One of the reasons why I love B2B is that products with predictable and calculable ROI literally sell themselves. For a large company, buying a solution that saves $500,000 a month is a near no-brainer.
However, it’s not because your company helps save $6M a year that you can charge that amount. You have to align your pricing with the metrics businesses use and there’s only a part of the pie that you can get.
To overcome the “Status Quo Coefficient” and mitigate the risk of adopting new technology, your product should be at least two times faster, two times better and two times cheaper than the known alternatives.
Your solution must provide must-have value because, even if enterprise customers have good reasons to be unhappy with their technology vendors (due to lack of innovation, price gouging, poor support or other reasons), their daily activities run on those technologies.
You must reduce risk, provide exceptional value for each of your buying influencers and convince them of the urgency of fixing the problem. Risk — or the perception of risk — reduces the perceived value of your technology.
Convincing a company to change technology is hard. Training costs, inefficiency costs and risks must be factored in. For that reason, solutions that don’t disrupt business operations are the easiest to get adopted.
DJ Patil, Ex-VP of Product at RelateIQ (Acquired by Salesforce in 2014) coined the term “Zero Overhead Principle,” which states that no feature may add training costs to the user. Solutions that respect this principle are way easier to implement.
Put all the chances on your side. Increase perceived value and reduce risk to get a fair shot in the enterprise market.
If you’re small, admit that you’re small. You look small by acting big. People can see straight through that. – Chris Savage, Wistia Co-Founder and CEO
If you don’t have a PhD or haven’t been blogging on your target industry for the last five years, don’t worry; there are many other ways to build personal credibility.
Many types of accomplishments can be leveraged to gain credibility with prospects.
Perhaps you worked on major accounts or high-profile projects, perhaps you wrote a book or you’re an active member of the local community, or perhaps your contributions to open source are being used all over the internet.
Some of the entrepreneurs interviewed for the writing of Lean B2B are great examples to follow:
Ranjith Kumaran and Mehdi Ait Oufkir had built a very successful business together before starting PunchTab. The visibility of that startup, YouSendIt (now Hightail), gave them a lot of credibility with prospects.
Richard Aberman of WePay had traction in B2C before going B2B. His team capitalized on a high number of users. It proved that they could handle the scalability and usability of a product.
Laurent Maisonnave was a very active blogger and social media contributor before launching Seevibes, a social TV monitoring solution. Every single community manager working in television knew him or knew of him.
Ben Yoskovitz had been blogging about startups since 2006. In 2013, he co-wrote the book Lean Analytics. His thought leadership on startups and analytics now gives him instant credibility.
There are many ways to leverage your professional or extra-curricular accomplishments to establish credibility with prospects. It might require creativity, but you can always find an angle to give your startup great credibility.
Even if your product has a low startup fee — or if it’s completely free (freemium or free trial) — it has a cost.
Time is an investment. Training and implementation is always needed. Mobilizing a team to use a new solution is a risk.
The early risk for prospective buyers of a startup’s product is not financial; the career or reputation risk is more important. Managers put trust and credibility on the line to convince people to embrace a technology that might ultimately disappear.
Early prospects worry that your team is not going to perform or that the product might under-deliver. They want to be reassured that your solution will do what it’s expected to do.
Although the old adage in big business that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM was a creation of its marketing team, it holds some truth. No prospect will ever want to vouch for your solution at the cost of a promotion or, worst, a job.
Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your product and the implications of signing with you. Reduce the perception of risk, provide exceptional value and convince your buyer of the urgency of fixing the problem.
The last thing you want to sell is a career risk…
We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards. That becomes the touchstone for how we invent. – Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO
With my previous startup, HireVoice, we started with what we thought was a business problem. The problem we had identified as Human Resources outsiders was monitoring employer brand reputation. We just didn’t know whose problem that was.
Early on, we had to identify industries and stakeholders that could have this problem to validate their needs and the fit with our solution. Ultimately, this process proved to be backwards.
Starting from a problem made us try to match our problem — our view of the world — with target markets. Six months in the business, we realized that, although employer brand monitoring was a problem, it was not a major pain.
The day we decided to solve HR recruiters’ problems is the day we instantly became more relevant. It was easier to work from their problems than to come up with pains we thought they had.
One solution, many problems.
In my book, Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want, I recommend that entrepreneurs focus on the people and the market before creating any hypotheses around the problem or the solution.
By starting with people, entrepreneurs are much less likely to invent a problem and start with false assumptions than if they start with a solution or a problem.
Save yourself 6 months… Get out of the building and meet with your target market. B2B is people-first.
In every organization, you’ll find saboteurs actively trying to block sales.
A saboteur is an individual or team whose job feels threatened by new software or processes. The saboteur might be the business intelligence group inside IT or the CIO’s department which is currently trying to build its own solution.
Saboteurs often fear losing their influence, or worse, their jobs.
Entrepreneurs often face gatekeeper or saboteur problems when there’s strong interest for a solution, but a deal can’t seem to get signed.
For example, a contact inside the organization informs you that the technical buyer, the CFO’s office or another department is holding back the approval process, things are running in circles and everything seems to be about politics…
If you’re faced with this situation, work with your internal influencers to draft a list of departments and stakeholders that could be holding back the sale. Go through the list and put yourself in their shoes… What do they stand to lose? What do they want?
Meet with all gatekeepers or potential saboteurs one on one. Make them verbalize their concerns. If they’re unwilling to put it into words, you’ll know that the reason might be purely political. Try to increase their win and reduce their risk.
Meet again with your internal influencers. Reiterate the importance of your product’s Return on Investment (ROI) and the urgency to solve the pain. Try to motivate them to put pressure on the gatekeepers.
You must convince gatekeepers and saboteurs that you’re there to help. IT people are notorious for playing the role of saboteurs — try to avoid selling to IT if you can.