When I founded the business we were lucky enough to inherit a ready-made customer base, but we were also left with the task of selling and supporting a financial software product in dire need of modernisation. It was hardly surprising that as more appealing Windows-based accounting systems appeared on the market, we had more difficulty in promoting our then rather clunky, character-based platform. It was up against more 'sexy' alternatives that boasted a superior look and feel - they suddenly made us look very old.
Accounting systems tend to be sticky and finance directors are not known to be early adopters of new technology. But we knew that if current customers thought was no new development going on with our product it could generate adverse publicity in the market, which was likely to snowball through word of mouth.
To avoid this happening and devise a plan that would not only protect but increase our market share, we realised we needed to re-design the software in a very short period of time so we could stop those 'at risk' customers from leaving and attract new ones for the future.
Probably the most difficult part of the solution was recognising the fact we had to do something and then actually making the decision to go ahead and do it. Many people I spoke to were sceptical about whether we could make it happen. Concerns were also voiced over whether re-engineering the product would simply swallow up huge amounts of money without being completed. But once we'd designed a roadmap for the production of the new software, this gave us the belief that we could make it a reality.
Due to the scale of the task ahead of us and the fact that time was tight, we adopted a 'production line' type mentality, so every week the developers were under strict deadlines to complete a finite number of screens. We also delegated some of the donkey work to contractors so the designers could get on with the clever stuff. This enabled us to effectively treble our output without adversely affecting the overall quality.
First of all we developed an interim solution where just the front-end screens were Windows compatible. We could then show these to potential budget holders. By following this game plan we were able to save our existing customers from the clutches of the competition, whilst giving us the breathing space to completely overhaul the rest of the product.
Within two years the re-design was finished and we'd almost run out of development funds. However, within a few months of demo-ing the new product we started to win everything we tendered for, and achieved a one in two success rate. We had gone from a company with a product with a diminishing customer base and no long-term future to the beginnings of a market leader.
Don't always trust advisors that say 'it can't be done'. Listen to yourself and understand that with the right motivation & belief you can find a solution.
Be prepared to stick your neck out and develop the product around what the customer might want in the future rather than only what they tell you they want right now.
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