Suppose you’ve signed up a few early adopters as customers. You’re starting to get a sense of who your ideal customer should be. You want to expand and land more customers. How do you know who to reach out to?
The first thing to do is to figure out what budget is paying for your solution.
In B2B, budgets are rarely created. Departments get a certain amount of money at the beginning of the year and they’re accountable for maximizing their investment.
Experiment 27 CEO Alex Berman shares two great ways to find the exact roles or titles to contact in businesses. I added a third one below.
LinkedIn Jobs: If your solution replaces Sharepoint or can be a complement to Sharepoint (example), you can use LinkedIn Jobs to find companies using Sharepoint (list here). Once you know which organizations recruit for ‘Sharepoint’, you can look at the titles of the people within the target organizations with those expertises (see Alex’s example for Visa).
Technology Lookup Tools:Datanyze and BuiltWith allow you to search companies by tech stacks. For example, if your product works best with Google Analytics, you could use these tools to create lead lists. Combined with LinkedIn, you can pinpoint the exact roles and titles you’re looking for.
Annual Reports: You can find out which public companies work with new vendors and what they purchase by looking at their annual reports. These reports are publicly available (See Constant Contact’s Annual Report). They can help you figure out which companies have an “early adopter” mindset (i.e. purchase early / new tools).
In the video, Alex also talks about why founders are the best point person for companies under 100 employees and why director-level make the best entry points for organizations between 100 to 250 people.
Meeting with early adopters to validate any kind of product is intrinsically linked with sales and following up. If you can’t get a meeting, you can’t validate your product let alone understand what problem you should be solving.
But, what if early adopters don’t respond when you reach out? Do you follow up? What do you tell them? How long do you keep going?
If you can’t get in touch with early adopters, you can’t validate your business. Landing the meeting is a critical skill for entrepreneurs. It’s something I always try to get better at.
I got a lot from the book. Here are a few highlights:
It’s when everyone else stops running, and you’re the only person still in the race. It doesn’t matter how slow you run—you are going to win because everybody else stopped running.-> The #1 skill for entrepreneurs is perseverance. Slow and steady wins the race.
If you already had some kind of interaction and that interaction was not a clear, definite NO, then follow up as long as it takes to get a response. Never stop till you get a response.-> “Maybes” kill startups. You have limited runway, you need to operate with a sense of urgency and get to Yes (or No).
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.-> You need the right mindset to make follow-ups work for you.
Don’t guilt the other person, even if they don’t immediately respond.-> Don’t let your emotions get in the way of creating successful customer relationships.
Eliminate their guilt by making it clear to them that you don’t harbor any bad will towards them for not replying to your previous emails. Your #1 job is to make people feel comfortable responding.-> You’re building a relationship. It cant start with guilt.
If you’ve never met the other person before, don’t follow up more than six times.-> Sales rarely close on first interaction. It’s the same for any kind of reachout.
Followups: For a positive outcome: Email, For a quick response: Phone, For the quickest response: In person.-> Set aggressive deadlines. Switch communication method if you have to.
Your current results in life are an indicator of your past hustle. Everything that’s going on right now in our business is the result of the work we did months or even years ago.-> Business is a cumulative process. You need to put in the work and hustle.
I’m not generally a fan of ebooks, but The Follow-Up Formula is worth reading.
A great value proposition is compelling, quantifiable, provable, referencable and easily explainable. Although your value proposition might not be all of this when you start, it’s one thing you should always be refining.
There are two types of benefits that can usually be attributed to a value proposition:
Soft benefits can’t be quantified. They’re harder to sell because customers must have experienced the pain before to realize how important it really is. Examples of soft benefits are ‘increasing employee happiness,’ ‘improving the user experience’ or ‘providing better service.’ If an entrepreneur can quantify a soft benefit, it can be turned into a hard benefit.
Hard benefits can be quantified and lead to a clear ROI. They are the easiest to sell because there’s a built-in way to calculate the value (it’s predictable). Examples of hard benefits are ‘increased conversion,’ ‘increased sales’ and ‘cost reduction.’ Hard benefits are the most attractive to B2B buyers.
In B2B customer development, you want to start with a broad definition of the problem, a problem widespread enough to attract several early adopters. It has to be a problem prospects are already passionate about, something on their radar (You can use value proposition hypotheses to explore opportunities).
A broadly defined problem has a higher likelihood of getting people excited. Prospects will build their own perceptions of the problem and invent the product in their minds.
Your value proposition should tell them: “We’re obsessed with this problem too,” and communicate the urgency of the problem.
For (target customers) who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative). Our product is a (new product category) that provides (key problem-solving capability). Unlike (the product alternative), our product (describe the key product features).
To get a great value proposition, you need to test it out into the wild. Making revisions as you contact prospects is the only way to make it truly connect with prospects.
One of the big reasons why these entrepreneurs became successful is that they were able to move on when their businesses didn’t work out.
Most of the entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed for Lean B2B did not use a formal Product-Market validation process; they developed their own system. Sometimes that system was inspired by the available literature and other times it was wholly made up.
The consistent theme among successful B2B entrepreneurs is that they understood the importance of customer insights. They never stopped listening, testing and adapting. The market changes and so should they.
You do this enough times and you learn that even the most seasoned of us really don’t know. You’re constantly learning. You can sit down with any entrepreneur in the Valley and, no matter how successful they are, they will tell you about the failures. They will tell you about the 90% of the things that they did that didn’t work at all. – Ranjith Kumaran, PunchTab Co-Founder
Deep customer understanding is an incredible barrier to entry. As a startup founder, your ability to understand the market gaps and react accordingly will be one of your strongest competitive advantages.
It was another busy year for the Lean B2B community. Lots of innovation, learnings and a new game. The community grew significantly and will soon expand into Vietnam and South Korea with the release of Korean and Vietnamese-language versions of the book.
Here are the top Lean B2B posts of 2016. It’s an opportunity to re-read favourites and catch up on some reading. Thanks for being part of the community.