Every B2B founder thinks their value prop is awesome. Until they start talking to prospects.
With apologies to boxing champ Mike Tyson who famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” the same premise applies to seed and series A stage founders who put their artfully-constructed, obsessively-edited messaging in front of their dream prospect.
“Yeah, we already have a solution for that. It’s called Excel.”
“That’s not a priority for us right now. And I’m not sure when it will be, if ever.”
“What does your product actually do?”
Those are just some of the most common reactions to B2B startup pitches. Based on the more than 2,000 customer interviews I’ve conducted, I’ve defined some of top reasons these reactions occur and how to prevent them:
Reason 1: Love Hurts. Typically, founders and startup teams fall too much in love with their own idea/solution when they really should be falling in love with the problem they’re solving.
- Solution: Learn as much as you humanly can about the challenges your target audience faces. (It always amazes me how many founders haven’t even Googled the problem they’re trying to solve.) Make sure you understand the challenges from their perspective, not through the lens of how your product solves them.
Reason 2: The Dyson Effect. The product was conceived in a vacuum, without enough independent critical thinking, research or customer discovery.
- Solution: As startup guru Steve Blank says, you have to “get outside the building,” or during pandemics, I’ll rephrase it: “Get outside your own Zoom room.” Find at least one or two dozen decision-makers who are in and around your target audience and probe their priorities, what their team needs to get better at in the next 90 days, and hardest part of their jobs (regardless of the problem you think you’re solving).
Reason 3: Overthinking It. Every B2B product has to ultimately help companies either grow revenue or reduce costs. You need to understand and be able to articulate the most direct connection between your product and one of those outcomes.
- Solution: Make sure to understand the prospective decision-maker’s bigger picture, including the challenges that are above or adjacent to the one you’re focused on. This will yield critical context so that you’re able to communicate not just, “why us,” but “why us now.”
Using these guidelines as a starting point, you’ll be able to develop a value proposition that your prospects love as much as you do.
Bob London, founder and CEO of Chief Listening Officers, a NEXT Partner, is a 20+ year marketing strategist who helps emerging B2B companies develop marketing strategies that start with learning the customer’s true perspective—what he refers to as discovering the customer’s Elevator Rant. Bob also serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Bob is a regular and passionate writer and speaker on the topic of listening to customers, and his work and writing have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, the Miami Herald, USA Today, Inc. Magazine and The Washington Business Journal.