Most of the existing content on Product Management is focussed around the B2C (business to consumer) model, targeting products for the end consumers. B2B i.e. Business to Business product management often requires significantly different approaches when it comes to product discovery and development. B2B Product managers possess more industry expertise, understanding of enterprise users and their ecosystem they serve.
In a B2B context, the enterprise users can be CXOs, Team leaders, Project Managers, and other employees in different functions like finance, operations, procurement. Project sponsors and executive team members have very different needs as compared to the end users. They all strive to actively collaborate together to make the business successful. The business person responsible for buying the product is not typically the actual user of the product.
The product managers companies like Microsoft, Adobe, Shopify, Atlassian, Zendesk, Zoom and Salesforce that serve their enterprise customers, closely work with the sales teams to build new B2B product features. They follow industry news, trends and regularly engage in site visits to understand the ever evolving needs of the business users. Distribution approaches for enterprise products can be on-premise, cloud based, or hybrid with either proprietary or open-source licensing. A majority of the B2B enterprises have pivoted towards cloud based SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions and hence the demand for SAAS product managers is rising. As a B2B / SaaS PM, it is not just important to build empathy for different enterprise users but also to study their business processes and functional relationships.
Some of the common realities of B2B product management are :-
- Customer and users are business driven
- Relatively fewer customers but pay higher price points
- Big clients are critical for product success
- Customers have explicit demands and expectations
- Users require specialized sales and customer support (often paid)
- Buying process is complex & takes more time (no impulsive buying)
- Development has slower release cycles and higher testing standards
- User data is limited and feedback loops are longer
- PMs need high industry expertise
- Products are often customized for businesses with support for multiple 3rd party integrations
Some of the common myths of B2B product management are :-
- Clunky User Experience is ok for business users
- Features are mostly prioritized on sales inputs/pressure
- Innovation is low
- Customers only care about business revenue, savings and efficiency
Let’s understand how to build features for an enterprise/B2B product with an example product management case study below :-
You are a product manager for an accounting software product. The product caters to the small to medium scale businesses in the United States with a sizeable number of employees and high number of business transactions month on month. These business owners are looking for product solutions that make team collaboration and delegation easier with sufficient controls in place. They need solutions that can replicate the business processes like manual approval process for Purchase Orders and Invoicing.
Business Customers need a unified purchase order and bill approval workflow to increase business speed and efficiency while strengthening checks on cash flow and frauds.
Assumption:- The current product lacks an approval workflow for purchase orders and bills which makes it harder for the employees to collaborate. It also makes the business owners vulnerable to fraud and cash flow issues. Maintaining physical proofs (paper trails) is time consuming and inconvenient.
To assess the needs, we need to do opportunity sizing across geographies by taking into account -
- Customer feedback (survey/interviews)
- Sales feedback
- Competitor solutions
- Alternatives available in the market (3rd party add-ons)
- Market research
As per customer feedback, the approval workflow is manually managed by some customers (assumed). It is tedious and causes poor efficiency and collaboration. Some customers are already using 3rd party tools along with accounting products. Approvals and payments can also be automated. This reportedly can lead to a saving of more than 60% in accounts payable processing costs. It is estimated that processing a paper invoice can cost anywhere between $8 and $60 due to labor costs and costly data errors (source: Invoice management for modern businesses by Patrick Whatman).
As per current market dynamics, small and mid-sized businesses are working to rebound from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For two-thirds of small businesses, finding new customers is their biggest obstacle, and over one-fourth struggle to manage them (source: Businesswire).
Company’s mission (hypothetical) is to drive global prosperity by assisting businesses in managing their financial problems.
Primary Users / Customers
Small to Mid-market business owners - who own companies with
- High monthly volume of business transactions or cash-flow
- Sizeable number of employees (>50)
They are concerned about
a) Expenditure and cash flow b) Fraud/loss c) Slow overall workflow
E.g. Manufacturing companies, real estate
- Finance Dept. employees
- Procurement Dept. employees
- Project Managers
- Dept. heads
Characteristics of other users
a) Concerned about accountability b) Do a lot of manual work
# External Accountants, Auditors, Suppliers, Legal team, Sales team, Customer Support, Vendors, IT team & Leaders can also be users of the enterprise products as they need visibility to business processes like the billing and purchase process
# For more details on “users and customers”, read - How to identify users?
User Needs & Pain Points
Needs and Pain Points of Business Owners
Small business owners want better control over their business by streamlining finances, increasing productivity & reducing enterprise costs. Moreover they need -
- Faster decision making and execution to increase speed of business
- Visibility/alerts on cash flow, credit cost and expenditure
- Better collaboration and delegation between employees
- Simplified business processes like avoiding unnecessary approvals
- Checks on misappropriation of funds
Needs and Pain Points of other users
Company employees and their vendors want to manage the accounts payable and billing process smoothly while simultaneously increasing speed and accuracy of document processing. They also have the below needs and pain points -
- Need for better collaboration - easy tracking and approvals to save processing time
- Manage high workload due to paperwork
- Difficult to audit - lack of proper documentation
- Manage accountability by proper authorisation of finances
- Accuracy in data and reporting - prevent and reconcile errors
Considering the internal capabilities and technologies required to enable the required functionality, multiple solutions can be evaluated. For eg -
- 3rd party partner integrations (like add-ons, APIs)
- Acquisition of existing products in the market
- Inhouse product feature
The solutions are to be assessed for prioritization on the basis of -
a) Customer Value, b) Business Value, c) Development/integration costs, d) Time to market and e) Risks.
USER FLOW Purchase Order (PO) approval workflow :- 1. Purchase request is created by requester through PO request form (procurement dept) 2. Purchase request is sent for approval based on the configuration 3. Purchase request can be automatically approved or rejected based on configuration 4. Procurement manager is then notified & purchase order is automatically created 5. This data is then automatically updated in the accounting system Invoice / Payment approval workflow :- 1. Purchase team receives invoice from supplier via email, system or physically 2. Purchase team inputs data into the invoice management system if not digitized 3. System validates the 3 documents: Purchase Order, Packing Slip & Invoice 4. The 3 documents to be compared line by line – for amount, price & description 5. System sends invoice to the respective approver as per the configuration 6. Approver is automatically notified & approves or denies payment in system 7. "Auto-approval" if enabled can automatically approve/disapprove request 8. Finance manager (or his team) is then notified, and can pay the invoice 9. This data is automatically updated in the accounting system 10. Users can track status (dashboard for requester & approver)
Proposed solution and feature details in the presentation below
Various metrics on business value, client success, product usage, engineering and customer service need to be monitored for measuring the overall performance of the feature.
Some of the key metrics to be measured at the time of launch are :-
- Total number of Bills and PO Approvals processed
- Number of Paid users
KEY SUCCESS METRICS FOR BUSINESS OWNERS / SME Processing time - Bills and POs Days Payable Outstanding (DPO) Expenditure due to cash flow credit cost Avg time of credit credit risk score Cost of procurement Productivity No. of transactions per week Delays in PO generation/Payments Manual errors in process (reconciled) Issues / disputes raised KEY SUCCESS METRICS FOR PRODUCT MANAGERS - Geographies, Days - 1,30,90, 360 Usage - #users Revenue from SKU Customer satisfaction score - NPS, SUS No. of Approvals and rejections Approval time (90%ile) Approvals and rejections in time Frauds detected (False +ve, False -ve) KEY SUCCESS METRICS FOR ENGINEERING MANAGERS Downtime No. of API calls/day - Success/Fails Issues/ bugs reported KEY SUCCESS METRICS FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE No. of Service Center Contacts Average contact handling time Customer Resolution time (tech response - T90) SLA breaches, re-opens, escalations
“B2B vs B2C” - Lines are extremely blurry these days
Slack or Zoom, all aim for top-notch Customer Experience and UI/UX
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