One of the big differences between a large software shop and an ISV is the type of support offered.

A large software company may have a toll free number and operators standing by, but they often walk you through a series of canned steps and are often not be able to help with your specific problem. In addition, you pay a premium on the software since it includes this support and the additional overhead you get with a large company1.

An ISV like King Design doesn’t offer free phone support, instead offering in-depth documentation, forums and e-mail support. If those avenues fail phone support can always be purchased, but the support costs are not included in the software price which keeps the software priced at a fraction of what you’d pay from a large vendor. Often times (like King Design) the developer is answering support issues directly, meaning almost every question can be answered and there are many known issues that can be quickly identified.

Time is a very valuable resource to a small development shop. How you choose to allocate your time is one of the most crucial decisions you will face while working to make the business succeed.

Offering in depth phone support can easily consume ~2-8 hours of every day once you reach several thousand customers. In order to be able to offer that much time in support, you have to give up time that could be spent on development (and sales, marketing, etc.) and may well need to hire additional help. If that time is not billable, you would then need to charge more money for the software, so that the purchase price of the software also covers the future support costs. I’ve decided that my customers are best served by me:

  1. spending as much time building new features for them as possible
  2. keeping the price of my software low
  3. providing as many self-help tools as possible

Does that mean that my customers have to be more self-reliant and work through some issues on their own? Yes it does.

Is this an approach that all potential customers will be happy with? No, certainly not.

However, it seems to be a solution that the vast majority of my customers are quite satisfied with.

Perhaps a better question is: would you be happier paying $1250 for a 5 user license will full support? Or $125 for a license with only documentation, forums and e-mail support with the option to purchase support as needed?2

I’m sure different customers would have different answers to this. I do know that on occasion I get a customer who is completely dissatisfied with this the options I offer.

I wonder if there is a better approach to this that I haven’t considered.

  1. I know that some software companies are now offering support as a separate purchase, but I don’t consider that to be the norm yet – am I wrong? [back]
  2. Perhaps a slight exaggeration on price, but I’ve helped build enterprise software that has an average sale prive of $150,000. [back]

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