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How to validate a B2B idea?

Context : I am working on a B2B idea in retail sector. I have an idea but I want to validate it.

What are the strategies that people take to validate a B2B idea? I know that for B2C ideas, say a photo sharing app, people test a prototype with some users, get feedback and iterate. However, in B2B it is difficult to find your first customer and businesses typically want to talk to people with finished products. But I am not sure of the techniques that people employ to get to those finished products. How do entrepreneurs get to the exact product idea without iterating? Some techniques I can think of are :
1. Incubators : If some company in your target sector has an incubator join it and build upon your idea under the guidance of the company.
2. Contacts : Know someone influential in the target company who can validate your idea and help you build the product.

Are there any other methods people have adopted?

7 Replies

John Sechrest
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John Sechrest Entrepreneur • Advisor
Mentor at Startup Mentor
the 9 mile labs incubator is currently taking applications. they work directly on B2B issues
Werner Krebs
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Werner Krebs Entrepreneur • Advisor
Financial & Marketing Software Developer
This is essentially one of the main goal of predictive analytics (my field): be able to evaluate your idea using fast, inexpensive tests, than transform that data to how the market might behave under "real" conditions. You are correct that B2B products behave differently than B2C products, but analytics experts know how to tweak their models to compensate. But this is not necessarily needed for all analyses. You point out the example of a website prototype. Lean start-up techniques like building website prototypes generally also work well for B2B businesses (although you may find it harder to recruit test users). 1. Test marketing is another common technique that works for both B2B and B2C products. An expert in predictive marketing analytics can then sometimes take the results of the test marketing and transform that data to get a rough sense of how the product would fair under a much larger marketing campaign carried out by a professional ad agency. This can then give you a rough quantitative sense of how the market perceives your product's quality, which can then be used to guide further planning and investments. And, yes, the marketing expert will known how to tweak their analysis to compensate for the B2B nature of the product. Market saturation models and marketing strategies and analysis are one of the few ways B2B differs from B2C. This stems for the way business make purchasing decisions differently than typical consumers. Beyond that, however, there are few other systemic differences between B2B and B2C. 2. Some market research companies use techniques specific to B2C. However, there is no reason why classic market research techniques such as surveys cannot apply equally well to B2B as they do to B2C. The main difference is, if your survey can only accept responses from CEOs, it may be more expensive to administer. A survey is a more scientific extension of your "influential contacts" approach below. 3. You've already mentioned incubators. If you are accepted to one, these also will help you evaluate your B2B concept. Incubators often have their own formula for evaluating concepts. This may include combining classic market research from #2 with estimates of market size and competitive analysis. 4. Although crowdsource platforms like quirky tend to focus on B2C products, there is no reason why you cannot adopt similar techniques yourself for B2B products. For example, you can post your ideas to social media and seek crowdsourced feedback. There are social media sites like FounderDating that cater to the start-up community, so you could try posting your idea right here. (Obviously, this may also attract competitors and copycats.) 5. There are firms that have analytics products for specific B2B verticals. For example, if your B2B idea involves licensing out an existing patent, a Hollywood movie script, or even a pop song, there are firms that have developed statistical models and software that can (sometimes) accurately quantify your B2B concept. I'd be happy to talk more about how you can use predictive analytics techniques or lean start-up approaches to make rapid decisions about your product's strategy. Feel free to contact me through Clarity: https://clarity.fm/wernerkrebs/
Gaurav Garg
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Gaurav Garg Entrepreneur
Talk to 9Milelabs; happy to introduce you to Sanjay Puri. Gaurav Garg
Brahm Kiran Singh
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Brahm Kiran Singh Entrepreneur • Advisor
Eng Head - Deep Search at Quixey
Thanks Gaurav and John! It would be very nice to get introduced to Sanjay Puri. My email is [removed to protect privacy]. For some reason, my Founder Dating inbox is not working. Do they also have a branch in SF or are they only in Seattle? Incubators is definitely one way I am exploring. Have people also tried other ways of validating their ideas? It would be great to hear the experience of how people started their B2B ventures - from having the first idea to getting the first customer. ? - Brahm
Mamie Kanfer Stewart
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Mamie Kanfer Stewart Entrepreneur • Advisor
Founder & CEO at Meeteor, Speaker, Change-maker
I started a B-2-B business just under a year ago and I took a few different approaches, some of which follow the lean start up method... The key to the whole thing is to know what you need to validate at each stage.

1. Test it manually to verify that there is acceptance of your product idea. Depending on the idea, you may be able to replicate the entire idea with a website 'facade' and manual back end. Your service time might be a bit slower, but you can set expectations for that. With my business, I wanted to test whether small businesses 'got' the process methodologies I was planning to build into a cloud software. So I tested them as a consultant and contracted with two organizations who would pay me to facilitate them through the process. At the end, I'd know if the process resonated or not and how I might need to tweak it.

2. Figure out the ideal (but not overdesigned/built) product and create a clickable prototype of that. (This can be done very cheaply and I can tell you more about that process if you want.) Then do "demos" for people in your network who fit the target audience. With a clickable prototype you can make it as sketchy or as finished looking as you like. But either way, in less than 30 minutes you can essentially demo the product and get initial feedback - does this resonate, is this something you'd consider using and why/not? I got great feedback this way. And there is no "ask" other than for up to 30 min of your time. Plus, you'll start to build up a list of people who are excited to learn more as you get to the next phase.

3. Build the skinniest MVP you can that will get you validation and provide value to the customer. Then pitch the hell out of it to anyone who will listen. Everyone in your network knows people who might be in the right business/industry for your product. I'd tell everyone what I'm working on and say that I'm looking for beta clients to partner with me in testing the first version. I was surprised by how many people made introductions to other people who they thought would benefit from my product. Some of those went nowhere, but I ended up securing 6 organizations to participate in my beta. In exchange for using the product for 6 weeks and providing specific feedback along the way, I gave them a personal onboarding, rolled out features they requested (that I agreed with) every week, and allowed them to use the product for free forever. I pitched (via web screen sharing) to about 15 orgs in order to get 6.

Thats as far as I've gotten, but its worked really well for me thus far.
Mamie
Rob Gropper
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Rob Gropper Entrepreneur
Director at PetHero, SPC - Member at Eastside Incubator - Principal at Tuxedo Technologies Group
Brahm; The basic blocking and tackling of product/market fit and customer validation are no different for B2B than for B2C - Identify who you think are likely prospects, talk to them, get feedback on your idea, take that feedback and build a mockup/PPT presentation/MVP, present to them again, get feedback, iterate, rinse and repeat. Remember, when you are dealing with a business you are still dealing with individual people. Identify a company that you think would make an ideal customer - the best possible fit for your product. this should be in an industry you know well. then identify the type of user within that company that is the ideal representative of that company's needs for your product. For example, if you are an expert in the trucking industry (random idea) and you are planning to build the next best thing in tracking employee expenses, then identify the top 3-4 trucking companies you can think of who's employees travel a lot and for whom T&E expenses might be large. Identify the department that should get the most value out of your product, but don't sweat this too hard, just get a meeting with someone, anyone in this dept. and they can help you narrow your search. Make sure you are prepared to add value at every meeting/conversation - if you spend your time taking and not giving the door will close quickly. If you are a developer and your's is a business solution then talk to the business people, avoid the temptation to talk with the IT people - you have to talk with the people who will ultimately make a decision to purchase from you or at least act as your champion. good luck.
Brahm Kiran Singh
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Brahm Kiran Singh Entrepreneur • Advisor
Eng Head - Deep Search at Quixey
Thanks Mamie and Rob! I think avoiding the trap of talking to IT people is something I have to focus on. The thing is that my expertise is not in enterprise businesses. Not even in the sector that I am targeting. However, I am thinking of working with advisors who have expertise in the sector I am targeting. Has such a setup worked for anyone in the past?
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