The Marketing “Decafail” — Ten Mistakes You Can’t Afford To Make

by Michael Bernstein on August 21, 2018

At Reify, our list of clients is growing, we’re seeing the inner workings of more software companies, and we’re starting to notice some patterns. Comparing our direct experiences with the anecdata we’ve gathered from talking to founders and other colleagues in marketing, it’s becoming clear that there are certain mistakes that software companies can’t afford to make when it comes to marketing their products. Since people ask us all the time what they can do to be better at marketing, we thought we’d put this list out there in the hopes that it can help us with our mission to make everyone take marketing more seriously so that they can sell more software. We hope you enjoy.

Mistake #1: Putting off on marketing until it’s too late

The number one mistake software companies can make is to not take marketing seriously. This is usually a symptom of the belief that “what’s technically best will end up winning.” There are countless counterexamples to this point: oftentimes, whoever markets the best wins. Don’t lose because you overlooked this crucial activity.

Mistake #2: More than one persona

Companies that overcome the anti-marketing attitude that is pervasive in B2B software often stumble by trying to market to everyone at once. They read a bit about marketing, develop five personas, and wonder why it’s not working. We have some ideas about why. First, get good at marketing to your core audience. Don’t run before you can crawl.

Mistake #3: No messaging framework

Marketing gets a bad rep for being “squishy,” a “soft skill” that is “boring,” unimportant, and silly. Obviously, we feel differently. We take a rigorous approach to helping our clients develop the best, most resonant messaging for their persona (notice this is the singular persona, not the plural personas). If you don’t use data to develop your messaging, you’ll waste a ton of energy and risk failing before you ever get a chance to market properly.

Mistake #4: That same old homepage

It’s amazing how many software companies can go through rounds of fundraising, hundreds of thousands of dollars in ARR, and explosive employee growth, and still keep that same old homepage live. The one the founder threw together the night before launch. The one that you paid that web design company to make. The one that you didn’t even know had a typo on it. Your homepage is the front page of your product, the place more people will look than any place else. Develop your persona, produce your message, and make sure your homepage stays up to date with your value proposition — before you start to wonder why so many people think you’re selling your product from three years ago.

Mistake #5: Never changing pricing

Pricing and packaging software is extremely hard — so much so that we worked with Heavybit to produce a day long conference on the subject. The top takeaway for us and many of the attendees was this: pricing is a subtle art that, much like your homepage, needs to change with your product and the needs of your users. Don’t settle for what you came up with before you knew what value you were bringing to your customers. Tweak your pricing until you’re confident. It’s the web — nothing is set in stone.

Mistake #6: No feature faceting in pricing

One of the most challenging aspects of pricing is how your product is packaged. A key technique in making sure your pricing aligns with the value you bring to your customers is feature faceting — aligning the pricing of your product with the features that different groups of customers need. If you give every feature of your product to every company and only charge differently based on usage, you’re missing out on a key price discrimination technique that may damage your ability to sell your software for the price you deserve to get. Check out our friends at Replicated’s site for more ideas here.

Mistake #7: No use of social proof

The strongest signal that you can send to potential customers that they should try your product is the use of social proof. Seeing a company that they admire or know using your product will make your potential customers try your product out, or at least give you enough of a chance that they’ll read your homepage. Social proof is a deep, complicated subject — check out more of our writing about it here.

Mistake #8: Selling green juice, not juicers

The #1 idea that we try to communicate to our clients who are sold on diving into marketing and taking it more seriously is this: sell the what, not the how. “Value-based marketing” is a well-trodden term, but we think we’ve got a pretty unique way of describing what’s at the heart of the idea — check out our blog post about juice and juicers here.

Mistake #9: Marketing for audience when you need buyers

Sometimes clients engage with us because they have an interesting problem — they can write blog posts that get attention, they can climb the ranks on Hacker News, they get lots of RTs, but one problem remains: they’re not selling more software. Sometimes this comes down to one simple fact — eyeballs and dollars aren’t the same thing. Make sure that your external marketing activity is oriented around speaking to the potential buyer of your product if you need buyers. This can mean stepping outside your comfort zone if you’re a developer selling to enterprises, but it’s crucial. Typically, your bottom-up approach will only take you so far, and eventually, you will have to start marketing to the audience that will end up paying your bills.

Mistake #10: Using too many words

We hate to say it, but you talk too much. Too many words and too much jargon leads to confusion. There is an art to the parsimony of words you find in most marketing material, and though many people jeer at it, they can’t deny this: it works. We’ve written up some guidelines for how many words you should be using and where here — check it out.

Some of these mistakes hitting a little too close to home? Want to avoid making the others? Let’s chat!