One of the most common mantras in the startup business is “solve a real world problem.” In other words base your business on something that people need or want. And are willing to pay for. Its kinda obvious to state that B2B SaaS needs to solve a real business problem.
Business problems can be a complex area. The collective challenge is for the organisation. The common good devolves into an intricate web of threats and opportunities. A different picture for all the units and individuals that make up the whole. This creates both enthusiasts and barriers in almost every situation.
For business to change, people must change
There is no easy formula to define a business problem. At heart it is always about change. This is true for consumers as well. Read Nir Eyal’s excellent book Hooked to understand how changing habits is the key to engaging users in any product.
People need to change to deliver any business change as well. But this must be orchestrated and coordinated. Everyone involved needs to change in the same direction. Yet that does not mean the same change for everyone.
A new automated purchasing ordering system will result in extensive changes. It demands different day to day habits for procurement staff. It will also offer front line sales staff a better way to manage inventory. But the new habits will be different in each case.
In a business of any size this complexity carries an almost automatic penalty. Every change will be unwelcome to someone. There will be different impacts on each role or division or business unit. Somewhere in the business there is a real threat posed by new systems or processes.
Change raises barriers every time
The benefit to the whole business may be huge. Yet there may be parts where change means extra cost. Or perhaps just a static outcome. Those who don’t feel the gain will feel the pain. Even if that is an illusion.
Those who obstruct change can influence the buying decision in large enterprises. Some blockers don’t wield influence before purchase. Yet they can destroy the value gained after implementation. Managing expectations and behaviours in a business customer is no simple task.
Your B2B SaaS pitch must ask the right questions
So your B2B SaaS pitch is about much more than functions and features and benefits. Sure your customer wants to know what you SaaS can do. They have plenty of other questions as well. Some explicit and some hidden through the process.
Engaging with and selling to a complex enterprise is a process. A process of recognising and asking the right questions. Not about providing perfect answers.
I would start with a question that is of paramount importance to you as the entrepreneur:
“Are you willing to change the way you do business?"
If the answer is No then qualify the opportunity out. No matter how great a fit the potential customer may seem. Answer Yes and the game is on. By the way I found this one in an interesting article from the BBC. It suggests any problem can be solved by this and two other questions….
Questions to probe the reality of business change
Now you need to look deeper. Beyond the functional benefits. To help your customer understand, prepare for and execute the change required to realise those gains. So the next question is:
“How will the business need to change to realise the benefits of your SaaS?"
Once you have a clear picture of how much needs to change, a more delicate question arises:
“Do you (the customer) need more help to execute the change?"
This can lead to some tricky answers. The chances are that if help is needed a SaaS Startup will not have the resources or skills to offer it. You may need some implementation partners. Or at least a cooperation with some business change experts.
The 2 biggest competitors to B2B SaaS
Too direct an approach could also pose a threat. The customer still has the option of not changing. Once they realise the work involved, will the benefits still stack up? Or the organisation you are talking to may feel they can manage the change themselves. They will appreciate you recognising the issue. But not the offer of help thank you very much.
Remember when you sell a business solution (and B2B SaaS is a solution not a product) the top two competitors are always: Do nothing and Do it yourself. Your always has at least one and usually both these options open.
The final important set of questions are about the barriers and the blockers:
“Who will be against the change required?”
“Will there be real losers in the organisation, maybe even redundancies?"
An upfront discussion about where the obstacles lie will be great for your reputation. Show some insight into how those challenges can be overcome and you will truly stand out. And this is an excellent approach to reveal the true extent of the change required. Think about both the timescale the value of the benefits your SaaS offers in this context. Your offer to a B2B customer will be much more credible.
Selling B2B SaaS has elements in common with any new product. Show people the sexy stuff. The cool user experience. The real time data opportunity. And the new mobile app. But also engage them in a discussion about how they can reach out and take the prize.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.