As a Product Manager, I have always worked on B2B products. Ever since I was first introduced to product management as a term, I have devoured any article, post, book or podcast I could find on it. These resources have been a treasure trove of information, best practices and have helped me tremendously in my product management journey. But, over the years I have realized that a lot of this content is written with certain risky assumptions -
There is no difference between B2B and B2C product management.
It couldn’t be farther from the truth. B2B is a whole different ball-game. The core essentials of product management are common between the two (and that is why it is possible for product managers to cross over all the time).
But, if you are new product manager managing your first B2B product or you have shifted from managing consumer products you should be aware of a few important considerations in B2B product management.
The Customer is not the user
This is the north star of B2B. Unlike B2C software, they are two distinct sets of people whose needs can be radically different. Even in a big company, purchasing a software for $50k per year is a big decision. One that will be made by VP, SVP or C-level folks. They need a clear justification for the investment they are approving. They have specific needs that need to be addressed first or there will never be a deal. The users, on the other hand, are in-the-trench folks like mid-level managers and individual contributors. Their needs have to be catered too as well if the product is to be successfully adopted across the enterprise.
For your customer the stakes are very high
Many software tools used by enterprises are mission critical. Problems in the software can often mean a loss of business or even worse - actual physical harm to assets and people. Availability, security and compliance cannot be afterthoughts but have to be core considerations during the development.
You can’t afford to move fast and break things
The mantra that made a thousand B2C companies doesn’t work in B2B. As a corollary, you cannot run A/B tests to get quick answers to any hypothesis. Either there aren’t enough users to be able to get a statistically significant result or it is just not feasible to change the experience for one set of your customers. You have to focus on talking to the customers and getting a deep, qualitative understanding of their problems.
Upfront roadmap commitments
Customers usually require and get definite commitments in terms of future product functionality with penalty clauses attached sometimes. Engineers and product managers need to think of 3-year roadmaps instead of 6-month roadmaps. Customers (especially whales) can exert huge pressure during the sales process to get one-off features. As hard as we may try this sometimes cannot be avoided
A complex ecosystem
Enterprise products replace only a small fraction of their customer’s overall software stack. The product needs to fit into this complex environment. Integrations are not just bonus features but essential requirements.
Long sales cycles
Sales cycles can stretch across months, sometimes years. There are budget discussions, sales calls, contract negotiations and (gasp) an implementation process and comprehensive training requirements!
Keep these in mind and go forth to B2B glory! (more realistically a never-ending nightmare of feature requests from your customers)