Playing The Long Game

In our experience, most business-to-business (B2B) startup projects will extend well beyond the terms set out in the initial business plan: such is the nature of that market.  Of course, business-to-consumer (B2C) startups, too, run into delays.  In most cases, though, the consequences of those delays are clear right away and can be adjusted for.  In the B2B world, however, delays are more subversive; their consequences far less obvious but much more profound.

Let us say that, when you started your project three years ago, your entire market may have been just ten clients in the entire world.  Let’s say that, during these three years, two of them merged and two exited the market altogether, taking that number down from ten to seven.  Two customers just completed update of their business process, in effect delaying your entry by another year.  Three of those ten initial customers are in a part of the world you don’t really want to travel to.  Do you still want to keep pursuing your project with just two accessible customers remaining?  Or should you reconsider your target market altogether?

To make matters worse, your market place – business – is the most regulated marketplace in the world.  Your clients are upstanding businesses with big bank accounts which means that they are easy targets when something goes wrong.  This makes them very, very cautious, doing their utmost to avoid changes and reluctant to introduce a new face among their suppliers.  When they do make the decision to introduce a new supplier, they have to follow an exhaustive process which can take years and costs them a lot of money.  Unfortunately, this process can end up taxing your resources just as much as theirs.

Unlike the B2C world, where fast iteration is key, it is the quality of long-term planning that rules the B2B world.  Don’t take any chances; build your business plan for five years and use it as an open document.  It is GO you are playing, not checkers.  Your opponent?  It is not your competition but your target market.  Make no mistake, the market will play against you and will play hard.  Make sure you are fully set up to last through the long game: it will make all the difference in your success.

More Columns