Lean in a B2B business

I want my product to be perfect—it will be everything a user can imagine and then some more and then it will go viral and I will have changed the world forever. By the way, our value to price ratio will be off the charts so it’s a no-brainer to use. This insight into the future consumes me. I wish you could see it. 

The post below is about the steps we took to realize this future and the lessons we learnt from them.

The case to do lean testing

Back in January, I was convinced that since we were a B2B company, lean was not applicable to us. How can we take a half-build product to a company (who are so hard to reach) and expect to test our value proposition. I mean what would we test?—we had done customer interviews, polls, focus groups and were pretty comfortable that we were onto something big. Development was underway; we were focusing on exploring sales channels, creating a pitch deck to raise capital and life was great.

Then came the Business Model exercise as part of the LTV class and I spent 90 minutes trying to convince team-members why should care about the value I was going to create. The picture below shows the never-ending list of questions that team-mates had and exhibits the diversity of my defensive arguments that day. Suffice to say, it wasn’t the best of days. 

Post this session, we started to question if customers really cared about our product. Interviews, focus groups and polls all help but people generally find it hard to say ‘no you suck’. There is also so much subjectivity—we are always there to present a counter argument to any query—and these would were never going to emulate a customer decision to use our product. We really weren’t sure of what was going to happen anymore but our goal was to learn about 1) Whether customers cared for the value we were going to create 2) Whether they would know how to capture that value (our vision was a low-touch distribution model)

In March, we slowed development, stripped our product to two features that we thought were essential to our secret sauce and gave it to customers to play with. For the purposes of this blog, I am not going to focus on our results but rather on the experience of conducting these tests in a B2B environment

Lessons Learnt

Our biggest rationale to not conduct these tests was that users will not understand what we are trying to do unless we present a full-feature product. This was completely wrong. Users only had to relate to the problem (or through their actions just tell us that the problem didn’t exist) to give us relevant feedback. Our users ended up giving us actual use cases about how our product added value—the full feature set didn’t matter—they recognized the problem and showed us use cases of when our product added value—essentially giving us a feature list to add.

We also learnt that user actions are the only thing that matter—sign ups don’t matter, product engagement does—we saw a big difference between the number of people who signed up and the number of people who actually used our product and have been able to profile the users to narrow our customer base. We had thought that our problem was universal and had planned to ask every user at a customer site to sign up and that would have been a big mistake.

Our biggest learning, however, was around user adoption and training. We thought that if our value to user was obvious and our product was simple enough, we wouldn’t need to train users. This again was completely incorrect. We realized that users need to be coached through new systems and a simple example helps them get over their initial anxiety. Trying to push sales without learning this would have failed miserably and while we don’t know how to resolve this issue, at least we know that it is a concern.

Our Advice

These lessons and the experience of interacting with users daily has helped shape our pitch, product development and most importantly our vision for the company. However, giving users a half-baked product, pursuing them for feedback and deciphering their actions in a B2B environment is incredibly hard. Companies aren’t open to giving valuable time, employees don’t like to give feedback (even if you are making their life easier) and no one trusts a start-up. We succeeded because we had been talking to these companies for weeks before we asked them to try our product—they had been part of our polls, interviews and focus groups. After this trail, they will probably end up being our first paid customers.

The biggest challenge in conducting lean tests in a B2B environment is not the experiments—it is actually getting the customers. Focus on that and give them a product to play with and you will learn as much as we did.


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