Should B2B founders outsource sales & marketing?

  • by: Vladimir Blagojevic

In a group coaching program I once ran, there was a B2B company who hired three lead generation agencies: two did cold-calling (in two different countries), and the third ran lead generation ads.

They thought they were all set.

However, after reviewing the different campaigns, we came to the conclusion that: 

  • The cost per lead was above €250 — and none of those leads were converting 

  • One of the cold calling agencies has called almost everyone on the whole list — without generating a single sales 

  • None of these agencies were doing a bad job. The campaigns were set up and run professionally 

What was going on? 

When I looked at their website, it became clear: the startup didn’t have a validated value proposition. 

Important to note this wasn’t an early stage startup who naively thought “build it, and they’ll come”. They already did the hard work of acquiring their first customers,  who were happily using the product. 

But when they tried to generate new business beyond their warm network, they simply couldn’t communicate the business value their technology was generating for their customers. 

This is something I see again and again: 

  • Inability to communicate the true goals and challenges of your best client results in a poorly constructed bridge between what YOU offer, and what THEY really want. Your customers are not the innovator — that’s your job. They don’t see a piece of technology and think ‘this is what I need’. It’s your job to show (and prove) how your product would help them reach their top goals and solve their top problems in their specific business context

  • Some founders naively believe that ‘The problem is that my prospects are not aware of our tech. If I only could get my message in front of the right people, enough of them would buy’. While this was never really true, just think about the context in which you operate now: just in Martech alone there are 4566% more startups than only 8 years ago, all fighting for your prospect’s limited attention

  • B2B companies target broad markets, anyone who could potentially benefit from their tech. Because, the more, the merrier, right? Not quite. Confucius’ advice — ”He who chases two rabbits catches neither” — applies here too. 20% of your customers will generate 80% of revenue, referrals and testimonials. And each startup needs a traction base — a special kind of customer whose pain is large enough and who’s willing to take the inherent risk in working with a startup knowing that 9 out of 10 startups go out of business in their first years

  • They ignore how their customers buy. They ignore the different stakeholders influencing the buying decision. They ignore the different buying stages their prospects go through before they buy. Unfortunately, as a result, their product gets ignored too  

  • Founders believe that their job is product vision, fundraising and team building, while marketing and sales should be outsourced to specialized people and companies. Which brings me to the main point of the article: 

Your main job is to figure out how to sell your product

You cannot outsource that to another company — nor to a ‘growth hacking / sales superstar’ new hire. How many times did I hear that “We hired a great sales guy, but after six months of trying hard, we have no sales. He was just didn’t get our product and our market”. 

I get it, it’s scary. You might not have the experience. You are not a sales person. 

But this is what founders often misunderstand: 

Building a sales and marketing process requires a completely different set of skills then running and scaling a proven process.  

Jakob Marovt, co-founder of sales research company Pipetop, would no doubt agree: 'Outsourcing the sales process sounds like a great idea for product-focused first-time founders,' he writes. 'We’ve seen our friends and clients try this multiple times. And it never works. They always go back and do it in-house with founders in charge.'

You need to figure out: 

  • Your traction base (who your best customers are)

  • Your value proposition - how you are different and worth buying 

  • How your customers are buying: what their top goals and challenges are, how they perform research, where they hang out, who is involved in the process and what their needs and objections are, which competitive alternatives they consider and what would make your product stand out in a way that’s relevant to them… 

  • How to attract potential customers knowing 97% of the market is not buying right now 

  • How to connect to your best clients without being spammy

  • How to qualify your prospects so you avoid wasting time on low-quality leads and make personalized offers aligning the benefits of your product with the needs and challenges of prospects

Expecting to outsource these key activities is like expecting to hire a software development agency, explain what you want to build, and expect they’ll deliver a product your customers will love, without doing the hard work of product-market fit validation. 

In fact, the business development activities mentioned above are exactly the things you need to be doing to accelerate your product-market fit validation. Because, if you break it down, product-market fit is about figuring out answers to those key questions.

Conclusion 

If you’re running a B2B company, you know you need to generate qualified sales opportunities. 

And it seems it has never been easier to connect to your potential customers. After all, there is a proliferation of sales and marketing automation tools (7000+ and counting), together with growth hacking and lead generation agencies — reminiscent of the gold rush in nineteenth century’s California. 

But getting someone’s attention through mass outreach or advertising doesn’t make them a sales opportunity – that’s just a numbers game that sacrifices trust for short-term results.

If you haven’t done the hard work of figuring out how to market to and sell your product, you’re risking of spending lots of time and money without getting the results you want. 

It’s your job to figure out how to target, attract, connect to, qualify, nurture and close your best customers, before you outsource specific activities, and hire a team to scale the others.