Pulling out of Growth Stalls, and can I do MVPs in Enterprise B2B?
I was asked recently, why work on B2B products? Surely B2C is more exciting, and you can change the world for millions of people if you get it right?
I’ve got no beef with B2C products. I use a lot of them! And it’s true that B2B products are (generally) used by a much smaller number of users. And that’s OK. If you’re doing it right, you’re helping these users during what is almost certainly the worst part of their day - being at work. Just try to make your products actually good!
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New Podcast Episode: Making Sure you REALLY Know your Customers and Pulling out of Growth Stalls
Growth Stalls can happen to anyone and often happen after really strong growth
Companies can be growing, growing, growing and then all of a sudden just stall. There are factors that influence this, but if they're not addressed then growth stalls can last for years or decades
I had a fabulous One Knight in Product podcast chat with growth guru and up-and-coming pecan farmer Adrienne Barnes about the terrifying-sounding concept of growth stalls - you know, where the stuff you were doing before stops working and you don’t know why.
I spoke to Adrienne about what causes growth stalls, how you might identify the signs of one, whether it’s ever too late to fix it, and what you might do to pull out of one.
Check the interview out on your favourite podcast app or pop over to the website.
Is it possible for B2B Product Managers to launch an MVP to existing customers?
I recently got this question in a fireside chat interview and it’s an interesting one for a few reasons. First of all, the term “Minimum Viable Product” is tremendously ill-understood. Someone once joked to me that “if you ask 7 people to define an MVP you’ll get 8 definitions”. For many people, an MVP is just “version one of my product”. In some cases, the “MVP” actually ends up being just a “P”, rolled out and never looked at again.
But let’s look at what The Lean Startup says about MVPs:
The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.
Many commercially-focused people skip the “Build-Measure-Learn loop” thing and carry straight on to the “minimum effort and least amount of development time” thing. After all, if we can just get more stuff on the cart, we can sell it, right?
The minimum viable product lacks many features that may prove essential later on.
I mean, that’s what “minimum” means, right? Commercial teams implicitly understand this, but they’re really still thinking about the “least amount of time” thing.
And to finish:
However, in some ways, creating an MVP requires extra work: we must be able to measure its impact.
Measure its impact!? We just want to sell it!
So what’s a B2B PM to do?
I can’t speak for every single situation but I have successfully used an MVP-like approach with an API product for banks and regulated companies. It wasn’t without its stumbles along the way, but I think it turned out pretty well.
1. Set your expectations
Let’s face it, we’re working in B2B here. We don’t have 150 million DAU. Some customers can be risk-averse and not want to see anything that, to them, looks half-done. Some accounts may be at risk, or in the middle of renewal conversations. You have a product that is almost certainly targeted at a specific niche. Your pool of people to learn from might be pretty small.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from them!
2. Do the problem definition work up-front
Too often in B2B, you find yourselves building reactively to whatever the sales team spoke to a customer about recently. I’ve been in this situation before and it’s never pretty. But, if you can take some time to actually dig into the problems customers are having and really get into it with them, you can start to come up with some really interesting ideas. Ideas that customers didn’t think about yet. Getting away from direct feature requests and digging into problems, not solutions, gives you the best chance of success. This is product management 101, but it doesn’t feel like it in some B2B companies.
3. Recruit advocates from your customer base
Hopefully, throughout your discovery process, you identified some people that really care about this problem. Hopefully, they haven’t asked (or told) you how to solve it. The problem that we had uncovered through user research was something that was taking (some of) our customers hundreds of hours a month to manage outside of our system. We had the raw data to help them, but the problem space was complicated and we’d have to do quite a lot of work to make a useful solution.
The crucial thing here is that you should have at least some really interested parties, and you can recruit these people to be … whatever you want to call them: Beta testers, early-access programme participants, design partners, you name it. You’re going to be checking in with these people throughout the build process and getting feedback.
4. Show them stuff early, and constantly
After working out what a solution might look like, we realised it’d probably take a while to get something that was actually useful, but that’s not the point of an MVP. We want to make sure that what we’re building makes sense, and change quickly if it doesn’t. We started off by showing customers mock outputs with static data with the structure we’d agreed on, to make sure it made sense, wasn’t missing anything and so forth. Eventually, as all the back-end data work was progressing, we’d be able to show real examples, keep moving and get feedback to inform whether we were on the right track.
5. Get these people on as early adopters
If you’ve done your job right, you will have gotten to a stage where you have a basically functional product. You could argue that, by this point, it’s not really an MVP anymore. Maybe it’s a “Minimum Sellable Product” or a “Minimum Lovable Product” or whatever the latest cool acronym from Medium is. In many ways, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. If you’ve gotten this far you’re already way ahead of the feature factory crowd.
So, you’ve now got a product you could technically sell. So… start trying to sell it! There’s no greater validation of a B2B product than people wanting to buy it. But, it’s a new product so you likely want to guide your first few customers through. And the best customers to guide you through are… the people that helped you build it. Make sure to offer favourable deals, but try to get some money out of them and evaluate how it’s performing in the real world.
6. But, be careful
There will be a temptation from the commercial teams to just start banging this into every single contract, probably as an upsell (because a lot of B2B product companies have opaque pricing and tapas-style packaging). Make sure you work with your sales & marketing teams to help them understand what it does and doesn’t do (it’s still pretty minimal after all). One of the biggest pain points between commercial & product teams is the assumption gap, which leads sales teams to start selling things you don’t do because they didn’t know that you don’t do it. Close the gap!
Thanks for reading!
I’m sure your mileage may vary with MVPs in a B2B context but it can work. Whether it’s a “true” Lean Startup-style approach or not, there are some shared principles. Quick feedback. Showing your work. Reacting to change. It’s harder in true feature factories, but even if you can’t do it 100% of the time it can still make a difference when you can.
Thanks for reading, do please send feedback and let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover. And remember to share the newsletter with your friends!
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