4 Must-Read Lessons for ISV Startups

This veteran barcoding ISV shares some hard lessons learned concerning marketing and operations that apply to any market.

With roots going back to 1993, NiceLabel, a developer of bar code label design and label management software, has gone through many changes over years and experienced every type of market condition you could think of. You can’t survive — particularly in the data collection industry — without making adjustments. You also can’t be in business that long and not learn some valuable lessons. During a conversation with Ken Moir, NiceLabel’s VP of marketing, he shared four lessons he’s learned over the years, which are particularly valuable to ISVs just getting started.

Lesson 1 — Don’t invest in anything that could be dead technology
Years ago, NiceLabel decided to make a costly investment in Microsoft Silverlight. Moir says a few years later all the signs were there that Silverlight and Flash was on its way out as a development platform. In fact, Steve Jobs famously declared as much in his open letter to Adobe. By association, Silverlight would be scuttled. Still, NiceLabel was settled on Silverlight. When it became clear that Silverlight and Flash was a dead technology, the company had to rearchitect its web printing software.

“Looking back, the signs were there for a long time,” he explains. “Since we were a Microsoft partner heavily invested in the company, I think there may have been a little denial about things.”

Moir’s advice here is to constantly listen to the market — not just your existing partners — about where things are heading from a technology standpoint.

Lesson 2 — Plan for growth early
As you grow, you need to be able to scale. To do this well, and without pain, you need good processes in place. “As a small company, busy dealing with explosive growth, things can be overlooked and inefficiencies introduced,” Moir says. “Whether we’re talking about a lack of sales processes or lack of development best practices, if you slow down and take the time to implement processes, you can actually get more growth.”

Today, NiceLabel is a heavily process-driven organization. In fact, the company recently achieved ISO 9001 status, quite an honor, accomplishment, and testament to its dedication to quality, consistency, and process. However, Moir can recount instances where mistakes could have been avoided or good things could have happened sooner if NiceLabel had put an emphasis on processes earlier.

Lesson 3 — Get customer-centric
When you’re just getting started selling your solution, it’s easy — but wrong — to see marketing and sales as two separate beasts that need to be wrestled. Actually, even some long-established companies make this mistake. Moir’s advice is to look at sales and marketing — and even services and other departments — together, since they all interact with customers.

“Marketing is all about understanding customers’ use cases and pain points and then sharing that data with product management to ensure the product addresses those needs,” he explains. “The sales team, on the other hand, needs to identify and understand what challenges the customer is dealing with and sell in a way that shows you know how to solve problems and aren’t just trying to sell your software.”

He goes on to explain that when the services team works with customers after the sale, their insight is invaluable. “They get into dirty aspects of the implementation and uncover more insights than you might be able to learn during the initial sales and marketing process. If you look at selling holistically as a customer-centric process, it makes your team more cohesive and, at the end of the day, accomplishes the goal of increasing revenue more effectively.”

Lesson 4 — Make marketing strategic
Tied directly to the previous lesson, Moir stresses that it’s critical to look at KPIs and numbers and make marketing strategic. “Don’t just look at leads, but look at what revenue your marketing generates” he says. “Also, look at what revenue your marketing doesn’t generate.” Having this information will allow you to go back and reiterate to try to generate more revenue.

Moir adds that the marketing group often looks at KPIs based on leads, whereas what they need to look at is a KPI based on revenue. “Everything is about revenue and marketing should keep adjusting based on revenue,” he says. “It’s important to get as detailed as possible. You want to be able to say, ‘we invested X amount into a campaign which led to this number of leads and, more importantly, this much revenue and this much recurring revenue.”

It’s not easy, Moir says, but that should be your goal. “Without revenue data tied back to your marketing, you won’t know what activities are worth repeating and/or adjusting and which are a waste of resources.”

 

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The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.