Homegrown Software as a Marketing Tool?

Posted on 30. Jan, 2009 by in manufacturing

Photo Credit: Tico Bassie http://www.flickr.com/photos/tico_bassie/

Homegrown software is often undervalued. Why? Because many companies assume that software without a major brand associated with it is sub standard. You may not be able to guarantee the reliability, security or scalability of software (or even a clever spreadsheet) that you’ve created, but if it solves a business problem, you’ve got an asset. And, even if you can’t sell it profitably, it may give you opportunity to communicate with your prospects.

Today, many good companies fed up with trying to adapt brand-name software to their products and services have come up with quality homegrown applications. In some cases, the software is as valuable as their core offerings. Unfortunately, most companies don’t want to spend the time selling and supporting software that earns slimmer margins than their main lines of business. Who could blame them?

Fortunately, there are several strategies to leverage your homegrown software solutions without adding a new line of business.

  1. Offer a Trial Version. Have you built an application that helps your machines run? Or that helps you communicate with your clients? Give it away! Think of it as a way to introduce prospects to the way your company thinks. If YOUR application can make YOUR COMPETITOR’S machines run better, you’ve made a prospect think differently about your offerings. When they’re ready for a new machine, they’re more likely to remember your company and your value to their business problem.
  2. Open Source it. Development is no longer restricted to programmers. Lots of communities are evolving to solve business problems, and if a little new knowledge of programming can help a company bolster a lean implementation or add to their margins, they’ll invest the time. Of course, you’ll be the first expert the community turns to. That, in turn will increase your recognition amongst peers who value what you’ve created.
  3. Sell it and license it back for your specific needs. If your application is good, but your time is better spent building your product, consider selling it to a developer. They may have access to a market you want to reach or provide 24/7 support that you can’t. If that’s valuable to your customers it may be better to have someone else own the software you created.

Although each of these methods requires a little risk and a little work, they all accomplish the same outcome. They get your company’s name and brand out to more users. You’re not Microsoft, but you are building valuable tools for business. And as IT budgets get slashed, companies will think more critically about the utility of the software they buy. When that happens, applications that contribute directly to the bottom line will prevail over bloated ones that only help operations. (Heck, you’ve probably outsourced those tasks anyway, right?)

For more inspiration about spinning off your homegrown software, read 37 Signals’s e-book, Getting Real. It will remind you that those little boxes you sit in front of are there to serve you, not the other way around.

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