B2B Sales & Marketing Fundamentals
The 1 Line Description
When to use it
This doc is meant to be a guideline, to help founders & marketers looking to go the B2B route with an idea of what it takes to potentially set up a growth machine. It is sprinkled with links that will exemplify/delve into certain issues in more detail - if you’d like more, let me know and I’ll look for something I deem to be valuable.
Please leave thoughts/objections as comments on this doc and I will reply.
The phases below will overlap.
Phase 1 - Initial validation
Figure out your key value props.
What problems are you solving? Articulate it in the clearest way possible.
How many other solutions exist in this space - list them out and suggest % overlap.
[Don’t stop till you have at least 5/6 - it may not be even 40-50% overlap, but there will be other solutions]
Find the target audience for whom this is a problem
Ask friends/colleagues/acquaintances who work in the profession for their opinion:
- Is this really a problem?
- How do they currently overcome it?
- How amenable are they to using your improved solution?
- Do they understand the key differentiation?
If there is a fit, offer the solution 1:1 to potential buyers and see what they say
- Use networks to get intros
- Go to events and find the right people
- At this stage, build just a landing page and bring all the assets that convey your value proposition into it. This is mainly as a way to supplement/re-inforce what you’ve said in a direct conversation
- Use LI + Snov.io to find people’s email addresses and pray they have the bandwidth to a) hear you out and b) trial your solution. Full description of this method here.
Except in rare cases, this is not the time to hope for automated sales yet. Just make sure your onboarding process is not a bad UX, and expect to walk many of your first leads/clients through it one by one.
Once you have people who are willing to pay for your solution decide if you are ready to grow or need to pivot? Regardless of this decision, always remember, proposition market fit is an iterative process, not a binary state.
If it’s the latter, see if you can build onto the existing prototype and roll out features that tie to specific sales pitches/sprints cycle. This will teach you lots about your key features, sales pitches and market segments.
A word of caution here: this A16z podcast speaks to how having multiple products as a mea ns to try and get to product market fit is fraught with dangers.
Get as many of your early users as possible to leave you reviews, prioritizing the forums (Google/Facebook/G2/Capterra) where your competitors have most of their reviews (unless you’re likely to pivot away from the current focus, in which case just get them to give you a 5 star rating in Google).
Phase 2 - Growth
Is the product at a level where you and all your employees would share it with their friends? Genuinely?
Now start building a full website. Think of it like a storefront - what messages would you like everyone coming in to see/take on board? How can you lead them from product discovery to having a conversation around the product so they buy from you?
About Us, Social proof, any industry certifications you can get will all greatly help. Even if you can’t mention your users explicitly, tease the audience with ‘a large player in the __ industry’ has used us to increase __/decrease __ by __.
Keep your lead form simple, asking as few questions as possible - remember in the early days you are happy for almost any lead that comes in. You can quickly add more questions and hence qualification criteria at a later date.
Check your social media presence. Use things like product hunt, industry magazines, bloggers to get some social proof and push them hard on your social media.
List out all relevant channels and prioritize
In the early days your key aim is to drive new leads (sign ups). Then you will either engage with them over calls/emails/events to help them actually start using their product.
The CEO/product/marketing person are all eligible to take these early calls/meetings and the aim should be to not just do a traditional ‘demo’ but to actually onboard and get the lead to interact with your product - for instance, log in, put in some basic company data, and do step 1 of what will become your onboarding journey.
If you’re going down the channel partnerships (including the currently trendy B2B2C route) is the re-seller equipped with marketing assets to educate their users about your product, and the sales force to deliver it? It’s harder than you think.
A framework based on ease of deployment, potential cost effectiveness, and target market coverage will help with prioritizing the first few channels you should try.
- AdWords is a great way to test new messages (but comes with lots of options so try and get some help with the early set up) and of course it is generally targeting people
- Facebook does work for B2B and can provide targeted audiences for a much cheaper cost than LI. But getting cut through can be hard
- LI is probably the most targeted option - use it to engage with people who’ve either already shown an interest or one-offs to trial things
- Email marketing is still your friend - either bought lists or lists put together in house
- Leverage events - but not by paying to get a stand at them; just to find relevant people to contact and/or walk around and meet them!
Except in rare circumstances, you’re probably going to need to use multiple channels as the B2B sale is almost always a multi-touchpoint journey and the more channels you have, the more likely you are to engage the customer at the right time.
All of this needs to be backed by good content
In the first instance, write any sort of content that establishes credibility - from pieces based on insights you have from your understanding of the industry (after all you’ve done research recently), to how your solution solves a problem (try not to be overly salesy) and/or how a early user has used it to great success.
Focus on this rather than SEO focused content as this will help drive initial sales. Rely on the channels mentioned above and/or any other influencers you can tap into, to promote your content too - do not just post to your blog and leave it. At the very least syndicate to LinkedIn Pulse where most of your network will get a notification. Ideally, syndicate to LI and one other blogger/Medium, distribute via emails and social media.
Track as much as possible
Definitely have Analytics installed, with the Re-marketing tagging enabled.
Except in rare circumstances, you’re going to outgrow Spreadsheets quickly so it may be good to get onto a CRM system up and running. Since B2B sales almost always involve multiple steps to sale (spread across, days in the best case, or months in the worse cases), you’ll need something to keep track of where your leads are and how to pursue them
- At the light end, Streak/Mixmax sit in your inbox and can be used to track pipelines
- Hubspot and Zoho have free options and then (expensive) modular functionality
- Autopilot is a more advanced option that starts out quite cheap
- SalesForce are the big dogs and really only relevant when you are starting to think about deep integrations with your product data and/or customer management functionality
When you’re collecting inbound leads - on your site, at events, on lead forms, on social media - insist on company emails only (do not accept GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo in the domain name). Most CRMs provide this functionality easily. The trade off can be that you then don’t ask for the company name separately, and extract this yourself (at least think about making the company question non-mandatory).
Here’s a sample guide on how one B2B company uses Hubspot as both its Marketing & Sales CRM.
Phase 3 - Retention/Automated Activation
If your users pay monthly/quarterly as opposed to yearly, your next challenge beyond the initial acquisition is to drive retention.
While this is another challenge, it gives you a great opportunity to touch base with clients, learn about pain points, check how sticky your product is and get to perhaps the most important metric that you want to learn - average lifetime value for your customer.
Retention comes down to two things:
- Providing a good service while they’re using you.
A part of this is also making the product so sticky, it becomes indispensable
If you’ve nailed this, you may not to put much effort into 2 (but are you really retaining 100%?). Then your challenge is to get them to give you good reviews and build case studies.
- Getting in touch with the user as they are at the end of the product use cycle. This is much easier at the quarterly, 6-monthly or annual timeline of course, and almost always much easier if you’ve had a good CRM in place and are using it well.
In the early days, having an established (power?) users is very valuable, so do what it takes to retain them! This is like going back to Phase 1 - if feasible even offer the product free in exchange for deep user feedback (a focus group say?) or a case study (if they are the saying the right things that will attract others in their industry).
Now’s when you can dream of the B2B/SaaS utopia of automated sales.
Produce the content (videos, help guides, FAQs, free trial?) that will encourage people to sign up and get going with minimal fuss. Once again, everything you produce should be distributed again some other way too.
If not all your customers, is there a segment you can start to encourage to self-serve?
Segment and standardize - start somewhere, even if the first few leads you push through this funnel do need to be spoken to as well and/or the initial UX is not ideal.
All time savings from reduction in the amount of hand-holding should be re-invested into produce a better and better on-boarding experience and overall UX.
Phase 4 - Channel Optimization & Scaling
At this stage, you have (some) product market fit, some paying customers and possibly some retained customers (paid at least twice) - Hooray! But now the hard work begins.
Now your decisions should be more data/aggregate knowledge driven rather than intuitive or based on a few anecdotal data points.
To start with, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your best channels to drive leads? Quantitatively & Qualitatively?
- Is there a channel/message that works well to go from lead to sales qualified (SQL)?
- What content is pushing people in the bottom part of the funnel (SQL to closed won)?
- What content/medium is helping to drive engagement while people are using the product?
- Is there a particular channel that’s helping to avoid churn?
Even if you have been tracking reasonably well using Analytics and/or a CRM (that also tracks inbound lead sources) you may not have concrete answers to the above, but a good sense. Don’t worry, this is pretty normal! Just get the marketing, sales, SMT to come to a consensus on as many of the answers as possible.
Now look to optimize and scale your use of the channels aligned which each. Attack the segment of the funnel where you see the highest drop off rate first because this is where your work will see the most impact.
Do this by setting up hypothesis tests like:
By sending 3 more emails out in week 2 of usage, week 1 drop offs will reduce by 30%.
- average open rate of 20% across the 3 emails
- average CTR of 3%
- 1% unsubscribe
By calling everyone that is in their final week of paid usage, we can reduce churn on the previous relevant cohort by 30%
- 15% of those called will engage in some way
- 10% will provide valuable feedback
- 5% will commit to staying on and pay within the week
Beyond the above, look to improve 2-3 acquisition channels, particular the ones that are driving you leads that are the most ideal fit. Focus on trying new channels next, unless a very timely opportunity like the ideal event, something topical or a new feature opens up that is well suited to your business model.
- A popup that says ‘find out if you are eligible for a discount/free trial?’ will probably help drive a conversation at the very least. If it’s someone from a new customer segment, perhaps give them the discount they need!
- ‘Sticky bars’ that 1) show how far one has read an article and 2) show a CTA (that remains on-screen all the time) are good ways to build your mailing list, but only deploy this if you’re ready to do email nurturing and engage users in that way.
- Don’t underestimate the impact that sending something physical can have, in this the digital age. But it takes a lot of organisation (finding the appropriate mailing address for your intended target etc.), so perhaps save this for when someone is onboarded/a power user. And pray that they get it and at the very least tell their colleagues about it, or ideally post it on social media.
- If you have the resources to plan, invite and host a launch event, especially one that leverages your product in some way, go for it! But if some sort of product demo/reference does not fit well, don’t bother with it.
- Keep adding your lists to AdWords/FB custom audience lists as a way to improve your targeting on those platforms.