Business to Business startups have a bad rap for being boring. And historically, they deserve it.
I blame this on poor marketing: If you can’t make your product interesting to consumers, then you surely can’t make it interesting to your fellow businesses. My strategy, as the cofounder of a B2B startup and a marketer, is to make everything appealing to consumers.
Here’s what I mean: I estimate that there are approximately 250,000 small consulting firms in America, my challenge is how to make this group of people aware that my company exists, and how to make our offer compelling enough for them to join our platform.
I do this in a variety of ways:
When I craft narratives for the masses, it makes my product relevant for all people, including those who I am targeting. I make the narrative about what consulting should be--not what it is today.
I always emphasize that consulting shouldn’t be an industry that is limited to few people, because excellent consultants can help all businesses, big or small, at rates that are far below what you’d think they cost.
And just plain cool, like my friend Adda’s company, Skillcrush, that has complementary interests to SkillBridge.
Omar Qari, cofounder of Abacus, a B2B tool says, “B2B is inherently sexy if you understand that you are the B. B2B and B2C are the same thing--we have personal lives and we have work lives. At Abacus, we're not building tools for this building or an amorphous corporation--we're building tools for people while they're at work. I know that you spend most of your life at work and I want to make that experience better for you.”
When you think of companies in the biotech space, there’s very little that’s sexy about them. But then, there are behemoths, like General Electric, who make super cool and interesting products, e.g. airplanes that most consumers can’t afford.
GE got on the Tumblr bandwagon early, and because of that, they’ve been able to make their brand far more appealing to people who, most likely, buy their products (like refrigerators and microwaves) a few times in their lives.
I’m not saying that every B2B brand needs to have a Tumblr account, but I am saying that it is one way to increase your cool cache.
If there’s one person in America who epitomizes what it means to make B2B interesting, it's Aaron Levie, the cofounder and CEO of Box, the service that makes cloud storage accessible and secure for millions of (mostly business) customers. In a world where Aaron’s competitors--like DropBox and Google Docs--have focused on winning over B2C customers, I’ve been impressed by Aaron’s commitment to focus on his B2B clientele.
Why do entrepreneurs gravitate toward solving B2C problems more frequently than B2B ones? Levie says, “Entrepreneurs gravitate toward fixing problems that they’re running into. You tend to see apps that fix problems that you’re having in your personal life.”
Qari echoes this, “Entrepreneurs focus on B2C more than B2B because human nature is to want to build something that you and all your friends can use.”
Levie says that in the past two decades, B2B growth has lagged far behind the growth of the consumer Internet. However, he says that in the past two years, consumers have brought far more tech into the workplace. This means that apps with a “user focus, that are mobile oriented”--like Box--are being used to solve existing workplace challenges.
Why should you want to enter the B2B space? Because you’ll face far less competition. As successful entrepreneur and Andreesen Horowitz General Partner Chris Dixon says, “If you are thinking of starting a nontransactional consumer startup, be aware that you are entering what is perhaps the most competitive sector in tech in the last decade.”
As Levie notes, “To innovate at the fastest pace, like that of Google or Facebook, you have to make products that enterprise wants to use.” To create successes in the modern workplace, you need to use a different set of techniques to “deploy, scale, and sell,” because everything is so rapidly changing.
In this sense, you have to stop selling to the company’s chief information officer, and start selling to every product manager, developer, and other employee who may need to use your products and services.
--Stephen Robert Morse is the co-founder and head of marketing at SkillBridge.co. He previously founded MyTwoCensus.com, and has worked for Quirky.com, Seamless.com, and Lightbox.com. Follow him on Twitter.
[Image: Flickr user Kim]