It’s all too easy for a business-to-business (B2B) startup to become one of the walking dead — a business that grows slowly, year after year.
Here’s how your startup can achieve true global scale.
1. Hire a sales leader
Founders are rarely experienced in sales — so it’s a good idea to hire someone with a good contact book who can get you some great logos quickly. The initial sales process is usually fairly unstructured, so landing your first few customers will come with plenty of learnings.
2. Don’t build custom products
In the early stages, it’s easy to fall into a trap of building custom products for each of your customers that are hard to support, costly to maintain and don’t scale to meet the needs of other customers easily. This is an illusion of product market fit because you focus too heavily on building custom solutions each time and often cannot deliver on future services and features you promised to existing customers. The result is they’re likely to churn.
3. Focus on upselling and cross-selling
We see scaleups focus too much on getting new leads rather than upselling or cross-selling to existing customers to understand if the product is providing impact for their business. Successful B2B startups stay focused on customer needs by building new products and features, using a customer-led product roadmap and learning to optimise the sales processes by shortening the sales cycle.
We see a big trend in B2B independent software vendors (ISVs) now re-platforming their software offerings as software-as-a-service (SaaS) because it removes the need for code-level customisations and deployment complexity. It’s less complicated for customers too, as they no longer have to install software on-premise. For the vendors, this improves margins extensively and enables them to collect data centrally and use machine learning to drive further improvements to customer experience.
4. Pick a solid infrastructure technology partner
At the pre-product market-fit stage, it’s all about learning to solve real customer problems using technology and experimenting with a complementary business model that appeals to a broad customer set.
Customers tell us it’s important to have a market-leading technology platform such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and to commit to this partnership for the long term.
AWS is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform, offering over 175 fully featured services from data centres globally. Millions of customers — including the fastest-growing startups (such as Deliveroo, TransferWise and Starling Bank) — are using AWS to lower costs, become more agile and innovate faster.
Earlier-stage startups are using AWS Activate, a programme that helps with early experimentation by offering credits to funded startups to reduce the cost of innovation. It’s critical to choose an infrastructure technology provider with a long track record of success and a broad set of cloud enabled applications to minimise development costs and significantly reduce the heavy lifting during this vital early stage of your business.
5. Experiment with sales models
Experiment with sales models to get to know who your customer is as quickly as possible. If your focus is on volume and low cost of sales, zero in on a model for that. UK-based data-transformation, growth-stage company Matillion, which has raised $60m, partnered up with the AWS Marketplace to reach customers at scale.
“Given that many of our customers are [Amazon] Redshift [Data Warehouse] users, this partnership gave us instant access to a targeted, global customer base, a low friction launch, and a simplified billing and collections process, with AWS handling much of the work,” said Matillion’s chief executive Matthew Scullion on stage at SaaStock in Dublin last October.
However, if your focus is on lower volume and high value, experiment with a sales process that satisfies dealing with multiple stakeholders to drive customer success.
6. Put your customers first
In the scaleup phase the focus changes to scaling the business and customer base.
It’s important to pick a large enough market and create a model that is simple and easy to capture the value delivered to customers. To drive rapid adoption it’s also key to put customers first — delivering a customer-centric product roadmap that aggregates all of your customer needs and avoiding complex code-level customisations that win lighthouse logos.
7. Build an API
For enterprise-focused SaaS startups, winning high-profile customers is critical, so our successful scaleup customers tell us that application programming interfaces (APIs) are the most scalable and economical way to enable customers to integrate other products.
8. Speed up sales
As your company grows, scale up your commercial strategy too. Build and evolve a sales process that can provide scalable software procurement and fulfilment mechanisms with the goal to shorten sales cycles. Historically, these have been through a two or three-tiered partnership model that scales by using local expertise to penetrate specific geographies or explicit vertical markets.
For a more cost-effective solution, use a marketplace such as the AWS Marketplace to help sell your product across markets and reduce barriers to adoption by providing simplified software procurement and fulfilment mechanisms.
9. Build a customer-success team
Closing deals is the starting point of the customer journey. Stop delivering a product and start delivering a service for customers by adding a customer success team as early as possible to help drive renewals and reduce churn risk. Reduce the cost of acquisition by adding the capability to upsell and cross-sell using well-designed sales motions.
10. Hire a dedicated partnerships leader
Many companies will hit either a natural market size or market-share limit to their core product or service. Few companies grow without investing in new offerings to support additional customer needs in adjacent markets or vertical segments — Amazon started out as a bookstore but quickly moved into selling CDs and DVDs and millions of product categories from there. Evolving your technology into a platform via APIs can drive additional revenue streams and create your own partner ecosystems. Amazon’s Seller business, the AWS Marketplace and AWS customer G2 are good examples of successful global platforms because all provide revenue streams using a partner-led approach.
Popular ways to sell with marketing include jointly funding customer events and co-published case studies. Joint sales motions include sharing common pipelines and attending sales calls together to help meet broader customer needs, but also help drive new opportunities to speed up sales cycles on both sides of the partnership. These are more bespoke sales engagements since there are a lot of unknowns, so it needs commitment from both sides to build a robust playbook that enables a repeatable scalable sales motion. Scaleups with customer success hire a dedicated partnerships leader to take ownership to build and drive this playbook.
Partnerships that align resources across multiple business functions will also help scale the sales process and drive customers’ success strategies. You should match leaders and executors of the sales motion with the goal to build alignment where possible. For example, technologists such as solution architects need to work together and train on each other’s technology. Proof of capability can come in the form of technical competencies through certifications that endorse the strength of the partnership and give the customer the confidence that the partnership will deliver a stronger outcome and provide a solid return of investment.
Building a B2B SaaS business is hard without the right partnerships and tools to help you start-up, scale-up and grow. If it interests you to learn more about how AWS can help with your startup journey, please reach out to us at the AWS Global Startup Partner Program.