Launching B2B products — 5 lessons I’ve learnt
1) Never forget that you are the product
B2B technology buyers are getting wiser by the year. Aside from a few true believers (who’ll buy whatever you ship) most clients aren’t going to buy your shiny new product if they don’t believe in you. Or put another way, you are the product so time to behave that way.
Start by presenting the best version of yourself during interactions with clients and your own Sales teams. A lot of that comes down to practice. Whether it’s rehearsing answering those awkward questions you know are coming, delivering your elevator pitch or articulating your differentiators. The repetition will mean when the pressure’s on you can rely on muscle memory and concentrate on your tone, your delivery and weaving in context.
Finally, whether you love or loathe the limelight you need to find a way to dial up the enthusiasm, toggle off self-doubt (and any lingering product-doubt) and wring out every last drop of charisma. There may only be one drop — no matter. The more you can project a warm, confident glow the better.
2) Don’t expect the Sales team to believe in your product
To give your new product the best chance of success you need to get in the trenches with Sales and sell it with them. So strap in and get ready for networking at conferences, the 9pm calls with a prospect in a different region, the steady stream of questions and the feedback you’ve heard a dozen times already. All that graft will pay off in the end.
Why? Because respect of the sales team is hard won but incredibly powerful. A Sales team that believes is an incredible amplifier of your message — it’s like hooking yourself up to dozens of megaphones all over the markets you sell into. In contrast, a Sales team that’s sceptical is like yelling into a vacuum. No matter how and how often you shout your message just won’t be heard.
So put in the hard yards with Sales, PreSales and Sales Development — it’s one of the best investments in your product you can make.
3) All market problems were not created equal
There’s a spectrum of market problems: from minor irritation to deep, nagging mission-blocking pain. B2B products that solve minor problems will at best have a low price point. Worst case they’ll struggle to sell at all because the opportunity cost (the other initiatives a client could pursue with those same resources) means potential clients prioritise spend elsewhere.
Hopefully it goes without saying but if you’re not certain that your market problem really is a problem just do that extra round of market validation. Realising a year or more into the product development that you’re just not solving a big meaty problem is not a happy place to be!
4) Don’t go fishing for whales
Now and again ‘landing a whale’ (winning a huge, supposedly game-changing deal) comes up in conversation. There’s normally a seemingly innocent caveat along the lines of “…if we can just tweak a few things”.
In my experience ‘whales’ often are game changers for new products (even more so than mature products) — just not in a good way. Lists of additional requirements grow and grow and inevitably they’re all mandatory. Before you know it your roadmap for the next 2 years is swamped with obscure asks and your tech stack is creaking. It gets worse from there as delivery problems emerge and in a flash those issues are escalated right to the top.
In other words, landing the whale begins to feels like a huge mistake. I’ve seen this play out several times at different companies and there’s always been the same outcome: an embarrassing climb down. In each case the promised ‘few tweaks’ were never delivered, the client got very angry and legal teams got involved.
If a big deal comes along that’s in your sweet spot by all means go for it. Just don’t be tempted to pivot your whole strategy and roadmap based on a whale’s funky requirements. Pushing back will inevitably generate comments like: “But it’s worth X million over 3 years” and “we can’t afford to walk away from this deal”. So resisting won’t be fun at the time but comfort yourself in the fact the good ship New Product will still be afloat a few years down the line.
5) It’s well worth managing internal expectations
It’s tempting to let that bubble of optimism around a new product inflate. After all it feels good to be the chosen one, the person who’s going to execute the next big thing for the company. Sometimes it even feels like optimism is a necessity. Perhaps you need a certain level of revenue in year 1 or year 2 to get the project funded at all. I get all that — I’ve been there and it’s hard to resist that pressure.
But in the long run you’ll be glad you kept a lid on expectations. If the product doesn’t fly off the shelves initially (which is normally the case) you’ll retain your credibility and hopefully have some breathing space to make the necessary improvements.