How to Look Like a B2B Market Expert Using Secondary Research

Total immersion in the market is extremely important. Read everything you can to understand what you can do better than the competition. – Martin Huard, Ex-Admetric Co-Founder and CEO

With so many magazines, reports, surveys, whitepapers and blogs available online, it’s very hard to justify not doing a minimum of research on your target market.

A few searches on Google allow you to find dozens of blogs and reports for just about any industry. Depending on the target market you chose, Forrester Research, Gartner, Forbes, Marketing Sherpa, Tower Watson or other independent analyst publications might have already done the heavy-lifting and synthesized the industry for you.

Find the relevant research reports (Gartner, IDC, Forrester, etc.) that everyone refers to. Some stats and ideas are gospel in the industry; SlideShare presentations are a great way to make these data points surface.

Sign up to all the newsletters, blogs and websites that your prospects read. You can find these publications by looking at the links they share on social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

Set up a few Google Alerts and Twitter keyword alerts with terms from your pitch to follow the trends. You will be more relevant if you keep up with the latest news of the industry.

No matter what source you choose, your objective with secondary research is to figure out where the industry is headed, identify the players in the space, understand the types of products being sold and their perceived value by customers (if any).

If you can start making sense of the decision-making process of prospects and find the industry influencers, you’re doing very well. Your goal is to become one of them.

The Dos and Don’ts of Minimum Viable Products for B2B Startups

If you add a great user experience to a product no one wants, they will just realize faster that they don’t want it.Eric Ries, The Lean Startup Author

There are three parts to a valuable Minimum Viable Product (MVP):

  1. The experiment – What are you trying to learn with this particular MVP?
  2. The data – What data are you collecting about your experiment?
  3. The failure criteria – What determines the success or failure of the experiment?

A login form says nothing about your ability to solve the core problem. With MVPs, it’s important to focus exclusively on the most valuable features and your riskiest assumptions.

For a social media recruiting solution, for example, this may mean creating a job post, sharing a posting online and analyzing the results. The scope of the MVP should be no more than the two or three core features that will solve the customer pain.

You might have to re-do everything after the first few customer interactions; for that reason, it’s best to keep it simple.

Here are a few additional tips and pointers for putting together an MVP:

  • DO use real-looking data. Using dummy data (e.g. lorem ipsum) will raise unnecessary suspicions and cause prospects to question your MVP.
  • DO build the product in a repeatable way; don’t over-customize. Launching a startup as a consultancy has its risks. It’s easy to get trapped in consulting.
  • DO support your solution narrative. A good story helps prospects understand the use cases and expected value.
  • DON’T get carried away with your mockups or prototype. If you try to make your product perfect before you engage prospects, you’ll run out of time.
  • DON’T make your MVP funny. Keep your jokes for face-to-face meetings; it will be less of a distraction.
  • DON’T be too proud. Say: “Remember, this is just a prototype to show you how it works. The finished product will be much more polished and have many more features.”

The *Real* Metrics of Product-Market Fit in B2B Startups

Although analytics play a lesser role in the early days of B2B startups, there’s a point – usually when your pilot is in the hands of customers – when analytics help you understand the drivers of product-market fit in B2B (revenue, engagement and growth).

Throw away all the things that people say and look at what clients actually do. Who implemented your product? What are they using it for? What value are they getting out of it?

Validate the pilot or product metrics:

  • Time to activationHow long does it take for end-users to start using your solution?
  • Frequency of useHow often do they use the solution? Are there periods of higher activity?
  • Length of useHow much time do they spend using the solution? Are users logged in for the full day?
  • Task completionCan the main tasks – the main reason for buying – be completed without effort? How easy is it to complete the secondary tasks?
  • ProductivityHow long does it take to complete the main tasks? How does it compare with the previous solution (if any)?
  • EnjoymentDo users enjoy using the solution? Is it the same for all groups of users e.g., managers and end-users?
  • Support requestsHow many email requests or support phone calls are being generated? Does it vary by user groups?
  • Feature requestsHow many features are being requested? Are there different needs by user groups?
  • AvailabilityIs the solution stable and available at all time?
  • Feature usageAre there features that are not being used? Is the product being used in new / surprising ways?

With the information you collect during the solution interviews and the information on how your clients are using your product, you should be able to tell to what degree you have reached Product-Market fit.

Is your business model scalable? Is it repeatable?

Don’t lie. Be honest. Scaling a business without Product-Market fit leads to spectacular failures (usually involving a lot of venture capital).

If you didn’t reach Product-Market fit, don’t worry. You can finetune the product until it meets business needs and expectations.

How to Know When You’re Ready to Close a Prospect in B2B

Closing a sale in the enterprise can easily get complicated. With multiple stakeholders involved, it’s essential to build relationships before even thinking of selling.

To find out if you’re ready to close a sale, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I speaking with someone who has the pain we’re solving?
  • Am I speaking with someone who has money or a budget?
  • Have I identified and met all of the buyer types (economic, technical and user buyer)?
  • Is there anybody at a senior level whose approval we need (that could kill the deal)?
  • Is the deal subject to another departments’ approval process?
  • Are there other departments who might disapprove of the deal?
  • Can Legal or Purchasing block this deal?
  • Can anyone else veto this deal?
  • Are there other internal options that might prove more cost-effective, less difficult or in some other way more attractive than our proposal?
  • Are there more painful problems to which the budget might be diverted?
  • Are there compliance issues regarding this deal?
  • Are there major risks or unresolvable issues with this deal?

If you’re ready to sell, go for it!

If not, there’s still time. Get another meeting with the same stakeholder to further explore the solution or try and land a meeting with another buying influencer.

Stay top-of-mind. Make sure you’re not losing hard-earned momentum.

B2B Customer Discovery Interview Questions – The Master List

For the writing of Lean B2B, I consolidated all the questions B2B entrepreneurs need to answer during the problem interview phase when doing early customer discovery.

It’s important to have a plan and follow an interview script to gather consistent data points on all your prospects (you can read more on customer interview code of conduct right here).

Questions around the business drivers, the problems, the intensity of the pain, the problem ownership, the decision-making units (the jury) and the buying processes help you understand which problems matter most; they’re deal breakers and should be addressed first.

I’ve been using this question list as a starting point when planning problem interviews for a year. It worked really well for me; I hope you’ll find it as useful as I have.

  • What is your role?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • How long have you been working in this company?
  • With what department and business unit are you affiliated?
  • How many people report to you?
  • To whom do you report?
  • Can you walk me through a day in your work?
Demographics help you recognize patterns between prospects. What roles or behaviors do they share?
Business drivers
  • What are your objectives this year?
  • How will you be evaluated this year?
  • After the New Year’s Holiday, when you look back at this year, how will you know if you have been successful?
  • Do you expect these objectives to be different next year?
  • What are your clients typically trying to achieve with your products?
Business drivers help you understand objectives and spending priorities. Where will budgets be spent this year? Understanding your prospect’s customers can help you find new opportunities.
Problem priorities
  • What keeps you up at night? Why?
  • What are your top three challenges?
  • Out of these X problems, which would you say are your top three?
  • What keeps you from acquiring more users / what keeps you from doing x, y or z (main objective)?
  • What would be the first thing you would change about your work?
Problem priorities help you create an emotional connection with your prospects. Real problems are the only ones that matter. What do they care about?
Problem drilldown
  • How are you currently solving this problem?
  • How do you typically work around this problem?
  • Are there, in your perspective, ways technology can help with this problem?
  • Do you expect this problem to improve, worsen or stay the same in the upcoming year? Why?
  • How are you currently planning to solve this problem?
  • Tell me about (problem)?
  • Why is this a significant problem?
Problem drilldown allow you to build empathy and understand the pain from your prospects’ perspective. You can collect information on the evolution of the problem to see if changes are forthcoming. What is the root cause of these problems?
Intensity of pain
  • How do you feel about the current situation?
  • What would be the impact of solving this problem?
  • How many people are affected by the problem?
  • What percentage of day/week do you spend fixing problem X?
  • How much would you be willing to pay an external contractor to manually solve this problem?
Questions around the intensity of the pain allow you to understand the buyer mode, the impact and the perceived value. Why should you solve this problem?
Problem ownership
  • Who else in your company shares these problems?
  • Who would most benefit from solving this problem?
  • Whom else in your company should we be speaking with regarding this problem?
  • Who is involved with doing X?
Questions to understand the User buyer. Who will benefit most from your solution?
Decision-making power
  • What was the last technology purchase that you’ve been involved in?
  • Who also is involved in decision making?
  • Do you purchase your own tools and technology?
  • Do you need to ask for approval before purchasing new tools or technology?
These questions help you understand if your prospect could be a buyer? Could he purchase your solution?
Buying process
  • If you identify the need for a new product in your department, how does your team typically go about purchasing the solution?
  • All things considered, what is the “typical” length of the approval process?
  • Who are the four or six people who will make this decision?
  • What does the corporate purchasing process look like?
  • How do you typically purchase new tools?
Buying process questions give you insights on the internal processes and stakeholders. Who do you need to speak with?
Business processes
  • How are you currently handling problem X?
  • Who gets involved? At what moments?
Business process questions give you clues as to how the company works. These are convergent questions you can ask when you know which problem you’re taking on.
Technology landscape
  • What are the four or five sites, tools or technologies that you use the most for work during the day?
  • What are some of the tools or technologies that you value for your work?
  • How did you decide to use tool X?
  • How did you find out about tool X?
Technology landscape questions tell you about the competition for budgets and expected payment models. What would suit them best?
Whole product definition
  • What are the minimal criteria required to work with your company?
  • What is most important for your company when purchasing new technology?
These questions tell you about the whole product. What do you need to do to close this prospect?
  • Who are the visionaries you respect?
  • What are some of the blogs, websites or publications that you read?
Influencers tell you how you can reach and influence these companies. Who do they take advice from?
Calculation of Return on Investment
  • How much time do you estimate solving problem X currently takes?
  • How much money do you invest solving problem X?
  • How many man hours does it typically take your team to do task X?
Questions meant to help you create your ROI story. How much savings or impact can you expect?

How to Discount your Product for Early Customers

Discounts (or added services) are a marketing investment. Your initial offer should take into consideration the value businesses provide and the reduction in marketing costs that your first few case studies will bring.

Perhaps discounts can help sweeten the deal, but discounted products are very hard to increase.

If it’s $500 today, prospects will expect to pay $500 in the future.

I’m more prone to give services away than recurring revenue discounts. The way I look at it is, if I give services away, it’s like I’m paying tuition (for learning).Steve Smith, Cakemail Co-Founder

A better approach to discounting the price is usually to offer more services. To throw a carrot to your first customers, you can:

  • Provide extra service or free support;
  • Give early access to new functionalities;
  • Give a full feature account without increasing the cost;
  • Give custom features;
  • Guarantee benefits by giving customers a 30- or 60-day risk-free
  • Introduce a money-back guarantee (“If you don’t find it useful, I
    don’t want you to use it”
  • Urge your customers to call you at home (if needed).

It’s not necessary to offer prospects any form of discount with a pilot. In fact, doing so can actually blur your validation.

Prospects shouldn’t be interested simply because they get an heavily discounted solution, but it’s good to have an option ready in your back pocket.

Don’t offer discounts or throw-ins up-front. Start with price agreement before considering discounting your price or service.

Discounts are recognition, not bribes. If you offer discounts, make sure it’s in exchange of endorsements like case studies or testimonies.

15 Books Entrepreneurs Need to Read to Win in B2B

As a startup founder or B2B entrepreneur, your ability to out-learn and out-pace the competition is one of your main competitive advantages.

The right mentor, the right article or the right book at the right time can make the difference between capitalizing on a great opportunity or not.

Here are 15 books I wish I’d read before my first startup:

  1. Behind the Cloud – Marc Benioff
    The founder of Salesforce helped create SaaS and the Cloud as we know it. Not only is Behind the Cloud a great book on guerilla marketing and B2B, it’s also really entertaining.
  2. Blue Ocean Strategy – W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
    A great book on positioning, Blue Ocean Strategy introduced the concepts of « Red Oceans » for competitive markets and « Blue Oceans » for re-segmented markets.
  3. Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey Moore
    This is a must for B2B tech entrepreneurs. The ideas in Crossing the Chasm have been adopted by several entrepreneurial frameworks like The Lean Startup and Lean B2B.
  4. Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Steve Krug
    Certainly the most accessible and entertaining book on product usability out there. A good read with enough depth to help guide quite a few important product decisions.
  5. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days – Jessica Livingston
    Interviews with some of the leading tech entrepreneurs written by one of the co-founders of Y-Combinator. Inspiring.
  6. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products – Nir Eyal, Ryan Hoover
    The book you want to read if you’re working on product engagement. Nir Eyal came up with the best definition for the habit-forming « Hooks » in most popular products. The ‘Trigger » Action » Variable Reward » Investment’ loop is an important idea for product design.
  7. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini
    As much as Influence is a great book for sales, it’s also a great book for negotiation, marketing and any other kind of customer interaction. Influence is an important book.
  8. The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
    The book that changed the way startups are built (and kick-started the Lean Startup movement). Unless you’re planning to go old-school and read Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System, this is the first book you should read on « Lean ».
  9. Lean Analytics – Alistair Croll, Benjamin Yoskovitz
    A great complement to The Lean Startup, Lean Analytics has brought us the idea of The One Metric That Matters, a key analytics concept for anyone interested in scaling a tech startup.
  10. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip Heath, Dan Heath
    A book on virality, but also communications. How do we communicate ideas simply to create word of mouth? Well-worth reading if you haven’t.
  11. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions – Dan Ariely
    Fascinating book on social experiments that can be leveraged for marketing purpose. This book will teach you a lot.
  12. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    A « Black Swan » is an unexpected outcome that changes our definition of what is plausible. Although this book is not the easiest to read, it will help you understand probabilities, the laws of the market and venture capitalists. Well-worth the effort.
  13. The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clay M. Christensen
    A book on disruptions, incumbents and finding opportunities for new products. You’ve certainly heard of the milkshake story from this book.
  14. The White Tiger: A Novel – Aravind Adiga
    As the title says, this book is a novel. Through a series of letters written to the Chinese prime minister, we discover a fascinating Indian entrepreneur. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s worth reading.
  15. Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers – Gabriel Weinberg, Justin Mares
    Although Traction is a little thin on tactical marketing insights, its framework is a great way to challenge your marketing channel assumptions and find the right marketing strategy for your business.

How about you? What are your must-read books for B2B entrepreneurs?

I hope you find as much value reading these books as I have.