Bravo, Alexia. I couldn’t agree with you more- SAP buying SuccessFactors was about as exciting as when Voadfone bought Mannesman in 1999. Except, well, that acquisition was for $179B. A company we’ve never heard of sold itself for three Facebooks. 25 Zyngas. In 1999 dollars.

Yet, like you, I’m still bored. Especially by most enterprise companies. There’s little exciting about these businesses, and the solutions they provide are rarely the source of any magic or joy (compared to consumer products). Consumer internet products could never get away with how slow these products evolve – most look no different than they did in 1999.

But herein lies the opportunity for B2B marketers like us. I love seeing class after class of Y Combinator and TechStars launching startups that do things like automatically show you the picture of the guy in your next meeting or build a ‘Marketplace for Authentic Experiences.’ As a marketer, the idea of getting a critical mass of consumers necessary to make any of these products a successful business is daunting. I tip my cap to these entrepreneurs.

Contrast that with my current challenge: the $10B market my employer serves is -at most- represented by a mere few thousand decision makers. And really, only a portion of them need to be on board with our product for us to be successful.

Enterprise marketers are doing it wrong

The reason B2B is so boring isn’t because these products are boring. It’s because B2B marketers often do a crappy job of making them exciting. They spend a lot of time on positioning, demand generation, collateral, and countless press releases.

They spend exactly zero time on “how can we not bore Alexia Tsotsis to tears?”

You’re thinking Alexia isn’t the target market for your B2B product. You’re wrong. Alexia is, in fact, each and every person that works in your target market. These people who make buy decisions go home every day, and believe me, they aren’t thinking about whatever problem your boring B2B company solves. They’re consumers.

Salesforce.com wrote the book on this

Well, Marc Benioff did. Read his book, and start asking “WWMBD?” How can your boring B2B startup that does CRM automation or online ad optimization possibly be exciting to Alexia?

B2B products are exciting only when they become part of a larger movement, or crusade. Salesforce.com did more than provide CRM in the cloud, they started a movement to ‘end software’ altogether. And that movement got them attention, press, and positioned them as a cool company you want to be involved with. Suddenly you’re not buying CRM software, you’re buying the future. And people who know how to deliver the future to their organization get promoted. Alexia likes to be promoted.

So why does this excite me? Because it’s not that hard to get this right. If you have a good product and successfully articulate your crusade to the market, you’ll destroy your competition and have fun doing it. And you have a much higher chance at real revenue and a successful exit in B2B vs. consumer categories where a new startup pops up every day. There’s an advantage to quietly making millions in revenue while the next hot consumer thing doesn’t even have a revenue model. And founders of these companies can think of plenty of more exciting things to do with that exit money…

Summary:

  1. Even if your startup product isn’t inherently exciting, make the conversation about something exciting. Make your product a part of it. Start a crusade with it.
  2. Treat your target customers like consumers. Pretend they don’t work in your industry, and market to them that way.
  3. That most find B2B boring is what makes it such a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs. Not to mention, the threshold for success is far lower and more incremental than consumer startups.

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