Will "the Mighty" Strohl

Building Your Sales in the DotNetNuke Ecosystem

Stock Graph Drawing In a private e-mail, a friend and I were conversing about their modules that they sell, and how their sales have been going.  Despite our greatest dreams, this topic is not always a happy one, and while I think this person is somewhat content with their current sales, an important question always rises…  “How can I generate more sales?”  If you’re trying to build up your company through extension sales on the DotNetNuke® platform, this is a very important thing to be concerned about.

Many of the things I plan to talk about in this blog post can be universal across industries and companies.  However, I will try my best to remain loyal to the real reason I am writing this.  I am trying to give you tips to be successful in the DNN ecosystem.

Back to Basics

Before you can consider anything else, you need to give a lot of attention to your product. Hopefully, you already understand this, but you need to remember the basics.  Make sure that your extension is bug free, usable, and looks great!

No Bugs

If your extension has known bugs and you allow it to sit in the marketplace, you’re going to have customers and potential customers talking about it to each all over the place.  You wouldn’t believe the number of conversations I’ve heard at code camps, user group meetings, and even in the forums.  If people have had a bad experience with your product, they will not hesitate to tell others about it.  There’s something to be said about the good feeling the average person gets from “saving” a fellow community member from experiencing the same problems.  Also, your existing customers will begin to lose faith in your product and look for alternatives.  The last thing in the world you want to do is LOSE a customer that you’ve already gained.  Getting them back is 10 times as much work.

Usability

Usability is by far the most overlooked and underestimated aspect of nearly every DNN extension that I have seen.  I can only name a few off the top of my head that have made their product truly usable.  Perhaps my favorite examples are TribalhutCRM and Active Social.  Both products make it very easy for you to just drop it on the page and get running.  I won’t both pointing out anyone that does this wrong in this public post, but that’s mainly because you probably have many more examples than I do.  :)  The bottom line is, if your customer cannot just use your module without reading through your documentation or using your forums, they will likely just give up at some point.  They want to work, not read or wait for forum support.

Looks Good

At this point, you have a great module that functions as advertised, and is completely usable.  But if it looks like crap, you better be giving it away.  :P  A large percentage of the DNN ecosystem consists of integrators and administrators.  These people generally do not know anything about CSS, design, graphic design, etc.  They want a product to fit in with an existing or planned site, and have the ability to fit in aesthetically, should any design changes be necessary.  At best, you would even be offering multiple themes, theme templates, or a completely skinnable design with examples of alternate designs.  If your extension doesn’t fit this scenario, you are severely limiting your customer base and potential for growing new customers.  This customer segment will much more likely choose a competitors product, even if it has less features, just because it can and will look better in their site.

Regular Releases

The very next thing to think about is how you’re extension will be continuously updated.  If your extension doesn’t have at least 2 updates over a 12 month period, why should a new customer even consider purchasing your product?  As far as they can tell, your company is not serious about the development or future of the product.  They might also think that you have no plans of continuing any development or new features.  If there is a competitor that is regularly releasing updates to their product, they will likely get the sale, because they will appear to have more features over time than yours.

When you’re making updates, do not forget to check for and address any known security updates.  If you fix a security flaw in your product, are honest about it, and fix it fast enough, the reputation of your product will rise in a good way.  This is because to your customers, you are paying attention to the future of the product, know about security, and care about the security of their own DNN implementations.  In turn, they know what happened, what could have happened, and know how to fix the problem – not to mention what to tell their bosses, making them look like rock stars.  ;)

The most important thing to remember about regular releases, is that it conveys and instills trust into your customers and prospective customers.  Trust is extremely important in our eco-system, as there are so many offerings out there, that your product might just look like white noise.  You have to do every little thing that you can think of to stand out.  Speaking of standing out…

Stand Out Above the Crowd

I can count on one hand how many DNN extensions out there are truly unique.  In general, I tell people that if they can think of a module, there probably is already one built in the marketplace somewhere.  That being said, your module probably has many competitors out there.  Some you know about already, while others you may have never heard of.  That doesn’t mean that those who are under the radar aren’t any good.  In fact, they might be much better than yours.  They just haven’t done anything to stand out in the crowd of extensions.  This is what YOU need to do.

As the person who is responsible for the fate of your extension(s), you need to find ways to convey to potential customers that your extension does something that no other does, or that is does everything that everyone else does – but 100 times better!  This is something that indeed belongs in your marketing materials (if you have them), but it also needs to be immediately visible at every aspect of your extension.  Think about your home page of your website and the landing page for your extension, or the product page on Snowcovered.  Every single place that potential customers can see your product, they need to be able to see how you’re better, without thinking about it.  This almost leaves out words, now doesn’t it?  ;)

Beyond that, you need to make sure that your potential customers know that you and your company is different too.  With social media like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs being so prevalent these days, you need to make sure that you’re part of the conversation in those areas - but most importantly, you need to use those avenues to further show how you’re different.

Make sure your company has a presence on the aforementioned social networks.  If done right, it should have its own identity on each, and be branded as much as possible.  Even if you’re a one-man-show, you have to be every bit as good as the largest companies, but above all, you need to be that much more creative in how you stand out.

Once you are participating in the social networks, build a blog.  Put it on your company’s website.  Aggregate the blog links to your product pages, and post updates regularly.  Talk about your company, development, and how to use your products.  I would suggest that you have a minimum of 3 blogs a month.  Ideally though, you should have 2-3 blog updates per week.  You don’t have to be the best writer in the world either.  You can easily link to other people that have talked about you, or use the blog to mash up other media like pictures, videos, and more.  In fact, that’s the best way to do it.  Mix in things that will visually stimulate your customers.

Just don’t forget to not only stand out in the crowd, but make sure that the crowd knows that you’re standing out.  You have to let everyone know why and how you’re so darned great!

Create Your Own Ecosystem

One of the most future-proof ways to stand out is to create your own ecosystem, like DotNetNuke® has.  This is not an easy thing to do.  Perhaps the best example I’ve seen of this is by XMod.  Not only do they have a popular product, but they have a template-like system built into their module, allowing for people to share, import, and export “templates” to be used by others and other modules/pages.  This has since grown into an ecosystem.  You can find these “templates” for sale on Snowcovered right now.  Essentially, such a system has allowed for the customer to interact with your brand in a positive and tangible way, enabling them to remember you easier.  It also allows them to help you be successful by selling their own products that can interface with your own.  If you are following the trend, everyone in this tiny circle of DNN life is talking about your product, using it, and helping recruit others to use it.

Essentially, if you can find a way for your extension to have “plugins” of any kind, it is a good idea – as long as these plugins fall into the “Back to Basics” criteria above. 

Marketing

If you cringed when reading “marketing campaigns,” I understand.  After all, marketing doesn’t come easy to everyone, and it certainly doesn’t sound very technical.  If you’re reading this blog, I am going to assume that most of you are indeed technical.  So, marketing doesn’t come easy.  If you’re a developer, marketing sounds counter-intuitive, if not outright foreign.  Being in technology, you’re likely anti-social in at least one way, if not many. 

Old Time Marketing

Marketing shouldn’t scare you.  It’s quite easy for smaller companies, then the largest ones too.  It seems the larger your company is, the more effort it has to put forth, and most likely have to pay more money too.  Luckily, smaller companies have the benefit of having no budget.  Did you just curse at me?  Perhaps you laughed?  Did I just mention no budget being a “benefit?”  Yes I did.

When you don’t have a budget, you have to be more creative with your resources, getting more bang for your (non-existent) buck.  This means that you need to find new and meaningful ways to market without spending money, and still get traction with new and existing customers.  Not to mention that these ways need to feel as little as work as possible to you.  After all, this is effort that you could be spending on development.  (That’s a really bad argument, in my opinion.  Without sufficient marketing, your development efforts won’t be realized.)

I like to promote the “word of mouth” marketing practices.  There are no hard and fast rules about word of mouth marketing.  Your basic goal is just to get people to talk about you and your product – in a GOOD way.  Every single time a person outside of your company talks about you, it is FREE advertising.  It’s also the most effective form of advertising.  Think about the last time you were making a large purchase.  You probably asked the opinion of a trusted friend or loved one.  When you find a new module, you probably ask your DNN friends or post in the forums to see if anyone has any opinions on it.  You need to be acutely aware of this – especially when it comes to your products.

I can talk about this subject all day long, so I will just give you some basic ideas.

Social Media

I mentioned the social networks and blogs earlier.  These are the easiest, fastest, and most effective ways to participate in the conversations that are already happening, and to create new conversations.  The right conversation spreads like wildfire.  We’ve seen this happen with countless examples, be it natural disasters, sports, politics, etc.  You have also already seen this happening with companies too.  Think about every time you saw a “friend” mention a good or bad experience with a company.  Recall the times that they had something bad to say.  Nearly every time, their comments are followed by several others who have had similar bad experiences.  This is the situation that you want to avoid at ALL COSTS.  You cannot pay enough to keep the bad comments out of the conversation. (Figuratively of course.  Paying for good comments would be unethical, and cause even more negative word of mouth once it’s exposed – and it always gets exposed.)

Blog often, and make sure your blog content is full of quality.  If you keep saying things that don’t have value to the people you want to reach, they will not find you, they will never read you again, and they will tell someone about it.  This principle follows into the social networks too, but they make this too easy.  Regardless of the medium, the message is the same.  Offer quality content such as new feature announcements, new tips or tricks, customer feedback, “how to” articles/videos, and so on.  If you ever attend a related event, be sure to capture and post any videos and pictures that you can.  You want to bring your “friends” into your world.

One of the best ways to effectively use this medium is to talk about your talkers too.  Promote their blogs, tweets, etc.  Give them constructive feedback on what they’re doing – in a tactful way, of course.  Comment on their blogs, but don’t spam them.  Make sure you use a service like the Google Alerts to keep an eye out for when conversations are taking place.

Customer Service

Customer Service Some of the easiest ways to get people talking about you are through customer service.  Offer stellar customer service.  No matter what happens, even if you take a loss, make sure that your customer leaves the conversation happy.  Your return on investment (ROI) will be easily paid in full (or more) the next time someone asks them about your product, or a product like yours. 

A great example of customer service could be with a customer you’ve lost.  If you’re doing your job, you will see that tweet that gets posted warning a potential customer to stay away from your product.  They had a really bad experience, so “buyer beware.”  Immediately jump into that conversation and find out where you can help.  And offer a freebie to the person who was passing on the negative word of mouth.  Let them know how much better the product is now, since they last used it.  This could easily lead to more customers as a result.

Don’t forget about support either.  Make sure that you do everything within your power to communicate efficiently, clearly, and timely to your customers.  When they need support, you can lose their loyalty within seconds.  You need to ensure that whatever happens, they leave each part of this conversation with a warm fuzzy.  Follow up with them as much as you can, and if you have the resources, send them a bag of M&M’s or a t-shirt when it’s all done.  You’d be surprised at how much (free) advertising an unexpected gift will get you.

Freebies

I mentioned freebies already, but this is a bit different.  You need to find out who your potential customers are.  Out of that list of people, you need to isolate and recruit the top 5 that appear to be “talkers.”  These people will have blogs and social media accounts.  They will use them regularly, and if you’re lucky, they might belong to a user group or something.  Give your top 5 talkers a free copy of your extension, and ask them for their feedback, or even a review.  Don’t ask them to talk about it outside of that context, as they will be less likely to participate.  This has to be organic, or it won’t work.

Also, send a free copy here and there to various user groups.  Ask user group leaders and/or members to review the product.  Every time you ask them to talk, they will.  It may not always be how you expected or wanted, but they will talk.

Your Website

Your website is probably your store front too.  There are an infinite number of ways to make your website help your talkers talk.  This is one of the most important areas, as you might be helping talkers that you never knew existed.

Make sure your website has a newsletter sign-up.  Newsletters are the least expensive way to keep your talkers and customers in the loop.  Be sure to promote your social media in your newsletter.  Like your blog, the newsletter should add value to your customers day.  Otherwise, they might unsubscribe or never read the newsletter.  Ideally, a newsletter sign-up should be on every page of your website.

One of the least exploited ways to make your website talker-friendly is to make sure that every page in your website can be shared to the world.  There are numerous ways to enable such a feature.  Just make sure that no matter which page your visitor is on, they can share it with anyone in the world with the minimum number of clicks and information.

Promote your customers on your website (with permission).  This not only adds value and trust to your brand, but it helps promote them, which will mostly be welcome.  This also adds an SEO factor to your efforts.  Not only can you post their logo and a link back, you can also post any testimonials that they might have sent you.  (Which reminds me – ALWAYS ask for a testimonial.  If you don’t ask, you will never get one.)

Affiliates/Fans

If you can, you should consider a special “fan group” or affiliate program.  Either way, you will be able to isolate and help your most avid followers to help you succeed.  They will enjoy the symbiotic relationship, if you do this right.  Your most devoted customers and talkers should be regularly fed “insider” information before it gets announced in any press release or blog posting.  This will make them feel special and feel more inclined to talk about you.  That is just one example of an incentive.  Everyone responds differently, so you should have a few different incentive ideas in mind.  M&M’s anyone?  ;)

Summary

Hopefully, through this book-like blog post, I have given you a few ideas and helped to inspire you to implement new ways to recruit new and repeat customers.  Through some creative marketing, a solid release system, and some elbow grease, you should be seeing rising sales soon.  Just make sure you have a plan.  If you’re completely lost in the whole “word of mouth” marketing thing, don’t worry.  There is a book that I have that has become my marketing bible of sorts.  Read it once, and then read it again.

Work of Mouth Marketing Book

In the end, if you’re successful in the DNN ecosystem, we all are as well.  Please feel free to share some of your ideas or experiences in the comments below.



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