Monday, April 17, 2006

Making things easy for the customer

I learned an obvious, yet valuable lesson this weekend about the effects of convenience and simplicity in making a sale.

I travel to Pittsburgh every other month or so. I travel to New York at least 2-3 times a year, and I go through the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore a ton. And every one of those trips I pass through multiple tolls (6 separate toll booths totaling $19 the 200 miles to Manhattan, and 7 totaling $21 on the way home), and see that EZ-Pass lane allowing traffic to flow smoothy. But every time I'm stuck in the cash line digging for dollars in my car seat. Five or six years ago there was just one lane, then two... now every lane takes EZ-Pass, and there are only 1 or 2 cash lanes. So I kept meaning to get an EZ-Pass, but each time there was an obstacle that kept me from doing it.

First i'd think of it on the road, but completely forgot once I was home and didn't need to pay tolls. Then if I did remember to look on the web, it was usually right before a trip, and I would encounter a PDF file that I had to fill out, mail in, wait 6 weeks and receive an EZ-Pass. That sure wouldn't help me this trip...oh well I'll fill it out later. Then they started allowing online signups... but same deal, plus I saw you had to pay a $3 maintinance fee every year. Sure don't need to do that with cash....oh well. But Finally this weekend, as I was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike ($8 toll from Pittsburgh!) I stopped at a rest station. After playing the handwashing game with those faucets that only stay on for 2 seconds (punch, wash, repeat), I was killing time and noticed an EZ-Pass machine. "Get out of here!" I thought to myself. You can get an EZ Pass from this vending machine? Sure enough, it had a keyboard and let you enter all the info, slide a credit card and out would pop an EZ-Pass. I didn't even think twice. Who cares about the cost? I can have one now and use it on the way home! They could have charged me a $5 convenience fee and I still probably would have bought it.

Lesson Learned? No matter how useful or how much people want your product, if it's not easy, REALLY easy for them to get it, only the really hard core people will go through your hoops to get it. If you require someone to give a page of info just to download a demo, you've probably lost a ton of people. This is how AOL got so many subscribers. While other ISP's required you to "call them" or "buy their kit in the stores", AOL just shipped 50 to every home. It became the default because it was so easy to buy. Keep it simple!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

More traveling for ChimSoft. In Burlington, Vermont this week presenting our software to the Vermont Chimney Sweep Guild. In addition, since it takes place at the National Chimney Sweep Supply company headquarters, I was able to spend some time talking to them, and am proud to announce that ChimSoft will soon contain National Chimney's parts catalog in addition to the Lindemann catalog we have had for some time.

On a side (non ISV) note, I think Burlington is one of my favorite cities. I end up in Vermont at least twice a year since the in-laws are here and I like it more everytime. This is the first time i've arrived by air however. Burlington looks like a model train town from the air, but despite its quant appearance, its a really great town. It has both a small town and big city feel. It's not uncommmon to go to a city bar and see a copy of American Hunter next to the regular newspaper, or a NRA sticker on the same car as an anti-Bush sticker. The best part however is the beer. There is easily more breweries per capita then any other American city, and despite its rural surroundings, you can often find beers on draft here that I can't even find in DC. I would love to retire here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We just got back from the National Chimney Sweep Guild convention in Louisville, KY. Louisville offers a lot more to do then I had imagined it would. This convention, billed as much bigger then our last one (the northeast) actually seemed to be a bit smaller in terms of people. In hindsight, this makes sense since a lot more sweeps are within driving distance of the northeast, and thus don't have to take several days away from their businesses.

It was also different this time because we had competition there...lots of it! We counted 5 other software companies. We were one of the first to register, and two of our "competitors" (really only one other does close to what we are trying to other words we are the only real chimney sweep software not a generic scheduler, etc..) setup shop right accross from us. I'm not sure if it was intentional or a coincidence, but it really worked out great for us. The way the floor was laid out, most people bounced off them right to us, and its great to show our product side by side. We got a lot of people that would be running between our booth and another with " they do this, do you have that? Yes? Ok, well let me ask them if they do what your doing here...". And several "You guys are the best product i've seen here". It helps to do one thing really well, rather then try to be a jack of all trades.

Also version 1.2 of ChimSoft was released yesterday. One more major release in the next month or two will put us past where we have what 90% of sweeps and their businesses need.