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Websites that Sell

Volume Number: 26
Issue Number: 02
Column Tag: business development

Websites that Sell

All we know about starting an Apple business, from the idea, to product launch and beyond.

by Michael Göbel and Oliver Pospisil, Inspired By Life

Inside Inspired By Life

Michael: Let's shut our pilot website down.

Oliver: Why?

Michael: Because the timing has changed. It will take longer than originally planned to finish the product. It's also because our corporate design has changed. It is no longer reflected in our website and that's why it must be updated.

Oliver: Yes, you're right. In addition, we want to underscore our mantra that "There's always another way!"

Michael: Great, I'm so glad you agree. By the way: It's almost a little scary that we achieved harmony so quickly!


No, we will not give you any specifics about website development. We won't tell you what shades or formats to use in order to make your website a success. These aspects have already been covered in a wide array of really good books.

But yes, we will tell you about the guiding principles and questions that drive our website development. Please don't start Safari up right now to check out It will not be online when this article is published. This has a whole lot to do with timing. We will get back to that later.

Okay, so what pain do you cure?

Cure, don't sell

There's not a single doctor in the world who has ever sold you pills. What they always get paid for is to cure your pain! That is what you need and want when you go to a doctor. The cure might come in the form of a pill, but it's the cure that you and all other patients pay for.

Nobody buys the software you sell. People buy the cure for their neck pain. That's why you must make sure you sell the cure!

On a side note: If your website is already online and you offer software that is not really taking off: Maybe it's because people don't know what your cure for pain is or maybe they don't think the medication you offer will really cure their pain. But don't worry; we have a cure for that.

Just look at Werck's cure for shop-owners: They don't sell software and hardware for shops. They cure the neck pain of everyone who wants to run an extraordinary shop: Ask the customer for money. It's about how to turn the shopping and the payment into a terrific experience that makes everyone (customers and staff) feel absolutely satisfied. Among others, this includes a super fast and transparent payment process that ends with a good-looking invoice.

You might object to this: "But isn't it software that users ultimately install on their Mac? That's why I sell software!" Our answer: "Technically, Apple gives you hardware and software in exchange for money. However, the very first thing Apple gives you is an extraordinary feeling. You feel great because after the sale, you belong to the exclusive guild of people who want "to put a dent in the universe." That is what makes Apple so special and that makes Apple stand out over all of the Microsofts, HPs, Dells, etc. in the world.

The bottom line: What people love even more than buying and selling is to get a cure for their biggest pain. Your website must tell people as simply as possible about the specific pain you cure and with which medicine. It must be a no-brainer to get it: The pain and the cure. Visitors to your website must feel first and then tell themselves: Yes, this will cure my neck pain! I'll buy it right now.

Show, don't tell

Have you ever wondered why Apple places a large image on its homepage and on every product page? They show and don't tell: Seeing is believing!

One area out of many where Apple has achieved best-in-class mastery is to show customers the greatness of its cure in one "insanely great" picture. Other companies just spell it out. That's why every Mac user is quickly transformed into an aficionado who is happy to pay to be one.

The goal: Clearly show the one single pain you can cure with just one single, truly remarkable picture. No more, just one!

Be simply remarkable

Do you remember the days in the 1990s when websites had animated gif-images and 3D-buttons? Absolutely horrific!

Today's gif-images and 3D-buttons have way too much content. You surely noticed this in 2008 during the presidential campaign in the USA. The Obama campaign put together a clear website with very limited content—often with just one single topic and nothing else. McCain's website, in comparison, was jam-packed with content: Too many details for us to ever keep in mind.

No matter who your favorite candidate was: It was much easier to remember what Obama stood for ("Change") and it not so easy to recall what McCain stood for (I know I forgot what it was). As an undecided voter, who would you vote for: Someone with one vision and one consistent message or someone who gives you hundreds of tiny messages?

Your website is the user's first official impression of you and your cure. The website's main tasks are therefore as follows:

  • Communicate the feeling of being understood

  • Inform about the cure (product)

  • Build up trust

  • Make it a no-brainer to buy it

Building up trust is by far the most important, albeit toughest thing to do. Users will only buy if they trust you. Even though trust is something that develops over time, the first few seconds are the most critical. It's kind of like love at first sight.

The key to building up trust at first sight is to keep things simple and transparent. And now you need to answer a few questions:

  • What do they have to offer?

  • What is it good for? / What pain does it cure?

  • How much does it cost?

The design and the content (images, text and screencasts on your website) must reflect your solution. When you do this, you'll be following the tradition of Apple: Everything, really everything fits together seamlessly and is in harmony. Don't give visitors a chance to get the feeling that the product and website have just been created to rake in a quick profit and not to cure their pain.

Let's face it: You're in the same position that Obama was. People out there don't know what you stand for: One vision and one consistent message!

Three cups of tea

It takes around three cups of tea to sell the cure / your product.

First cup of tea

Your product must be a specialist when it comes to curing just one single pain in the very same way that every doctor is a specialist in one specific field. If you claim your product can cure more than one pain, potential customers will think you're unreliable and that your message is inconsistent.

So please keep in mind: Since it is only one picture and just one short headline, you obviously have to explain both the pain and the cure in detail! This calls for more work but it will be well worth it over the long haul.

Also important is that you have no qualms about reducing the amount of information on your homepage down to the bare minimum! Users have to feel at ease and know they've found the right place to cure their problem, nothing more and nothing else. Your homepage should by all means include a little bit of extra information about the price and, of course, try-and-buy buttons.

At this stage, the most you can hope for is that the user tries your product. That's why the download button is of utmost importance. And never, ever ask for any information like full name and e-mail address before you let the user download your product. The freedom of choice and lack of restrictions you give users will definitely pay off.

While sipping this first cup of tea, remember that the visitor still considers you as a stranger.

Second cup of tea

Your picture and the twitter-like headline did their job right: Visitors believe they've found a potential cure for their pain.

Now we need to convince them that their belief is right! You can achieve this by giving them just enough information to take a decision. It's like reading labels on the packaging: First off, you want to find out when and how much of the medication you have to take and what its side-effects are.

However, just a handful of people read more before they decide whether or not to buy. For those who might want to read more, you can provide information like: Support and FAQs (more on this later).

In addition, your website must have some basic mandatory information: About us, imprint, non-disclosure policy and copyrights. This type of information is not what sells your product. It is simply the fine print and thanks to that, you have a further chance to build up trust.

After sipping the second cup of tea, this visitor now considers you to be an honored guest.

Third cup of tea

Before people decide to undergo a major surgery or a risky treatment, they typically ask friends or acquaintances who were former patients, or they ask other doctors for explicit details and they search the web, too.

In essence what they want to know is: What do others have to say? This takes us back to the reputation issue. A good reputation is such a powerful tool that every book that really sells comes with praise printed on the front cover, the back cover or on one of the first pages inside.

Your visitors want to be sure they take the right pill and that they're not doing it alone: Praise builds up a good reputation.

Therefore, ask your users for feedback. If your product is in the beta phase, ask your beta users for praise and put it on your website where it doesn't clash with the product image, the twitter-like headline and where it is still highly visible.

For example, if your application is a productivity application and it is inspired by David Allen's GTD, try to win him over as a beta user and as a source of inspiration (David recently switched to a Macbook Air and guess why the Omnigroup is partnering with him). If he praises your work, you'll attract the GTD community's attention and if he promotes your tool on his blog (, you'd better get your server ready. Just imagine how much money you would have had to invest in advertising in order to reach the same number of people within the GTD community that he reaches with just one single blog entry!

As a side note: If someone like David Allen gives you positive feedback and promotes your product, make sure to do everything possible to pay someone like David back!

After sipping this third cup of tea, visitors now consider you to be like family. They trust you and they'll start to buy your cure-it-all-in-one solution.

Fewer steps = more sales

The user just clicked on the buy-button and you think you've got him. Wrong! You lose the most sales during the payment process!

Imagine this: Your doctor gave you a prescription and you're at the drugstore. The staff inside first asks you to fill out a form with a lot of personal information and then yet another form with statistics that only help the drugstore. So what do you do? You leave and go to another drugstore that will make it easier for you to get the medication you need.

This isn't really any different for you: Ideally, the sales process should consist of just one step. However, since you need the user's sales information like name, address, credit card details and a confirmation/signature form, you typically have three steps.

That's why having a reliable payment provider is what matters the most.

Make sure to trim your sales process down to as few steps as possible: Preferably just one, if possible. Make it fast and reliable: Just ask for the necessary information on a mean and clean website. Don't ask for any statistical information or the like. Major stores can do that but you should not.

Some more don'ts:

  • Don't force the user to set up a profile similar to that on Amazon or the like.

  • Don't use too many website forwards to reach your store.

  • And never ever use opt-out marketing.

Last but not least: which payment provider should you choose? There are so many out there like eSellerate, Kagi, and Avangate. The one that works best for us is FastSpring: They can set up the most convenient payment process, their after-sales service is top-notch, they are available 24/7 and their response time and quality is world-class. Best of all: They speak Mac.

Open for everyone

Don't let anyone or anything different pose a hurdle to enter your website. Be accessible for just about everyone:

  • Handicapped people

  • Different browsers

  • Different languages

But be smart and let your website reflect your visitors' most anticipated differences. If you're just selling to people in Nippon, a German website doesn't really make much sense.

After-sales: I feel good

All I want is to use it - now!

Remember the last time you bought software online right when the trial period ended. You quickly fired Safari up, accessed the website, then went through the payment process that was way too long and, as the last step after you confirmed payment, you see the invoice. You check the invoice out carefully to find the most important thing: the serial number. But it seems to be missing. You search once again and you finally find a statement that is incredibly frustrating: "The serial number will be sent to you directly by the developer of the product. Please grant him up to two workdays to respond. Thank you for doing business with us."

Among other things, the invoice must contain the necessary information to register the software. Period.

Even better: Include the shop in your product. In this way, the user does not leave you "mentally" while paying for your product and you can complete the final registration automatically for the user. That's service.

Surprise me

Do you remember the minute you got your first iPod? You brought the package home and couldn't wait to unpack it. It was a major event and you felt really happy. But why?

You felt happy because Apple wants you to feel happy. Their packages are designed to stir up feelings of happiness within your very core.

Can you do anything like that? What about sending your customers a small gift package? This isn't about money, and the content doesn't have to be expensive. It should just be something the customer will really appreciate.

For example: Maybe you have an application that stores recipes. How about sending your customers the recipe for an extraordinary three-course menu along with a sample of extraordinary "Fleur de Sel?"

When you do that, you stand out from the other competitors. You make it easy for others to talk positively about you (reputation!). Nobody starts to talk right off the bat about the recipe software they use, but everybody who loves to cook talks about "Fleur de Sel" and then they will tell everyone else where it came from: You!

Talk to me

Your customers gave you their best: trust and money. What they also expect from you now besides the software is that you communicate with them in a way that is most convenient for them and that reflects the software's price. You should therefore set up a contact form on your website and inside the software, an e-mail address, chat, Twitter and telephone numbers.

As a side note: Why not use Twitter and Facebook as secondary websites to tell everyone about the latest support requests and solutions? What about letting users request support via those sites and let other users participate? You might just end up with a community.

Support and FAQs

So what do you do if the cure doesn't work or if it has unforeseeable side-effects? You go back to the doctor and you know in advance that you can always go back to your doctor! Doesn't that make you feel relieved and safe?

That's why you should make sure that people see how easy it is to get in touch with you via your contact and support sites in case they have any side-effects. Make sure they know there is a way that they can get help themselves if you are not available (due to special weekend plans, for example): Your FAQ sites should cure the most common side-effects. With a helpful FAQ site in place, you'll also have more time to focus on solving your customers' more serious problems.


Can you think of anything more frustrating than the "Work in progress" images on websites that aren't online?

We tried a different approach by putting up some phrases on our website. However, we stopped doing this a couple of weeks ago because things have changed so quickly. We thought we'd almost made it to the finishing line, but then the hot debate started among authors and publishers as to whether the license agreement for books published before 1992 includes the right to publish them as eBooks. Since we want to add one, we are now in the waiting line and since we want the best of its subject matter, we have no alternative other than to wait and be patient until the negotiations are settled.

Launching your website too soon just frustrates visitors even more than when they don't find any website at all. That's why you should only put your website online when you are 101% sure the timing is right.

Take enough time to plan for success: The try-and-buy buttons are activated and your servers can handle a lot of traffic. The timing will only be right if you control, like Steve Jobs, 100% of the processes and things that have to happen: You have a stable beta version or your product has to be ready for shipping, the content must be finalized and, last but not least, your press-kit must be ready. Then and only then is it the right time to put your website online.


Your website is your opportunity to create a remarkable moment for the visitor. Make it a no-brainer to get the cure for your visitor's neck pain. Go the extra mile to ensure that you don't lose them during the payment process. And finally, be there for them when they need you the most: After they bought your solution.

What's next?

Our next article will be all about "To beta or not to beta."

Connect with us!

We want to share stimulating, innovative ideas with you and we really look forward to your feedback! Is anything missing or do you think something could be fleshed out in further detail? Just let us know and write to

Bibliography and References


Mortenson, Greg. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time. New York, 2006.


Checkout by Werck:

Fleur de sel:

Three cups of tea:


CSSTux (Inspiration):


Michael started MOApp up in 2004 and he has now developed more than ten applications - six of them are Apple staff picks. He does everything from software development, icon design, website development to sales management and public relations.

Oliver has been in the software business for over ten years, specializing in areas ranging from Palm programming to large-scale, in-house Java projects. In 2006, an idea grabbed his attention that both are now working on. He is still working full-time for a German retail company and will be until the new business starts paying off their bills.


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