Ok maybe the title is a little arrogant. Really, what I mean is that there are a ton of blogs out there written by software developers, and read by other software developers. (using all the appropriate jargon to keep out the riff-raff. *smile*.) That’s all well and good, but if you really want to know how to develop tools that people will actually use, you should be talking to users and the people who admin. for those users, or you should be reading their blogs. Here’s why:
The best place, in my mind, to get a market foothold in the business community is small business. It would be nice if you can get a foothold to big business, but they aren’t going to even look at your product if someone else isn’t using it somewhere already. There’s very little flexibility and a ton of bureacracy that stand between you and the rollout of your tool in a big business. So you need to think about marketing to small business, where there’s more flexibility. Now, remember that outside of software companies, small businesses do not have programmers on the payroll. They have people like me, who know enough about a whole bunch of different areas to keep things working and keep on top of some technology, but don’t have the time to really learn to program well. We’re not afraid to get under the hood and tweak code a little bit, but anything that’s going to require a lot of time and work, isn’t going to happen. It becomes a “low priority” the minute I have to spend too much time tweaking it. With responsibility for networking, PC’s, database, software, telephones, fax machines, printers, and training already on my plate, low priority = never.
You want to know the quickest way to get to low priority? Tell me that your tool will work in my environment as soon as I make some changes to it, and describe those changes using jargon and acronyms that I’m unsure of. If you want to sell me on a tool, you need to talk like I do, first.
Second, the market for good software is out there, but you’re selling it to the wrong people. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times that a vendor has approached our organization about software and looked only for the senior management people. I don’t care to even guess how much time and effort was spent trying to sell a product to the CEO, or a VP that wasn’t even compatible with our current systems. The CEO doesn’t know the system inside and out, I do. They’ll let you do your little dog and pony show, but when you’re done, they’ll ask me for an opinion, and if they find out you wasted their time showing them a product that we can’t even use, your company is not going to look good. Sell me on it first, and you’re so much better off.
Lastly, keep in mind that, as a small business admin., my first goal is something that’s going to make my life easier. The power of your tool needs to be worth more than the amount of time it’s going to take to test it, roll it out and train users to use it. If it’s too complicated for users to pick up easily, it stands very little chance of being accepted widely. Case in point, Linux versus Windows on the desktop. Windows is more expensive and less stable, but I don’t have to train anyone to use it. Most come in with that knowledge, thus Windows makes my life easier.
So, in summary, developers need to spend some time learning what makes IT admins tick. They need to learn what we need, what makes our lives easier and what turns us on. We are your gateway to all those small business users you crave. We are your real market. You’d do well to know us.
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