Building a successful product is hard.  You think so much about what features a user needs and how you can have a better product than your competition, how you can win.  However, sometimes we forget an important part of the process, how do I make it easy for a customer to buy.

Let’s look at two examples of products that I like, one that makes it hard to buy and one that doesn’t.  First I am going to pick on Atlassian, an Australian-based software company that has built the excellent bug tracking software Jira and the enterprise wiki software Confluence.  I am picking on them because I was just talking with a friend who was having trouble buying from Atlassian and inspired this blog posting.  Now, Atlassian made a very smart marketing decision, they decided to give away their software to open source projects.  This got their products used by a variety of popular open source projects (e.g. JBoss) and in turn got them visibility by both developers and users of these products.  Very smart move, giving away the software got you more exposure to potential customers than any number of Google keyword ad buys.  Well done Atlassian!

So Atlassian has a strategy to get developers aware of the value of their product.  Now think about how buying their products work:

  1. Developer sees how wonderful Jira is while working on an open source project
  2. Developer goes to the Jira product websheet and sees a great presentation of the features of Jira and gets all excited
  3. Developer wants to get his company to use Jira
  4. Developer has no authority to spend money at his company, he needs to talk with his boss
  5. Developer tells their boss “We should use Jira”
  6. Boss says “Why should I buy this? Bugzilla is free!  Do an ROI (Return on Investment) analysis for me and I’ll consider it”
  7. Developer does not know how to do an ROI analysis so he just gives up on Jira and goes off grumbling to his co-workers that the boss “just doesn’t get it”

So what do we see here.  Atlassian has done a great job of getting software developers aware of how wonderful their software is, but they do not help the software developer explain to their boss why they should spend $4,000 on the software.  What they should do is have a simple form that helps a developer  ask questions like “How many people are in your development organization”, and “How many hours do your developers spend trying to understand what features are in a release”.  From these questions, it should show you how long it will take for the productivity improvements that Jira will bring to equal your investment in it.  Make it easier for our hypothetical developer to create the ROI analysis required by his boss.

Now, the second place that Atlassian fails to make it easy to buy is in their actual purchasing methodology.  If you try to buy from Atlassian, they will only take check/money order/credit card.  They won’t take a PO (purchase order) number.  I don’t know how businesses operate in Australia, but in the US, most businesses that have an accounting department (which are all but the smallest businesses) strongly prefer using purchase orders over credit cards and checks when making capital purchases.  There are various reasons for this but the fact is forcing payment through credit cards or checks is just another hoop that our hypothetical developer has to go through to get Jira installed at their office

The point is that Atlassian has done a great job in getting users aware of their quality product, but they ignore the organizational process by which their customers buy.  I am confident that Atlassian is losing sales not because of their prodcut but because it is such a pain in the ass for a developer to figure out how to justify and how to actually purchase their product.

Now let’s look at a good example of making it easy for a customer to buy, buying music through iTunes.  With iTunes 8, their was an introduction of the “Genius”, basically a tool for finding other similar music based on what you are looking at.  Suggestions are shown with the price clearly marked a simple “buy” button right there.  You are staring at the buy button.  If you click on it, it will charge your pre-configured account.  Boom, that’s it.  It reminds me of the candy that sits in the supermarket aisle.  It’s right there, reasonably priced and simple to buy.  No hoops to jump through, very easy to purchase.




The moral of the story, it’s so hard to make a succesful product, don’t handcuff yourself by making it hard to buy.

Thanks to Kevin for inspiring this and Kyle for making me write this.

Edit #1: I used the word “easy” in the moral when I meant “hard”…fixed now.

Edit #2: Fixed some typos and grammar errors.  Also added word for clarity as suggested by Christian