A B2B product is usually a result of a frustrated employee/client/service provider that saw a big opportunity to change the way things were being done in a business environment.
These (now) startup founders are certain that they solved such a big problem and that this is exactly what every business needs. That’s why when a B2B startup founder approaches sales or marketing, they are sometimes surprised by how hard and long the sales cycle can be.
In reality, various objections, timing, and other factors can stand in your way when trying to quickly grow your company. That is exactly why it is so important to face the truth and ask yourself the following 8 questions.
Don’t let your answers scare you. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it’s just a way to really understand your market and offering so you can build your marketing/sales strategy accordingly. I’ve seen very powerful disruptors with great solutions fail and some very low-level ones win the jackpot. The main difference was in how good their overall strategy was and how well-prepared they were.
Let’s face it – if you don’t know/admit your own weak points, you can’t turn them into opportunities…
In other words, is your product a “nice to have” one or a real problem-solver? Answering this will help you decide how to communicate the benefits of using it. Will you sell them a dream or a solution? Should you focus your message on this, or maybe pick one of the other answers below as a strength you can offer?
You should also be asking yourself whether you believe you are simply a part of their solution, or the solution itself and are you asking them to replace something? Questions like these all play a crucial part in the decision-making process, and you need to be ready with the right answers.
An alternative doesn’t necessarily mean a competitor who does the same thing as you or something similar. It also means something else they can use or do instead of using your product, like using sticky notes instead of an app, paper business cards instead of digital ones, long handwritten processes instead of automating tasks, outsourcing it etc.
Why is it so important to ask this? Because this will either be your main objection (“But what’s wrong with doing X?”) and/or your biggest opportunity (“Don’t you wish you could stop doing X?”). In any case, by knowing and recognising all the alternatives in advance, you will be able to help your client know that you truly understand them and what they are going through.
There are a lot of factors that can get a prospective client to make a purchasing decision, and urgency is one of them. The fact that you have a perfect solution to their problem doesn’t mean that it’s also something they need to have now (or at all, for that matter!). That’s why creating a sense of urgency is very important to promote the sell, and you have to figure out what yours will be.
It can be anything from demonstrating immediate cost saving to creating FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) by using statements like “your competitors are already using it”, “you have a chance to be X”, “it’s a hot trend right now and you wouldn’t want to miss out on it”, “the costs will be higher next year”, etc…
When it comes to integrating new solutions (especially in large corporations or enterprises) the decision will most likely come down to numbers. You are probably safe if you can prove ROI, save on costs, etc. But if you can’t (or still don’t have enough data on hand as a new startup) you’ll probably have to be really careful with your estimations and try to find other ways to showcase the benefits of using your product.
True story: I’ve never heard a single founder say that it wasn’t easy to implement their solution. In most cases, however, when debriefing them, the implementation process turned out to be a lot more complicated than they wanted to admit.
So take the time to take a deep look into this and ask yourself questions like, among others, how do you integrate to existing systems? What happens if the client has different systems/setups? How easy it is to deploy to all employees (in terms of access, usage, logins, guidance, onboarding, regulations, etc)? Who needs to be involved in the implementation process? Are you aware of the corporate politics in such internal discussions?
Try to put down the entire process in a scheme drawing (even if it’s just going to your website and downloading an app) – step by step, and you will see that it’s never as easy as you imagined. This is not to say you shouldn’t communicate/highlight that you have an easy-to-implement solution – on the contrary. This just means you can impress your potential clients by being prepared with the right documentation and ready-made answers (like a security information sheet , employee deployment guides etc.).
Is your sales strategy all about approaching the C-Suite level and executive decision makers (SAP Style), or working your way up, getting a lot of individual employees or teams to use your product, and then getting them to convince the company to make a decision (Slack Style)?
This is, in my opinion, one of the most important drivers to your sales and marketing strategy, as each answer will lead you down a totally different path. The answer usually depends on the size, pricing, and complexity of the product, among other factors.
A Top-Down strategy is more likely to lead you to a traditional sales channel supported by marketing efforts, while a Bottom-Up strategy will call for dedicated marketing attention and different setups (like having free trials vs. demos, user acquisition vs. lead generation, etc.).
If you’ve read anything I wrote in the past, you would already know that I’m always preaching to founders to get to know their target audiences better – what are their fears, dreams, aspirations? Where do they “hang out”? Where do they get their information from? etc.
It’s no different when it comes to B2B marketing, since after all, although you are selling to a business, the person who will make the decision on the other end is still a human being. It’s called B2H (Business to Human marketing), and I prefer, H2H (Human to Human marketing); it’s been around for a few years and I hope it’s here to stay.
So once you’ve established whether you are targeting the executives or the employees, you need to figure out who they really are – what motivates them (money, success, ego), what can be a barrier (the fear of losing their job, they’re too busy), and what language they prefer (casual, formal, legal, creative), and you can begin to paint a picture of your target persona.
You can have more than one, of course – just remember to keep your focus on the top ones and adjust how you “speak” to them in every aspect of the business (website, collaterals, etc). Make sure you solve THEIR problems before you solve the company’s ones. Arm them with all the tools necessary to be the ones who push the sale forward internally (read: make them your advocators).
Social proof describes the practice of showing that other customers are already using your product and leveraging this in order to convince others to jump on the wagon as well.
In marketing, it comes in various shapes and forms like testimonials, media mentions (“as seen on”), case studies, client logos, reviews, public discussions, expert/celebrity endorsements, social presence, and the list can go on and on.
Do you have some of these available? That’s great. Make sure that they are visible on your website and collaterals and keep on nourishing and growing them.
If you haven’t put any efforts into it just yet, you’d better start doing it soon. Why? Because B2B clients usually do their own research before making a final decision, and everything mentioned above will affect their decision as much as it affects any B2C customers (H2H, remember?). They will be looking for evidence that your company is reliable, performs well, really solves the problem at hand, has great support, and more.
There are dozens of other questions you can ask yourself in order to refine your strategy and focus your efforts, but these 8 questions are crucial to understanding the framework and giving you a better idea of what your starting point should be, what type of materials you should have on hand, and where to focus your energy and resources.