In previous articles, we’ve discussed the importance of early validation, how it helps mitigate risk and how it can help you avoid spending time, money, and energy on offerings that don’t have a place in the market. In the case of B2C ventures, the process is challenging, but from an eagle-eye perspective, it’s pretty straightforward:
- List your assumptions
- Set up and run your experiments
- Gather your customer feedback
However, with B2Bs, the process requires a bit more finessing and creativity because, in most cases, your buyer isn’t your end-user. That changes some of your basic validation variables, making most canvases and techniques (e.g. Lean UX) unsuited without some tweaks and alterations. Sourcing the right B2B customers will also be a challenge compared to B2C customers because there’s fewer of them, and they’re harder to access.
The good news is that once you know the nuances that make validating a B2C and a B2B venture different, you’ll be better equipped to get answers to questions like:
- Can my B2B product or service sell?
- Can my B2B concept be profitable?
- Is it feasible to build and bring to the market?
- Does it align with the corporate strategy and ethics?
With that goal in mind, here are some of the key differences you should consider when validating a B2B venture.
Validating a B2B venture? Start with the assumptions.
If you already have some validation experience under your belt, you’ve probably already noticed that it’s not a one-size-fits-all endeavour. The trick is to identify which experiments best fit the assumptions you’re trying to prove. To do that, you’ll have to know what type of assumption it is.
Each of your assumptions will belong to one of these four categories:
- Desirability: Do customers need and enjoy this product?
- Feasibility: Do you have the operational capabilities to provide the product?
- Viability: Do you have a profitable and sustainable business model?
- Responsibility: Does the concept address social and ethical concerns?
Some experiments are better suited to test desirability, while others work best for feasibility, viability or responsibility.
Validating ‘desirability’ in a B2B venture
When validating the desirability of your B2B venture, there are two key factors you should keep in mind:
- B2B ventures often offer more tailored solutions than their B2C counterparts. This means that the value proposition can be less pigeonholed, leaning more towards the modular and case-specific side.
- B2B ventures can't be smoke tested like B2Cs because:
- Most B2B ads (e.g. Linkedin-based) aren’t cost-efficient at a lean validation scale.
- B2B buyers require more time to make purchasing decisions than B2C buyers.
An effective alternative when validating the desirability of your B2B venture is to focus on initiating sales conversations and getting signed letters of purchase intent (rather than online check-outs).
Validating ‘feasibility’ in a B2B venture
Whether you’re validating a process, tool, IT solution, or all of the above, keep in mind that B2B offerings often require more effort in terms of integration on the customer side. You’ll have to factor in things like:
- Cultural shifts
- Data exchanges between tools
- Workflow integrations
When validating the feasibility of your B2B venture: Pilots are your friend. Try to get a handful of customers to commit and then run detailed pilots where needed. This will give you a good understanding of any challenges, bottlenecks or barriers that might impede your progress or bias your business case. In addition, learn from your customer how your offer might improve, and what would be needed for them to commit to a large scale implementation after the pilot.
Validating ‘viability’ in a B2B venture
When validating the viability of your venture, the first difference you should keep in mind is that it often takes more time when compared with B2C ventures.
For one thing, the B2B sales process can take weeks (and sometimes longer) of meetings with different stakeholders for each deal. Validating and optimising your Buyer’s Journey is key. It's an iterative process in which you'll be trying to pin down:
- Which sales conversations need to happen
- When they’ll happen
- What stakeholders to include at each moment
Another factor to consider is the different way B2B and B2C customers evaluate value propositions:
- B2B customers take an economic perspective (e.g. Will this save or make money?)
- B2C customers take an emotional perspective (e.g. Do I like how it looks or What it stands for?
Validating “responsibility” in a B2B venture
Even though Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become quite a priority in recent years, B2B customers might not be as receptive or willing to pay for it as B2C customers.
If you decide to include CSR in your B2B offering, make sure it aligns with the customer company’s goals as well as any government-mandated CSR requirements.
Accessing B2B customers is more of a challenge
Sourcing the right candidates to validate a B2B venture is way more challenging compared to B2C ventures. For one thing, there just aren’t as many B2B customers in comparison to B2C. On top of that, you’ll have to deal with the fact that they’re harder to access for a variety of reasons:
- You’re probably not the only one asking for an interview or review
- Their time is usually limited
- You won’t usually have direct access (e.g. you’ll have to get past a gatekeeper first)
Here are just a few handy tips that have helped me in the past:
- Join relevant events and webinars to gain access to your desired pool of candidates.
- Tap into existing relationships within your client portfolio.
- Use LinkedIn as a tool to find and connect with the right companies and profiles.
- Use Reddit and Quora to find profiles looking for solutions your offering can solve.
- Join or start a slack channel dedicated to relevant topics.
- Use Youtube ads that your target audience will see during their views on related content.
You can also set up a few expert interviews (it’s not strictly validation, but it provides useful context).
Validating a B2B venture can be a tricky and time-consuming process, requiring a more hands-on and qualitative approach than their B2C counterparts. Instead of getting feedback from a sea of potential customers, you’ll probably be able to count them on your fingers. Having a smaller group of potential customers:
- Requires a more personal and detailed approach
- Makes it harder to test at a statistically significant scale
This is quite different from the typical B2C approach, which relies more on automation, loops, and quantitative data. In my experience, neither is easier than the other. They’re both complex and require an experienced and motivated hand to attain the reliable results you need to take the next steps.
Why take the risk of building a product or service with no market value? We’ll help you validate your B2B venture, so you can move forward with proof that it’s profitable, solves real pain points and has the features that will keep your customers coming back for more.