know and not make waves. But customers will buy SaaS offerings because there is no capital expenditure needed. If you don’t know how to do this, partner with someone who does. It is going to become the normal way that many software offerings are provided now and even more so in the future.
- We are limiting our outreach in the market. It is too expensive to advertise or market. We’re going to wait until things get better. While these are scary times it is not wise to hide. While companies are hiding smart software companies are out there doing a lot of low cost but very effective marketing initiatives. It takes some hard work, but prospects will notice because everyone else is really quiet
There is no doubt that there is lots of uncertainty out there. There will be a lot of companies who don’t know how to position, price, and partner. There will be lots of companies that simply don’t know how to prove to prospects that they are worth betting on. I suspect that the companies that survive will be the ones with great business models, interesting and accessible innovation and a lack of fear.