If you’re running a software development company and you’re like most of the dev shops I speak with, you tend to operate on a “feast or famine” cycle over the course of the year. Some months are great, with plenty of work to keep your team busy. Other months, not so great, and you wonder when (and where) that next project is coming from.
To make matters worse, many software companies don’t get that much repeat business from existing clients. Or if they do, that work represents more “maintenance” type work, not the more expensive, long-term engagements that are typical when starting a new project from scratch.
And so the big question is, how can software companies get new clients, on an ongoing basis, and in a reliable way without having to be dependent on referrals or word-of-mouth?
Software development companies are different
The reality is that, compared to many other businesses, software development companies are just different.
If you’re like most dev shops, you do some combination of web, mobile, or desktop app development. And maybe some QA/testing, database management, or DevOps stuff. And you do this sort of work for enterprise customers, small business clients or startups. That pretty well covers the services we find most software development companies offering these days as well as the types of clients that they typically serve.
Let’s compare software companies to a more common type of business – roofers.
So quick story…the builder for our current neighborhood ran out of money right when the most recent recession went into full swing. So there were a lot of corners cut here and there. One of those corners has to do with the roofing.
Long story short…the shingles are defective and need to be replaced. So this past summer, probably every week, at least one or two houses in the neighborhood were having their roof replaced. And every single time, those roofing companies would scour the neighborhood looking for other homes with those same, defective shingles…looking for new leads of course.
It was easy for them to tell whether or not a home was a good prospect for them. They could just look at the shingles. And even without that as an indicator, they could always go pull a list of homeowners who have owned for a certain number of years, who have a certain amount of equity, make a certain income, or whatever other factors they want to consider…and could easily pull a list of those people to send direct mail or other forms of marketing.
Here’s the tricky part for your business…
There usually aren’t any external indicators that someone is in need of software development services.
There’s no list you can buy of enterprise companies that need help getting their big development project done on time.
There’s no list of small businesses who are struggling with using Excel as a poor man’s database. Or who desperately need a mobile app.
And it can be tough to find people who have used off-the-shelf-software “X” but who found it wasn’t a good fit for how they run their business…and who want to build their own custom tool instead.
So because of that, you’re either stuck relying on referrals and word-of-mouth or you have to do marketing that allows you to reach people looking for what you offer. And your marketing has to be different.
So here’s one process you can use to do that, using digital marketing to get your company in front of the right prospects and finally be able to take control over how many clients you get…and how fast you get them.
Step 1: The Lead Expander
So here’s how most software development companies market themselves…
At Acme Development, we’ve been in building software for 30 years. We specialize in these 27 programming languages or technologies and can build your web, mobile, desktop, or any other kind of app, no matter what industry you’re in.
Yup, you know you’ve seen this sort of thing out there. The “we can program anything for anyone” type of value proposition.
Granted, this is a worst case scenario. Most dev shops tend to specialize in a few technologies or in certain types of work (e.g. e-commerce, search, etc). So depending on the company, it might not sound quite as bad as the example above.
But here’s the deal…
You and I both know that this is bad…just bad. The harsh reality is that your prospects don’t really care about you. What they do care about is themselves and the problems they’re trying to solve.
And making this one, simple shift in thinking can unlock things for you in a major way. Once you apply this to your marketing, you’ll be able to generate more leads, and better qualified leads, without much more effort.
Here’s how it works…
1. Make a list of the services you offer.
Let’s say you offer the following 5 software development services:
- Web app development
- Mobile development
- API development
- Business Intelligence / Reporting / Analytics development
You should have separate marketing campaigns for each of these services. And those campaigns should be tied to the actual problems those services solve or problems someone might have that would lead them to look for that type of service.
2. Make a list of problems that each service solves.
For example, let’s use “web app development” and think of a few problems that might lead someone to need that type of service. You might end up with something that looks like this:
And now, that single idea of “web app development” has been expanded into 6 different angles that can be used to attract prospects based on the problem they’re trying to solve, not the type of service you offer.
One of the good things about software development though, is that sometimes, your prospects actually are looking for certain technologies, languages and so on. And if you tend to specialize in certain technologies, those can also represent another angle you can take with your campaigns.
Imagine doing this with every service you offer, and thinking through all of the problems those services solve. Can you see how this can quickly multiply your marketing efforts?
Step 2: Convert casual website visitors into valuable leads
Have you ever invested in promoting your business online, gotten a lot of traffic to your website, but struggled to turn that traffic into solid leads or new clients?
Most companies have, so no worries…it’s not your fault. Most of the time, businesses send traffic to their homepage, which is a big no-no for a number of reasons I won’t get into here. And that’s just one of the top 5 common mistakes software development companies make using Google AdWords or other traffic sources.
Instead, you should be sending traffic to a dedicated landing page. Here’s an example template you can use, so you have an idea of how a high-converting landing page should be structured:
And your landing page content can be done one of two ways.
- You could have a single landing page for each service you offer (e.g. web development, mobile development, etc) that calls out the types of problems that service solves. Or….
- You could create multiple landing pages, one for each of the problems that your prospects are trying to solve.
I suggest starting with the first option, since that will get things up and running more quickly. If you find that a particular problem is really bringing in new leads, consider creating a landing page that really digs in to just that problem.
The main thing to keep in mind is that your landing pages need to focus on one service or one problem. And they should provide the visitor with one or two options…that’s it. No random links to other parts of your website, or external sites. No intricate design. Just some solid content explaining the problems you solve, how you do it, and offering them a chance to learn more…either by filling out a form or giving you a call. That way, you can easily track the effectiveness of your landing pages and make improvements over time.
NOTE: A landing page like this will convert way better than sending traffic right to your homepage. But the truth is…most people will still say “no” to whatever you’re offering and will leave. So you need to do one more thing to pull them back to your site. We’ll cover that in just a minute…
Step 3: Get in front of your perfect prospects
Okay, so you’ve narrowed down the problems your prospects identify with. And you’ve built landing pages to capture leads looking to solve those problems. Now you just need to find people to send to your landing pages.
Keep in mind that, by using the approach above, you’ll have landing pages that are much more effective at converting traffic into leads. How would things change if you knew that for every $1 you put in, it would bring back $10, $20, or more? We just need to get you in front of the right people. And luckily, there’s a simple way to do that too. A little site you might have heard of, called Google!
I know. You’ve probably tried Google advertising before. And it either cost too much or didn’t work very well.
But have you ever tried Google ads using the detailed steps we’ve discussed so far? Or did you just try to send people to your homepage or some generic landing page, and just “set it and forget it”?
Okay, so stick with me here…
Let’s pretend I’m a small business owner looking to grow my business, and I need custom software to replace our current system of Excel, paper forms and so on. I hop onto Google and see this ad first:
So what’s the problem here?
Well first, I’m not looking for a web app team. I’m looking to grow my business. The “web app” idea in this case is just a means to an end. This is effectively another “me too” ad…very easy to skip over or ignore.
There are some other things wrong with this ad…some huge things they’re missing here…but for now, the big one is that the ad isn’t prospect-focused or problem-focused. We can cover the other issues in a separate article, so for now, let’s just move on.
Let’s say I come across another ad that looks like this:
So this one is better.
They talk about growing businesses, so that’s great. That’s what I’m trying to do.
But they even go a few steps further. Notice that they include benefits like
- 100% on-time delivery
- Their longest engagement
- Upfront pricing
Most business owners don’t know the first thing about having software built, and many have heard horror stories. So what are the things a potential client might be concerned about?
- The project not getting done on time.
- Has the team done any other projects in the past? Recently?
- How much is this going to cost?
This ad addresses some of these concerns as well as links to interior pages on this company’s site where people can get more details.
And finally, this ad also includes contact information, making it easy for someone to pick up the phone and call, and is one more sign that this is a real, legitimate business, not just some kid from the local college doing web development as a side gig.
See how these sort of changes can make your ads much more effective? And again, it all stems from thinking about things from the eyes of your prospect.
Now remember how I mentioned that most people still won’t become a lead? Well, that’s true, even with great ads, great landing pages, and so on. And again, not your fault. People like putting things off…not making a decision. So in the next section, we’ll talk about what to do about those people who visit your site but leave without doing anything…and a powerful, but underused strategy for getting them back.
Step 4: The Traffic Boomerang
This is one technique that I don’t really see too many software development companies using…but it’s super powerful.
Just imagine, running a software development business that consistently generates new leads and lands new software development projects month after month…without all that tedious, time consuming networking or being dependant on referrals.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Well, just copy this strategy and you’ll be on your way.
So once someone clicks one of your Google ads, you know that they’re looking for software development services of some sort, right?
Like most of us, they had a problem they needed solved and went to Google to look for an answer, just like most of us do.
And just because they get to your landing page and don’t decide to contact you, that doesn’t mean they don’t need help with a software project.
- They may just need to wait a bit.
- Or something more important came up right then and there.
- Or they found some crazy cat video they decided to go watch.
- Or they just got an important email.
- Or someone sent then a text they needed to respond to.
- Or any other infinite number of things that isn’t “I’m not interested”.
Now remember, at this point, you’ve already paid for the click that got them to your site in the first place. Back in the day, you would have just had to suck it up, losing that potential lead forever if they didn’t convert on that first visit.
This is what happens with most software development companies today too.
And when that prospect finally gets around to making a decision, what are they going to do? Ask a friend or fellow business owner? Search online again? Something else?
Here’s how you take control and make sure that doesn’t happen…
When the person clicks your ad and visits your site, you can “tag” them once they’re on your site. From there, you can use any number of services to place ads in front of them over the next several days or weeks as they go about their normal browsing online – Facebook, news sites, blogs, etc.
This is what marketers call “retargeting” (or sometimes “remarketing”). I’m sure you’ve seen something like this before. You search online for some product, don’t buy, then see ads for that product while you’re getting caught up on the news or doing something else online.
What I’m describing here is sort of similar, except instead of pestering folks with blatant ads, we’re going to offer them valuable info that helps them move further down the decisionmaking cycle.
The simplest way to do this is via Facebook, by posting an informative article in their Facebook news feed.
Here’s an example…
I go to Google and start looking for someone to help build a web app idea I have in mind. I visit their site, but decide not to contact them.
Later, on Facebook, I see an article in my news feed titled:
“5 Critical Things You Need To Do To Keep Your Web App Project On Schedule and On Budget”
Imagine you were a business owner thinking about having a custom web app built. Would you click on that?
And clicking on it brings them back to your website to read the full article. Note, we’re not bringing them back to some page on your site with a sales pitch, but to an informative article that provides value.
And imagine you have more than one of these articles, addressing all sorts of issues or concerns someone might have prior to starting a custom web app project. You and I both know that some people are going to be on the fence for months before making a decision.
What if you promoted an article per week for 3 months or so? That’s 12 more chances than you’d normally have to turn that prospect into a new client for your business.
And who do you think they’re going to reach out to once they finally get around to making a decision?
Like I said…powerful stuff, right?
There’s just one problem we haven’t discussed yet…
Now this is great strategy, and if you just took what you’ve learned up to this point and ran with it, you’d get great results. But there’s one big problem that we still haven’t covered…
Step 5: Make sure your content pages convert traffic too
For most software development company websites, the page on your site where you send these people…where that article is posted…isn’t optimized to convert traffic into leads. This is actually a problem across the entire industry.
You see, most software development companies either have enough knowledge to build their own website or enough cash to pay a web designer to do it for them. But if your website isn’t working like it should (i.e. converting traffic into new leads), then it doesn’t matter…something has to change.
Your website should be one of the biggest assets in your business, helping you generate leads and new sales. But most traditional web designers are horrible at creating something that will actually generate leads. It might look great, but in terms of conversions…well, not so much.
This too is a deep topic worthy of an article of it’s own. But in the meantime, let’s cover a few things you can quickly do to your website to help those article pages convert better.
1. Add a “welcome bar”
This is a simple website element that runs across the top of each page of your website. Depending on how your website is built, there might be a tool or plugin available to allow you to do this pretty easily, or you could custom code it. The big thing is that you want to include some benefit-driven copy and a call-to-action that’s a good “first step” for most of your website visitors, since it’s going to appear on every page.
2. Include trust elements
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is gaining your website visitor’s trust. One of the best ways to do this is to include one or more “trust elements” on your pages. By “trust elements”, I mean things on your web pages that show you’re a real business and can get your potential clients real results.
Some common types of trust elements are:
- Your contact information
- Client logos
- Technology logos
- Certification logos
- Security logos (especially if you’re taking payments)
3. Have multiple calls-to-action
No matter which of your website pages someone lands on, you should offer them multiple ways to step forward and become a lead. Some common calls-to-action include having a signup form to request a free quote, a phone number (that’s tied to call tracking), or a piece of free content they can sign up for in exchange for their contact information.
In the case of an article you’ve posted on your site that you’re driving traffic to, be sure to include those calls-to-action multiple times throughout the page. The same applies for any other long page where readers would need to do a lot of scrolling in order to read everything.
Regardless of which you choose, you want to be sure that your website is first offering value to your website visitors, and then, asking for something in exchange for providing that value.
Step 6: Building your software development business with Campaign Sprints
Once you’ve taken all of the steps above, you should be getting a steady flow of software development leads. For every $1 you spend, you should be able to get 2x, 3x or even more, depending on the specific services you offer, your pricing and so on.
And now that you’ve got some momentum, let’s take advantage of that. The next thing you want to do is continue building out your campaigns….for each of the services you offer and each problem those services solve.
It’s pretty common for software companies to do their development work in “sprints” or some other discrete, time-boxed chunks of work. You should do the same for building your marketing campaigns. Give yourself a week or two per campaign to get all the pieces in place, then just keep working down the list until you have campaigns up and running for all of the services you offer.
Just imagine, landing some long-term, high-value project once you have a system like this in place. A project that would have gone to some competitor if you hadn’t stumbled across this article and followed the steps we just outlined.
Now it’s time to get out of “consumption mode” and get into “production mode” and start doing something with what you just learned. Waiting around and not doing anything with what we just covered makes this “infotainment” and isn’t going to move the needle in your business.
Step 7: Time to make a choice
At this point, you really have 2 choices…
Choice 1: Take all of the information above and try to implement it on your own.
It’ll be a lot of work, and likely some trial and error as you get things up and running. But it’ll be worth it in the end. Just think…most software development companies live in a constant state of “feast or famine”. But you’ll have a system in place that allows you to get new clients pretty much on-demand.
Choice 2: Let us take care of everything for you
Unless you want to be in the digital marketing business, this is probably the smarter choice. With a little input from your end, my team can build and deploy an entire series of campaigns like we just described above.
That includes coming up with ideas for your various campaigns, creating the ads, creating the landing pages, setting up retargeting, writing the articles, and split testing everything throughout the entire process.
We’ll even track form submissions and phone calls coming in from your marketing campaigns, so you’ll know exactly what’s working and what isn’t…and so we can improve your results and lower your ad spend over time.
Can you imagine having a system like this in place, done for you, so you can focus on other critical parts of your business?
Okay, time to make a decision, get into action, and get a real lead generation system running for your business.
Having worked as a software developer in the past, Kenton now helps educate software development agencies on how to predictably generate more leads and sales through digital marketing.
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