The only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than very good -- Seth Godin
Whether you are the founder of a B2B or a B2C business that has different approaches to functions such as marketing and customer acquisition, there are some inherent similarities in the temperament of all entrepreneurs when it comes to building a successful business: namely passion, grit, integrity, commitment and vision.
That being said, for B2B entrepreneurs, the list of specific traits needed to build and run a successful business in the long run starts to get more pronounced.
For every Freshdesk or Zoho that went on to make it big, we also have unknown players waiting in the wings, whose success story never got written. And it wasn’t necessarily for lack of effort on their part.
As someone who has been very closely associated with the NetApp Excellerator since its inception in 2017, I have had the opportunity of interacting with a large number of B2B entrepreneurs, as well as experts from the ecosystem. What I have observed is that irrespective of the sector that they are working in, there are some inherent factors needed to build a successful B2B business:
Differentiate your solution, ensure that it offers customers greater value
Enterprise customers tend to value products and solutions that are customised for them and help them generate greater value, and get ahead of others in the market. Often, they start to work on inhouse solutions to achieve these since they may have the means as well as the expertise to explore.
For smaller B2B startups that are working on enterprise products or solutions, it is essential that these be definitively better than what the corporates might already be working on themselves. Their MVP should be superior and solve a real issue or challenge that the enterprise may be facing, and be offered at a competitive price.
If successful in staying in sync with the market needs, the startups can continue to use the learnings to enhance the product / solution for future clients, and build a strong pipeline.
Build a decent runway in order to sustain yourself in the long run
Unlike their B2C counterparts, B2B companies have distinctly longer sales and revenue cycles. One of their key challenges is finding the best product market fit, and following that, customer acquisition is equally tough. Once these are in place, it could be a while before they actually start generating revenue. So it’s important for a B2B business to ensure that there’s an adequate runway in place, which will enable them to sustain themselves for a reasonable period.
Another reason for this, especially in the Indian context, is that there are not many VCs who are keen to fund unknown B2B businesses. While this scenario is improving day by day, for investors, the proof is still in the pudding, and they want see decent sales traction before they sign that much-anticipated cheque. In the interim, before sales start to pick up, and the companies become more interesting for investors, they need to be able to stand on their own. The ideal situation would be if your revenue stream can fund your growth, instead of you having to opt for external funding.
Conquer with in-depth knowledge of the space that you are operating in
As a corollary to the above point, B2B businesses that often have their money tied up elsewhere may not have the luxury of pivoting quickly, based on changing market needs or feedback from prospective clients. So it is essential for them to thoroughly research the space they are in beforehand, take the time to understand the market and get to know clients and their requirements extremely well.
For this, it is imperative that the core team members (if not the founders themselves) should have hands-on, in-depth knowledge of the industry, to ensure that the product / solution is on point.
A strong professional network is one of your best assets, use it well
It’s all about whom you know, and whom they know. Even if you are in the right place at the right time, unless you are with the right people, it may not be beneficial. So don’t underestimate the connections you build over the years, stay in touch with as many people as you can, and don’t miss any opportunity to network. You can never tell which contact or lead could translate into that crucial customer order that your business needs.
Finally, is there really a secret formula for success?
Ultimately, as we all know, success can be defined as a combination of multiple factors, including luck, talent, hard work, focus, and drive. Nevertheless, the aforementioned principles can help expedite the journey for B2B entrepreneurs on the road to success.
Applications are now open for the fourth cohort of the NetApp Excellerator for B2B startups.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)