Introducing the Lean B2B Course

I’ve been thinking about creating a 2nd edition of Lean B2B for years.

The content’s there. The learnings are there. But I’ve been afraid of breaking it; breaking something that’s already working.

I think I came up with a solution.

Today marks the launch of the Lean B2B Course; 5 hours of high-quality video lessons expanding on the content of the book.

The course dives deeper into ways to manage runway, find early adopters, connect with decision-makers, conduct interviews, and reach product-market fit. The complete course structure is available below.

It also includes battle-tested worksheets and templates, and access to the all-new Monthly Virtual Office Hours. You can check out the Lean B2B Course right here.

The Lean B2B Course Content

It’s a lot of content, but you can complete it at your own pace. Just dive in whenever you have time!

  1. Introduction
  2. Why B2B?
  3. What Makes B2B Different?
  4. How Much Time Do I Need?
  5. Do I Need to Quit My Job?
  6. Where It Starts
  7. Choosing a Market
  8. Finding Problems and Opportunities that Matter
  9. How to Find Early Adopters
  10. How to Identify Early Advocates
  11. Selecting Early Adopters
  12. Leveraging Domain Credibility & Visibility
  13. Contacting Early Adopters
  14. How to Get Customer Interviews with Cold Emails
  15. Why Interviews?
  16. The Code of Conduct for Customer Interviews
  17. Customer Discovery Interview Questions
  18. Conducting Problem Interviews
  19. Analyzing the Results
  20. Problem-Solution Fit
  21. Creating a Minimum Viable Product
  22. Mapping the Buying Influencers
  23. Preparing Your Pitch
  24. Reengaging Prospects
  25. Conducting Solution Interviews
  26. How to Deal With Your First Purchase
  27. What to Do if the Prospect Doesn’t Buy?
  28. Product-Market Fit
  29. To Pivot or Not to Pivot?
  30. What Happened With the Business?
  31. Common Challenges
  32. Speeding up Product-Market Validation
  33. Conclusion

How to Get Customer Interviews with Cold Emails

You managed to find early adopters for your startup, now what?

You can use the good ol’ telephone to reach out, connect via InMail (LinkedIn), direct messages (Twitter) or through Quora’s messaging system, but chances are, email will be your best bet.

Depending on how much research you do, the quality of your email template and the industry you target, you may be able to convert as many as 30% of your cold emails into interviews. To help you achieve those results, I created the following guide.

Here’s How I Get Customer Interviews with Cold Emails:

Step 1: Get their Email Addresses

Gone are the days trying to guess email patterns on Google. With dozens of tools at your disposal, finding email addresses shouldn’t be a challenge anymore.

Among the tools available, I strongly recommend Clearbit Connect. Not only is it a nice alternative to LinkedIn, it’s fast, accurate (97% accuracy according to YesWare research), and gives you 100 free credits per email account. Think about that last point a bit. ;-)

Here’s how I use Clearbit Connect to find email addresses:

Step 2: Research the Prospects

This is where you’ll spend most of your time.

You need to personalize your emails in order to establish rapport. To do that, you’ll have to spend time researching prospects one by one. You can’t skip this step; it’s what separates your emails from the spammers’.

At a minimum, you’ll want to add the prospect’s first name and make it visible from the ledger (see image below).

Get Customer Interviews with Cold Emails - Email Ledgers

You’ll also want to add a personal note showing that you’ve done your research. Here are a few things you can comment on ranked by the order of what seems to work best:

  1. Personal success (job promotion, award, achievement, etc)
  2. Company news (related to them, their work function or a significant company achievement)
  3. A shared experience, acquaintance, hobby or interest (ideally, not something about work)
  4. Recent posts (on LinkedIn, Medium or on their blog)
  5. Recent LinkedIn or Twitter updates

You can decide to add more personalization, but don’t overdo it. According to research by the team at Growbots, personalization follows a law of diminishing return. In other words, adding more personalization doesn’t necessarily increase response rate; it can actually make your emails feel creepy.

Once you’ve found your style, you can decide to outsource some of the research to workers on Upwork or Fiverr.

Step 3: Write the Email

Nailing the email script makes a huge difference in your response rate. You have to be humble and remember that you need their help. To be successful, keep in mind:

  • It’s about them – You need to speak to their ego and make them feel smart and esteemed. It’s about their expertise and interests and it’s on their terms. Use compliments. Make the interaction as positive as possible.
  • Their time is important – It has to sound like it’s a short meeting. Twenty minutes is all you need. Any longer than that and you’re wasting their time.
  • You’re not selling – You have to build a relationship before you attempt to sell anything. Be informal, helpful and easy-going. Formal emails create doubts in the prospect’s mind.
  • It’s got to connect – The more certainty you have that the problem is – or was at some point – on their radar, the more likely you are to get a reply. You want to give them a reason why spending 20 minutes with you will be worth their time. It has to feel like you’re going to be of value to them.

To start, use a broadly defined problem. A looser problem in the subject line and in the email copy has a higher likelihood of getting people excited. Prospects will build their own perceptions of the problem and invent the product in their minds.

Here’s a sample script I’ve used before:

Subject: International growth

Hi Max,

I enjoyed your 2-part series on employee retention. I had tried to find a job with startups in Hong Kong when I was living there and I know it’s not easy.

I’m contacting you because I have a software company trying to improve how businesses expand internationally.

I’m not looking to sell anything, but since you have so much expertise with international growth, I’d love to get your input to make sure we don’t build the wrong thing.

Can I schedule a quick call with you next week? Monday or Tuesday perhaps?

Let me know, thank you.


Keep it short. Make it easy to respond to.

Step 4: Send the Emails

You can decide to send all emails manually, but that’s a lot of work, and it’s not very value-added work (you have better things to do!). In the past, I’ve used Mailchimp, but without a paid subscription, it’s very hard to send truly plain emails.

I discovered Streak through Alex Berman, who knows a lot more about cold emailing than I do.

Basically, Streak is a CRM that sits inside Gmail. It allows you to send mass personalized emails, manage pipelines, track replies, send followups and schedule email delivery from your inbox.

Here’s how I use it to send emails:

Before hitting send, I recommend setting up a new email account. Some of your emails might get marked as spam. The last thing you want is to have your main email account in the spam folder. It happened to me before, and it can be quite painful.

Schedule your emails carefully. Ask yourself: where are my prospects located? At what time do they get up? Go to work? When are they likely to have time to look at my email?

Start slow, don’t send too many emails (you need time to reply), make revisions to your script, and followup.

Getting customer interviews with cold emails is a learning process. Start from the top and practice.

More on Cold Emails:

How to Find Good Business Ideas in B2B

It’s hard to find good business ideas in B2B. You want an opportunity you can execute on, a problem you can be passionate about and that, over time, can lead to a sustainable competitive advantage. It’s not a decision you want to rush.

To help you, I put together a list of 5 ways to find good business ideas:

  1. Go on a Listening Tour

  2. I’ve already talked about how you can find business ideas in your work, but let me push that idea a bit further:

    One thing that’s often overlooked is that, Excel is the most-widespread programming language in the world. In many businesses, people have built extremely sophisticated Excel models. Those spreadsheets are often central to business operations, and that’s a liability for companies.

    Excel spreadsheets are often expressions of needs. Especially if they’re shared across departments and/or consumed daily or weekly. Seek out Excel documents in your work. Talk to users. Understand the real needs. Find other businesses with similar challenges. Take it from there.

  3. Go on a Safari

  4. Entrepreneur Amy Hoy recommends going on a Sales Safari seeking expressed problems in discussions on the Internet.

    The idea is that if you go through forums, communities, Quora questions, LinkedIn / Facebook groups, Reddit threads, blog comments, open customer service websites or competitor support forums, you can find needs and problems. Here’s one I found on GrowthHackers:

    Find Good Business Ideas - Expressed Problems

    The more pain (E.g. ??), the better. Here’s Amy explaining the technique.

  5. Dive Deep Into Your Unique Knowledge

  6. In a previous post, we talked about how the best business opportunities are a combination of domain expertise (functional or industry expertise), solution expertise and passion.

    What do you know better than anyone else? What did you learn in your previous work that you could now leverage? What expertise have you been building?

    Good to Great Author Jim Collins created the Hedgehog Concept to help entrepreneurs find their focus. To Collins, that focus lies at the intersection of what you’re passionate about, what you can get paid for and what you can be uniquely good at. It’s a great concept. Try it out, what’s your business Hedgehog?

    Find Good Business Ideas Hedgehog Concept

  7. Seek Out Requests for Startups

  8. Investors spend their days thinking about what businesses they’d like to fund. Why not reverse the search process and solve a problem they’re already looking at?

    By going through investors’ social media accounts or personal blogs, you can find nuggets like this one and that one. If that’s not enough, Y Combinator has put together a list of startups they’d like to see. This approach should help with securing financing for your business. :-)

  9. Do Series of Customer Interviews

  10. By far my favourite approach, but also the approach covered in Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want, customer interviews allow you to systematically explore industries, tasks, job types, or even market competitors.

    Start with a series of divergent problem interviews. Explore broadly. When you hone in on an opportunity, conduct problem interviews with early adopters to better understand the problem space.

There’s a lot of ways to find good business ideas in B2B. To increase your certainty, you’ll probably want to combine one or two of these approaches. Business ideas may be everywhere, but good business ideas are hard to find.

The New Year is a great time to get started with your search!

21 Lessons Entrepreneurs Need to Learn to Make Their Business Successful

If Startup = Growth then Entrepreneurship = Self-Growth.

As businesses scale, grow and mature, their founders need to grow and adapt their skillsets.

The skills and knowledge that got them to product-market fit, won’t necessarily get them through scale and beyond.

To keep up and stay ahead of the game, entrepreneurs need to constantly be learning. There’s going to be thousands of lessons along the way, but here are 21 I feel are key to ensuring business success:

  1. Your most valuable asset is your network:
  2. Use your professional network. Ultimately, it’s your best asset.

  3. You need to hustle:
  4. Silence is not rejection. If someone doesn’t respond to my calls or emails, I simply assume that they are busy and that I need to follow up until they have a moment to respond. — Steli Efti, CEO

  5. Advisors are not real victories. Funding is not necessarily progress. Keep your eyes on the real prize:
  6. The only things that matter early on are product-market fit and not running out of cash. — Fred Lalonde, Hopper CEO

  7. Shorten the time to product launch:
  8. If you don’t have a product, you don’t have a business. — Tara Hunt, Truly Social Founder & CEO

  9. Be lean:
  10. Details only matter when they can have an impact on real people. — Flagback

  11. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel:
  12. New business opportunities can come from changing just 5% of an existing product. — François Lane, Cakemail CEO

  13. It doesn’t have to be complicated:
  14. Complex ideas are almost always a sign of muddled thinking or a made up problem. — Sam Altman, Y Combinator CEO

  15. Good partners are worth the equity:
  16. It’s better to have 50% of a big thing than 100% of nothing.

  17. Promotion matters:
  18. 90% of startups over-promise. — SaaStr Conference Panelist

  19. Retention matters:
  20. Don’t sell people a one-time thing. Make sure you always have recurrence. — Bill Aulet, Author & Entrepreneur

  21. Technology won’t be your competitive advantage:
  22. As a small business, your ability to hustle is your competitive advantage. — Ken Morse, MIT Entrepreneurship Centre Founder

  23. You need to solve a real problem:
  24. It’s really hard to bring something to market without an initial pull like an already-addressed market need or an important problem.

  25. You need to build a machine:
  26. If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die. — Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO

  27. The CEO needs to focus on the magic:
  28. You can do everything in a startup, but doing everything will prevent you from being strategic with your actions. — Jean-Philippe Gousse, Product Advisor

  29. You can easily be led on by customers:
  30. “Interesting” is a distraction. Watch out. — HireVoice

  31. Company culture can easily break down:
  32. Every single person you bring on in the early days changes your culture, in a good or bad way. — Moritz Plassnig, Codeship Founder

  33. Not everyone is worth your time:
  34. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers. — Tim Ferriss, Author & Entrepreneur

  35. You need to make money:
  36. Don’t try to start something if you don’t know how you’ll make money. — François Lane, Cakemail CEO

  37. You can charge more than you think:
  38. The fully-loaded cost of the lowest-paid employee is $4000 per month. At a minimum, your pricing should use that as basis. — Patrick McKenzie, Serial Entrepreneur

  39. It’s very hard to avoid services:
  40. The moment one customer pays you a lot more than any other customer, you’re no longer a product company, you’re a services/consulting company. — Jason Fried, Basecamp CEO & Founder

  41. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come:
  42. The hardest part of any business is the marketing/sales cycle, not building the thing. — Martin-Luc Archambault, AmpMe CEO

Anything missing? What other realizations do you think entrepreneurs need to have to make their businesses successful? Tweet at @LeanB2B

How to Find B2B Business Ideas in Your Workplace

I often meet aspiring entrepreneurs working for a company looking for the right idea in order to launch their business.

What they don’t know, is that they’re probably already aware of the problem their startup should be solving; they just haven’t figured it out.

The experience and expertise you have is a great starting point to help identify market opportunities.

To find ideas, you need to find problems. And problems are everywhere in your workplace.

Here’s a little framework I’ve used to make the good ideas come out:

Starting today, every time you begin a sentence with:

  • Why can’t this…
  • How come this won’t…
  • Couldn’t this…
  • If only this…
  • Or any variation of this.

Write down the problem that follows. If nothing else, this will make you aware of the opportunities around you.

Here’s an example from my past work to get you started:

Sending one-question surveys via email is painful.

Once your list starts to grow, take a few minutes to score each problem on the following:

  • How painful is the problem? – Is this an Hair-on-Fire problem or a Nice-to-Have?
  • How many people experience this problem?Are you the only person impacted or are all team members feeling the pain?
  • How much would a solution reduce the pain? – Would it be a 5% improvement or a 10X impact on the entire organization?
  • Is status quo an option? – Can the organization live with the pain caused by this problem?
  • Would my boss allow the purchase of this solution? – Would there be budget available if I were to solve this problem?

Your ranking could look something like this:

Problem Pain People Impact Status Quo Budget
Sending one-question surveys via email is painful. Low 1 to 5 Low Yes No

Problems worth solving are typically invisible from the outside. By being stationed in the organization in a position to observe the way people work around problems, you get privileged access to business opportunities.

If you can find a problem that checks all the boxes, you might be able to turn a job into a B2B business opportunity.

Best of all, if you end up solving your own problem, you’ll have unique insights into the problem and possibly be passionate about solving it.

Try this out for a few weeks and see what comes of it. If you’re feeling wild, you can decide to include problems shared by other team members as well.

This will give you a broader view of the full problem set.