Although The Lean Startup methodology works really well, the book’s near-exclusive focus on consumer startups like IMVU, Zappos, Dropbox, and Grockit has led many big-ticket B2B entrepreneurs to misinterpret its lessons.
The Challenges of Applying The Lean Startup in B2B
While the core principles of The Lean Startup apply just as well to B2B (the goal is to reduce waste), the techniques used are very different. In B2B, you’re building fewer relationships, and thus can’t change the product overnight.
In B2B, you seek more proximity with customers. The more proximity you have, the more likely you are to succeed (Read: Moving in With Customers).
Although analytics will be part of your validation process later, they play a lesser role in the early days of a B2B startup. B2B validation is more relational.
Clients should be perceived as coworkers and not just customers. They should have the same goals as your business. – Don Charlton, The Resumator Founder and CEO
Sales cycles are long, products are complicated, and many stakeholders need to get involved for a sale to happen. Business customers have their own resources, agenda, culture and approval processes. It’s crucial to learn how to build relationships.
The Lean Startup, at its core, is about innovation, not relationships. It does not capture the intricacies of creating mutually-beneficial partnerships with business stakeholders.
There is a limited number of prospects for your business and an even smaller number of early adopters. If you don’t establish real mutually-beneficial relationships with prospects, you run the risk of losing customers and reputation.
A half-baked B2B product shown to a few “early adopter realtors” runs the risk of 1.) Losing that potential customer forever as it would be much more difficult to get in the door again, or 2.) Irreversible reputational loss in Boston (example) if the customer landscape is a tight and chatty one. – Oliver Jay, Launching Tech Ventures
Applying The Lean Startup in B2B
With my previous startup, HireVoice, we burned a lot of contacts and early adopters by changing products too often.
Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup is a philosophy and a mindset. It transformed the way marketers and developers bring new technology to market, but it does not tell you how to adapt the principles to complex B2B sales. There’s a gap to be filled.
Applying the Lean Startup techniques in B2B without understanding what makes B2B different and unique can really hurt your startup. Make sure you focus on the principles and not the techniques. Chances are, B2C techniques won’t work for your B2B startup.
More on The Lean Startup Techniques in B2B
- What Makes B2C and B2B Startups So Different?
- This is Why I Wrote Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want
- Want to Build Products Businesses Buy? Introducing the Lean B2B Course
⚡⚡ Enjoyed this content? I go into way more detail on this subject in Lean B2B. It covers the ins and outs of finding traction in the market for B2B products. Check it out »
Download the First 6 Chapters for Free
This sampler covers the differences between B2B and Business-to-Customer (B2C) product-market validation, shows you how to define your vision for success, find early adopters, select market opportunities and assess a venture's risk. Download The First 6 Chapters Today »