Remember To Make It Easy To Buy

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

9 thoughts on “Remember To Make It Easy To Buy

  1. I work at Atlassian as the Product Marketing Manager for JIRA.

    Your point on the ROI is a good one. I don’t think we do as good a job as we could in supporting developers through the buying process. It’s something I’m working on, and I’ll keep the ROI suggestion in mind.

    As far as not taking a PO goes, well, we’re a different kind of company in lots of ways, and this is one that isn’t likely to change.

  2. “As far as not taking a PO goes, well, we’re a different kind of company in lots of ways, and this is one that isn’t likely to change.”

    I don’t get it. I am not sure how someone completes the purchase of a piece of software is a positive differentiation. I know people compete on features, user experience, support, “coolness” or culture, quality, cost, and total cost of ownership. It is very strange to see barriers to purchase as a positive aspect of a company’s culture.

    I would love to know more on what difference would cause that inability to purchase via standard corporate purchasing methodology.

  3. Excellent write-up!
    My perspective is from a point further down the purchasing process: As a sys admin, I create POs, push for their approval, execute them, download, install, configure & maintain the software. And yes, Atlassian products are difficult in most of these aspects. Not taking a PO for initial purchase or the annual renewal trips me up every time. And I dread having to upgrade their products (Jira & Confluence).

    Our developers are hooked, though, and asking for more Atlassian tools. Let’s see if they can show our CTO the ROI for FishEye and Crucible.

    FYI you’re missing a (crucial) word in:
    “I was just talking with a friend who was having [trouble?] buying from Atlassian”.

  4. @Jeff Leyser

    First, thanks for commenting. I really do love the products that your company puts out. I have to say I am curious on why no purchase orders. I’ve ordered Atlassian products at a couple of different companies and this has always been a stumbling block.

    If you are ever trying to organize a customer focus group, I would be happy to participate.

  5. Well, step 1 is done – we have the trial installed and people are playing with it, so hopefully we’ll get the official thumbs up really soon 🙂

  6. Rob,

    Firstly, thanks for the compliments on our products. We spend a lot of time and money trying to make kick-ass products. By spending your time writing such a long post – you obviously care about helping us be more successful.

    Regarding your thoughts on purchasing, I think that you have focused on one negative aspect, and ignored a lot of others.

    Atlassian offers evaluation licenses for all of its products, which mean you can download and use our products (unrestricted) for 30 days, after which you have to come back to the website and get another license. Even during the purchase process, you can continue using an evaluation license until your purchase clears.

    We also put our pricing up on the website, and it is the same pricing for everyone. We believe in being transparent in this way. No ‘contact us for a price’, and no worrying that you’ll have to negotiate with a sales person for the best price.

    In order to keep our pricing down, we do a number of things that aren’t traditional. We don’t have custom EULAs for different companies. Everyone uses the same contract. We do this because custom EULAs are too expensive, and to do them we would have to raise the price of our software for everyone.

    We find the same with POs. We sell our products into 106 countries (at last count), and offering POs to all our customers would mean that we would have to chase payment in 106 countries.

    POs would mean we would have to employ someone in each timezone to chase payments around the world. This isn’t a particularly fulfilling job, and we strive to have all our staff in fulfilling jobs. It also means that we would have some level of defaults.

    Our solution is to provide continuing evaluation licenses to our end users until their payment comes through. If their PO has 30 or 60 day terms, then they can continue using our software in production (using fully-functional evaluation licenses) until the payment comes through.

    Our refusal to accept purchase orders isn’t explained very well on our website, and I will update our documentation to better explain our position.

    I’d also love to chat with you directly (email me) to hear any further thoughts on this matter.


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