Selling is hard, but B2B selling and marketing are especially so.
There are fewer targets. More nuance. Higher stakes—for both the buyer and you. The deal isn’t done until there’s proof of retention.
But there’s a key to unlocking a straighter, smoother, and easier road to winning deals and keeping customers: your day-to-day functional relationship with Product.
Product shapes what the product can do and how everyone experiences value from it—including buyers.
Join forces with Product on these seven tactics—each you can execute in under a day and get value from in under a week—to accelerate new customer acquisition, improve buyer satisfaction, and increase customer retention.
Driving New Customer Acquisition
Product turns business vision into solutions that create meaningful value for customers profitably for the business.
But for Product, ‘customer’ usually means users, not buyers.
Translating user experience into the value story for the buyer, then, often falls to you.
But part of Product’s job should be helping everyone in the customer journey—buyers, admins, and users—recognize the product’s value. Sales has a unique position to help Product fill this role.
1. Ideal Customer Profiles
Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) give Product insight into what buyers value and how they might view the product differently than users.
To create an ICP, write a two-page document that outlines the common attributes of your most successful customers and the opportunities and challenges of the buyer.
Include details on industry, market, size, maturity, and assets and gaps in the sales motion. Outline the buyer’s functional positioning relative to operations and users. Also, capture the buyer’s top 10 priorities and problems and map all functions involved in the buying decision and the buyer’s relationships with them.
Write this document in less than an hour. (Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—you will refine it regularly with lessons learned.)
Then, review with Product the extent to which roadmaps aligned to buyer needs and priorities captured in the ICP.
Will buyers get meaningful value from what we’re planning to do?
Are we prioritizing enough to grow buyer interest?
If not, you now have actionable feedback to drive re-prioritization.
Once you have alignment, you’ll have greater confidence that your buyer will feel the Product will produce more and more value for them over time.
The ICP keeps the product team focused on meeting buyer priorities and gives Sales and Product a meaningful platform for shifting roadmaps as buyer priorities evolve.
2. Dedicated Buyer Experiences
Many B2B products are simple user experiences built on a small mountain of back-end capabilities: rules engines, integrations, configurations, AI, etc.
Demos show what the product can do, but how it works remains a mystery. That mystery creates doubt with the buyer team—6 to 10 independent decision makers, according to Gartner—about whether your product will work specifically for them.
Telling and showing the product is not enough to guarantee escape from the B2B sales valley of death. You need buyers to experience the solution.
Pilots are an option, but we know their pitfalls.
A more effective approach is to have Product and Engineering allocate dedicated capacity to building mock product experiences for buyers.
These people work directly on the sales team with salespeople as their customers. They participate in sales calls and build fluency in the buyer journey.
Their role is to translate actual product capabilities into mock experiences with a controlled set of configurations and a designed set of success and failure scenarios that buyers can see, touch, and share.
They bring clarity to how the product works and build buyer confidence that their specific inputs—integrations, configurations, workflows—can be activated successfully in the product before signing the contract.
These experiences are not pilots. They do not implement actual configurations. But with significantly less effort and time, they demonstrate that the product can manage the nuances and complexity of the customer’s requirements.
Even better? These experiences are reusable across buyers. All sales cycles benefit when the team applies lessons from past sales cycles to these experiences. They make lessons learned by Sales additive rather than siloed.
Adding product and engineering capacity to your sales team will become your secret selling superpower, creating differentiated sales experiences that wow your customers.
In B2B SaaS sales, the riskiest time for a deal isn’t always before the contract is signed—it’s often after the contract is signed but before the product launches. In this phase, the buyer believes in—but has not yet realized—the ROI of the product. That transition is critical to customer retention.
While implementations usually lead this phase, RevOps can play a crucial role here in sustaining buyer engagement and satisfaction.
3. Product Launch Issue Resolution Burn-down Chart
No one—the buyer or your team—wants to cast doubt on the quality of the product. But anyone who’s ever launched B2B SaaS software knows that even with thorough testing, unknown unknowns at product launch will emerge.
The most impactful thing RevOps can do with the buyer during implementation is to make it super easy for the buyer—who is typically not involved in the day-to-day of implementation—to see that your team identifies and closes issues effectively.
A simple burn-down chart of issues opened per day, issues closed per day, and average completion time is enough to show that you’re navigating the launch to success. Internally, the team should also set aggressive goals for issue resolution.
Ideally, there are no issues at launch, and the buyer never sees this capability. But it’s much better to have this capability and not use it than to need it and not have it.
B2B SaaS buyers are accountable for generating ROI from their purchase. Even if they do not own the operational use of the product, they will hear about launch pains. But only you will know how well your team manages them.
Don’t just be good at managing issues—be great at showing that to the buyer. Make it as obvious and open as possible for the buyer to believe “you got this” for whatever issues emerge at launch—for this product and others they might purchase in the future.
4. Embed Testimonial Collection
Utilization data and ROI math help build a case, but stories, social proof, and emotional connection make the sale.
Typically, collecting product sentiment takes time and manual effort, time your teams would rather spend making and selling the actual product.
Skip that effort by embedding lightweight feedback collection points directly in the product at the “Aha” moments when your customers are experiencing the value of your product.
Many customers are more than willing to tell you what they love about your product when it’s working for them. So as they are experiencing value from the product, ask them about it. Let them speak in their own words.
For example, when a user completes five straight workflows faster than average, prompt them with a pop-up that says:
“You’re crushing these workflows. Would you mind sharing one thing you love most about how this product helps your work?”
Or, you can engage users to drive funnel conversion:
- “It seems you’ve potentially saved many hours using this product. Would you like to recommend this product to someone who might benefit from it?”
- “You’re one of our top product users. Would you be willing to be a reference for others considering buying the product?”
Embedding this data collection right in the app eliminates the up-front effort to collect it and makes it much easier to mine for patterns. Every testimonial is now associated directly with users and organizations and their specific attributes, which you can filter to build your ‘like for like’ story for prospects and to source potential referrals.
Increasing Customer Retention
Product launch is just the beginning of the customer journey. Sustainable customer relationships and profitable customer growth happen when you can clearly show the customer you understand what’s important to them and evidence that you are moving the needle for them.
5. Product Goal Setting
When you and Product understand how the product drives buyer value, set specific goals for product utilization that map directly to buyer value drivers. Then, align most, if not all, net-new feature development to these goals until achieved (or you identify objectively more important buyer goals).
Often, product goal setting works the opposite way: Product or business leaders start with business goals (e.g., grow revenue) and come up with product ideas that will meet them. Then, they try to figure out how those ideas will be valuable for customers.
This process is precisely backward. Customers don’t care about our ideas or about our business goals. Instead, they care about solving their problems as fast, easily, and cost-effectively as possible.
Everyone creates value for both sides when your company reflects your customer’s goals in your product goals. Starting the prioritization and ideation exercises aligned to clear objectives for generating customer value makes everything remarkably more manageable and more productive, from sales to implementation to activation to maintenance to expansion.
6. Onboarding Success Milestones
Enough product utilization data will reveal trends that differentiate strong customers from weak ones. Ramli John in Product-Led Onboarding describes these inflection points as the Onboarding Success Milestone.
For Slack, customers that send more than 2,000 messages in their first 30 days stick with the product. For much of Facebook’s growth, they observed that users who connected with seven friends in their first ten days were unlikely to churn. And with Dropbox, uploading ten documents from two or more devices signaled a fully activated user.
Uncovering this milestone is a mix of art and science. Doing so requires fluid collaboration between Product and Customer Success to understand:
- The buyer’s use cases the product can service
- How often those use cases emerge
- What success looks like for navigating those use cases
- How the product’s utilization compares to other alternatives in their workflow
While great Product people have direct contact with customers, buyers, and users, there are only so many product people with so many hours in the day. Pairing Customer Success and Product puts more brain power and focus towards understanding how much utilization is ‘enough’ to produce a stable customer.
By observing each activated customer relative to their Onboarding Success Milestone, Customer Success can drive tactics to generate greater adoption and sustained engagement. They can also provide unique insights into points of friction that Product should address in the solution to unblock adoption and drive retention.
7. Utilization Alerting
If you know what a successful customer looks like and inspect actual product utilization to evaluate customer health, congratulations, you are way ahead of your competitors!
But why stop there?
You should set up automated alerts to notify your team of unexpected variances in utilization to drive customer engagement activities.
Did your customer suddenly go a week or two without product utilization after a long stretch of consistent use? Maybe they’re on vacation. Or perhaps they’re trying out another product!
Or did your customer suddenly have an unexpected spike in utilization? They may have shifted their operations to drive greater adoption of the product.
In either case, sudden shifts in utilization—lower or higher—should trigger a desire to learn about how the product is working (or not) in the wild to inform sales and customer success motions.
The less time between when these trends happen and when you’re aware of them, the greater chance you have to maximize your learning from them and your impact by acting on them. And, the more you can prove to your buyer that you are able to generate consistent value for them over time.
The Path to Success
The seven tactics outlined here are simple, but their execution is uncommon and often complicated by competing interests and poor culture.
You can maximize the success of these tactics by building on—or creating—a culture that values three things:
- Competition through collaboration: fight for the good of the team, not to look better than everyone else. Winning over buyers is a team sport—embrace your team.
- Discipline and focus: your business can do anything but can’t do everything. Once you—as a team—decide on goals and a course of action, commit fully. Be open to changes in direction, but make those changes thoughtfully and as a team.
- Inspection without blame: people game metrics they think will be used against them, rendering them meaningless. Inspection only works if done in the spirit of improvement. Learning together leads to winning together.
Selling is hard, but hopefully these tactics make it that much easier to do that hard work well. If you want to hear more, let’s discover the top GTM strategies from B2B experts at RevCon: our must-attend annual conference on October 18-19, 2023!
Brian Gibson is a product leader, startup advisor, and Founder of b26n.com, a product consultancy that makes the hard work of startup scaling easier. Brian’s experience in multiple industries and on all sides of a business, from Sales to Operations to Product, has shown him that tech companies are most successful when makers and sellers work together.