Product Evangelism for B2B Startups

Product EvangelismIf you are a B2B startup building an innovative enterprise product, it’s the dream of millions of users that keeps you going in the initial days. Sometimes however, as you acquire early customers and users for your product, it seems that the demands they make and attention they seek is almost distracting you from your dream! And they are not even using the coolest and most innovative features you designed. Sounds familiar?

Here’s how you can draw the best out of your early customers, help improve your product and revenue, while ensuring user delight. 

Customer Empathy to Customer Delight

Product evangelism is NOT about your product. It’s about your customers’ needs. Your product fortuitously happens to be the right medium to fulfill those needs. A customer-centric approach to building a product has been espoused by many. However, customer delight involves more than just validating your MVP and beta versions with early customers. Customer empathy is putting users at the center of your product development. Customer delight is beyond that – everything you build should be to enable your users to derive more, faster and better from your product.  If your product has the WOW factor that elegantly meets the customer requirements while making it a joy to use, the users will almost certainly come! 

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

Next to a strong business case and measurable Return on Investment (RoI), your customer relationships are a critical aspect for your product’s adoption and success. Customer relationships do not imply idle socializing (who has time for that in a startup, anyway!). You need customer-side advocates who will not only vouch for your product in their company, but champion it internally as if it were their own. And that involves building and nurturing strong relationships with your early adopters.

  • Treat them as true partners, not just as your paycheck!
  • Share your product roadmap with them and listen to their feedback. It will give you early insight into how your next-gen features will be received
  • Pay attention to their product complaints and resolve them to closure – not just in the early days of the deployment, but throughout the lifetime of the engagement (which, if things go well, can be forever!)
  • Ask questions and understand their industry-specific trends. Everyone loves to talk about their domain and you will gain valuable insights for your product 

Involve your customers to grow your business

If you have spent time and effort delivering customer delight, it can pay off in ways much beyond steady revenue. You can leverage your happy-customer network to expand market-reach and get even more business.

  • Request for references to other prospects. A warm reference from an industry peer or colleague is likely to open doors that no amount of cold-calling can. Plus, they can talk about how your product is already benefiting them, helping you establish a stronger business case with the new prospect.
  • Ask for quotes and customer testimonials. Video testimonials work even better.
  • Publish joint case-studies. Let numbers and your product RoI be the central theme. Nothing sells like hard numbers, anyway!

B2B products are hard to build and enterprise customers are even harder to acquire. Nurture them and listen to their needs; they are the ones who will eventually fulfill to your million-user (and million-dollar) dreams.

Why B2B Startups Need an Enterprise Integration Strategy

B2B startups usually solve a unique problem that existing enterprise applications do not address. In some cases, they even create a new solution niche as they expand their customer base. As your B2B startup grows and acquires more customers and users, it is critical that the early adoption rate is not only sustained but multiplied. Integrating your new product with the enterprise ecosystem should be an important part of your adoption and growth strategy.

Effective enterprise integration stems from designing your B2B product to support an API framework. The framework itself can be built incrementally, but it’s important to have the API hooks in your product that allow external applications easy and secure access to data, product functionality and workflows. You can even have a few out-of-the box integrations that showcase this capability and provide your sales team with additional ammunition to convince that difficult prospect they have been chasing!

From a product adoption point of view, there are a number of advantages that B2B startups can derive from an enterprise integration strategy:

  • Product access and recall: Enterprise users already employ a number of applications in their day-to-day working. Integrating your new product with these applications makes your product easily accessible and increases the number of user touch-points.
  • Barrier to entry for competitors: It is harder for a competitor to replace your product at a customer where you already have multiple enterprise integrations in place. Your product is not just used by the customer, but well-entrenched in their ecosystem!
  • Process integration: Integrating with one or more processes and making your product a part of enterprise workflows will help formalize usage and prevent it from being just another startup pilot deployment that ended up in a narrow enterprise silo.


What should you integrate with?

  • Corporate Directory (SSO): Probably the first integration you should implement at any customer. I’d recommend making it practically mandatory for all enterprise customers you sign-up, and a default offering in your basic sales package. In this day of multiple online accounts, no user wants to remember another username/password combo for a new product. Integrating with your customers’ corporate directory and enabling single sign-on (SSO) will significantly ease the access, increase usage and speed-up adoption in an enterprise.
  • Search Integration and Intranet Portals: Often the most frequented applications in an enterprise. Integrating with intranet portals are a great way to increase your visibility at a new customer, by leveraging these footfalls. If the customer has federated search implemented, search integration will allow users to discover your product when they are looking for something relevant.
  • Domain Specific Applications: If you have an L&D product, you must have integrations with the customers’ existing LMS, assessment applications and the like. If you have a nifty HR tool, integrating with their employee management systems and ERP apps is a must.
  • Critical Applications: Most enterprises have one or more critical applications that are essential for operations and are used by employees on a daily basis. Finding a way to integrate with these applications (even if they are outside your domain) can be a great way to make your product a part of the critical path of the organizations daily working.

Enterprise ecosystem integration is a key driver of B2B product adoption strategy. Executed well, it will pay rich dividends in terms of product usage, revenue and customer longevity.

Product Aesthetics, Community Development and the Step-wells of Gujarat

If you have had a chance to visit the state of Gujarat in Western India, you have almost certainly seen atleast one of the famed step-wells in the region. Known locally as “baori” or “vav”, there are hundreds of these architectural masterpieces dotting the state. The most famous ones are the Rani ki Vav (queen’s step-well) in the town of Patan and the Adalaj Vav (pictured below) at Adalaj, about 30 kms from Ahmedabad. The former makes it to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and both see thousands of visitors and tourists every year.

Major parts of Gujarat have been dry and arid for centuries, with the Thar Desert and the Rann of Kutch having a strong influence on the climatic conditions. The southern parts of the state border the saline Arabian Sea. Water, as a result, has traditionally been a precious and scarce resource. The step-wells evolved between the 6th and 11th century AD to meet the water requirements of the communities that made Gujarat their home. Today they stand testimony to the vision and empathy of the local chieftains and kings who patronized and funded their construction as a public good. They also offer some excellent lessons in product aesthetics and community development, which can be useful even in the unrelated field of software development.

Product Aesthetics

User Experience: Blending Functionality with Aesthetics

The primary function of a step-well was to be a year-round source of water for the community. The deep, multistoried step-wells made the underground water table easily accessible even during the harsh summer months. It would have been economical to simply construct step-wells as a purely functional engineering structure, without the elaborate carvings, sculptures and rich ornamental decorations that we find adorning them. Aesthetics and engineering however went hand-in-hand in traditional Indian architecture, leading to a wonderful user experience. Art-forms and beauty were given equal importance along with scientific principles and construction. Software product designers and architects need to play a similar role for complex software products – features and functionality must be designed with a view of the user experience and aesthetics in mind. Users may start using your product for its features and functionality, but they will become strong champions and power-users of your product if it’s also aesthetically appealing and elegant to use.

Community Development

The step-wells served not just as a stable water source in an arid land, but also a meeting place for the community. The elaborate structures served as a place for the locals to mingle, interact and probably even spend time trading wares and services. Constructing engaging and beautiful structures served the purpose of people spending more time at the step-wells, strengthening the bonds in a migratory, nomadic and dispersed community. Software products can take a leaf out of this book to engage with their users and promote community development. Recent trends in digital transformation have shown that a strong emphasis on leveraging your user community can pay rich dividends for your products and services. Apart from functional aspects of product design and development, having features that enable users to interact with each other and a community support ecosystem that fosters such interactions is critical to product success, user adoption and longevity.

Legacy and Purpose

In the age of multi-billion dollar valuations for seemingly ephemeral apps, it’s easy to get carried away and look for short-cuts to success. As we all know however, these valuations are more black swans than de-rigueur. The patron financiers, architects and sculptors of the step-wells emphasized building something that would not only serve the people of their generation, but would have a lasting impact on the generations to come and leave a legacy. The sense of purpose was a central theme in the construction and perhaps it should be so for the software products we design as well. It may seem naïve to have this point of view given how “exit route” is one of the central discussions for any funding that is sought. But perhaps a shift in focus to the product vision and what it accomplishes for the users and society at large will help us build more enduring and endearing products.

Are there other interesting inspirations you can draw from these wonderful engineering marvels? Which is your favorite step-well and why? I’d love to hear from you!