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TL,DR: It is harsh!

In the last 10 years, I have mainly paid my bills and splurges out of doing sales and business development for startups selling SaaS software and IoT hardware for B2B niche markets (infrastructure and renewable energy). I have worked for companies with different cultures and approaches, from USA (sensemetrics now Bentley), France (QOS Energy now Univers), Spain (Worldsensing) or even India (Prescinto), working closely with Founders, CTOs and CEOs. Man, I was even crazy enough to launch my own business on that field (tailored:systems).

So I have seen a lot—both successes and failures—and I’ve learned and tried many things, under the pressure of (very often) impossible sales targets, company VC money running off and constant scrutiny about how good seller you are.

And the truth is that it is very difficult to succeed, although not impossible.

I have seen multiplying ARR or revenue by 3x or even 10x with some products but also selling absolutely nothing in the whole year.

But hey, I am the same the person in all cases, having tried my best in all the ventures I have pursued. The influence of the sales team or director is very limited, to be honest, it is just a matter of company / product strategy.

I have to admit that I have been more successful when I had a good product AND was granted with freedom to follow my strategy (in pricing, GTM, etc). On the contrary, I have seen sales colleagues (and myself too) frustrated and underperforming when they had to follow irreal company policies not fitted to the market.

Selling B2B solutions in niche markets is not easy, especially in software. Since the enter barriers are low, there are usually more products than required by the market size (ending in consolidation). Moreover, what is really frustrating is that many clients (who are not software developers) make their own software. The arrogance of their engineers drive them badly. (see Developing your own SW vs. Buying one). In addition, there is always a clunky, but totally free solution that they can use, and probably historically are using: Excel, the all-in-one-database-graphic-analytical-tool.

So I have summarised my learnings over these years:

  • Product features are overrated. Founders (since they pursue their intellectual gratification) like to develop fantastic solutions… for problems that few are willing to pay for. I have seen, in all startups I have worked for, dedicating hundreds of dollars and months to features that ended in zero sales. I even made that error when I developed surveyTS.
  • These “Hype-Features” (like AI it is now) are just marketing, good to getting money from investors—I get it—but do not expect money from clients.
  • Basic non-sexy features that actually solve the client problem has to be the only focus. Even if it is dumb easy to do it, even if it is a nonsense request. Sorry, clients do not want your AI chatbot, they want a robust FTP reading driver.
  • UX is underrated. Make everything so simple to use that a monkey (aka client) with no instructions can use it. Believe me, users behave dumb. Optimize for fewer clicks, less irrelevant information, streamline onboarding processes.
  • The cheapest prices are king. Real experience: a cheap bad product beats an expensive good product. (India beats France, Spain beats USA) This is a hard pill to shallow for Founders, they all love their product so much that always believe they are selling overpriced iPhones. (I get it, I have two kids and, sorry parents, they are unquestionably the smartest handsome cool kids out there…)
  • Timing is everything. Not too soon that you need to educate the market, not too late that it is already a red-ocean. This is just luck, nothing you can do here.
  • Hear your sales rep whispers. They are in the front line, they are hearing what the client wants, do not be so arrogant as a CTO to diminish this gold information for the roadmap. CTOs, are you even talking to clients?
  • Customer support is underrated. Real experience: a serious dedicated customer manager wins. (Spain and USA the best). A good customer support manager is the best companion you can give to your sales team.
  • Flexibility is underrated. Especially if you are a hungry startup growing from the ground (India beats France again, USA beats Spain). Saying “yes” to everything close contracts (even it is probably a bad idea on the very long term, but there will not by future if you starve anyways…)
  • Growth marketing do not work in niche B2B markets. Get rid of the weekly lead generation growth hacker that approach to you.
  • Traditional door-knocking is the best way to acquire leads when you do not have any market reference or dominance.
  • Once you have references, people will buy you for that. Call it FOMO complex.
  • Watch out for Moby-Dicks. These huge companies (big utilities, Fortune 500 juggernauts) drive founders crazy luring them with millions on sales… reality is that they are probably sneaking to copy your features with their 10-times-bigger-than-you digital teams. Run away from corporate startups competitions, the elegant and patronising way to stealing your IP.
  • Industry events are overrated. Do not expect to fill your pipeline with random people from the events. But they are good for improving personal relations, having your sales rep out of the cave and discuss, learn from the market and do partnerships. Don’t get me wrong, you can get some contracts from them, but there will not be payback just for that.
  • Word of mouth is underrated. For good and bad it is the strongest lead generator. But watch out, a bad reputation can destroy a company (I have suffered that in tailored:systems).

Summary: focus focus focus on the basic non-sexy useful and easy to use stuff that pays off money. Make a very direct sales strategy that puts the product right in front of the client hands, being flexible and easy for them to become clients. Do not get distracted with hype, growth tricks, forced partnership or marketing re-re-re-branding.

Are you a founder struggling with sales strategy or product market fit in the B2B space? Follow me or drop a comment below👇for more strategies that could steer your venture towards sustained growth.