Finding the right opportunities is what drives any business forward, but this is a challenging task if you don’t know what to look for.

In this article I’ll be focusing on:

  • What a market opportunity looks like
  • How to discover new opportunities in the B2B space
  • How to conduct a problem interview
  • How to validate your opportunities

What does a B2B  opportunity look like?

Market opportunity is a problem you can solve with your product. But you don’t buy a product for each problem you have.

Generally, an opportunity is a problem that:

  1. Is urgent: if you don’t solve it now, something bad will happen.
  2. Is pervasive: a significant number of businesses experience this problem.
  3. The market is willing to pay to solve it.

How to discover potential opportunities

There is a famous saying about finding the right market opportunity:

“Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.”

It means that you’re unlikely to generate a business opportunity without solid input from your buyers. But how do you get that input?

Your buyers are busy doing their own job, and it takes quite a bit of effort and planning to find out the problem worth solving.

There are several approaches you should try:

Industry research and publications

It always makes sense to start by checking what research has already been done, and if the problem you’re researching is really an opportunity.

Online and offline conferences, and other events

You get to meet a pre-selected audience, enthusiastic people who put away their daily tasks and are ready to communicate. On top of that, you get a chance to meet the audience outside your traditional markets.

Online communities

This is a quick and easy way to get initial insight, because in such communities people are openly discussing their problems and are sharing possible ways of addressing them.

Beware, however, that you are more likely to hear from the “noisy” ones, who are most willing to complain, which is not necessarily bad, but does not imply pervasiveness of the problem and willingness to pay for the solution.

Your sales teams

They talk to prospects and customers, ask about their challenges, and are very easy to reach out to. Like any other research technique, this one should not be used in isolation and the information should be taken with a pinch of salt, but you might be able to formulate some hypothesis for further verification.

Observation

This way is most commonly applied in B2C research, and is quite complicated to perform in the B2B setting because it is very unlikely that some company will let you in their office and allow you to observe their routines.

What you can do, however, is ask someone who is willing to tell you about their challenges to let you see how they currently approach a specific task, and then discuss why they are doing it this way and if they are happy with the way it is.

Individual interviews

Arguably the most straightforward way to get insights from the market is to talk to your potential customers. Asking them what their problems are and how are they solving them currently is commonly referred to as a ‘problem interview’.

Interviews with your potential or existing customers can give you tons of interesting insights you can use to uncover a market opportunity. But it is not always easy to find the volunteers to talk to.

There are several directions you can try:

  • Talk to your customers - They are easy to reach out to and most likely open to chat. However, be aware that they can be biased towards you and your solutions, which is good if they like it, but skews your research results.
  • Ask for references - Your customers and partners might introduce you to people in the industry who are willing to share their thoughts. This way requires a little more effort, but the results tend to be more objective.
  • Ask your consultants - You can not only ask them about the most pressing unaddressed problems for your market, but also for the contacts of professionals you can interview. If the consultant you are working with has managed to build trust relationships with their clients, they are likely to agree to talk to you.
  • Find them in online communities - This is a great way to find contacts outside of your customer base and hear an unbiased opinion. However, when you disrupt a nice and cozy conversation with your interview invitation, this might be considered inappropriate. So, when you reach out, it’s important to express your genuine interest in the topic and their opinion on it through your post or comments. Also, make sure you don’t break the rules of the platform or community.
  • Outreach on social media - A great way to cherry-pick the contacts for your interview is to find the profiles of professionals on social media based on industry, geographic location, experience and so on. Unfortunately, most of them won’t reply. Just accept this as a fact and reach out to more people than you need for an interview, experiment and be creative. Also, look for those who are active: post in groups, share content, comment a lot, since they tend to be more willing to share their opinion. But there’s also a downside - these active influencers might not represent your typical customer, who is overburdened with a lot of problems they are even not willing to admit.

How to conduct a problem interview

There are numerous frameworks and best practices around conducting interviews. However, the most important aspect you should remember is the reason you are conducting it - identifying market opportunity, i.e. the problem that is urgent, pervasive, and that the market is willing to pay for to address.

For example, to identify the problem, you can start by asking your interviewee to describe their day and remember what frustrated them the most. Once you’ve stumbled upon the problem, ask, what happens, if it stays this way. How will they feel if it remains unaddressed? This way, you will get to understand how urgent the problem is.

In order to identify the pervasiveness of the problem, you need to conduct further research, but it makes sense to ask your interviewee if they are aware of their peers having the same issue. And finally, ask when does it become so bad that they actually purchase something to solve it, if at all. You will then understand if they are willing to pay for a solution to resolve their problem.

An interviewer should remember that an interview is a conversation with another human being, with their own biases and prejudice. We all want to look smart and capable, and always know how to solve our problems. During your interviews you are going to hear two things very frequently: requests and complaints. While they might be informative, they are not what you are looking for. But it is in your power to convert them into insights:

  1. When you hear a complaint, always go with: “Tell me more about it”, “Why is it so bad?”, “What do you do about it?”
  2. When you hear a request, ask: “How are you going to use it?” “What is the effect you expect?” “How will you understand that you achieved what you wanted?”

If you are hearing the same problems over and over - congratulations, you are onto something.

How to validate your opportunities

Once you’ve got a list of the potential opportunities, it is not the time to go and build a solution for each one of them. First, you need to understand which ones you want to pursue and make sure these are real opportunities.

There are two key principles that will help you at this stage:

  1. Validate before you build.
  2. Validate a problem, not the solution.

There are numerous ways to validate your findings, and numerous questions you still need to answer, including:

  • Is the problem relevant for many?
  • Which segments it is most relevant to?
  • Are they actively looking for a solution?
  • What are the alternative ways to solve it?
  • What is the potential business impact?
  • Who is your persona? (Remember, people experience problems - not businesses)

And many more, depending on what problem you are validating.

How do you do that?

At this point you will benefit from quantitative data. One of the most common ways is to launch a survey. Create a questionnaire that will help you either prove or challenge your ideas, but make sure you don’t create bias towards your assumptions.

How to run a survey that will give you reliable data is a huge topic, and smart people spend many years mastering this skill. There are right and wrong ways to conduct and analyze a survey. If you make a mistake, in the best scenario you won’t get any meaningful information. In the worst case - you will make the wrong decision and might build a solution for the problem that doesn't exist.

The good news is that there are numerous solutions with build-in best practices that you can use to create a survey. However, if you are uncomfortable with surveys it is best that you find someone with a solid understanding of quantitative research.

Another popular way is to create an actual landing page to test if anyone is actively looking for a solution. As you remember, we’re testing the problem, not a solution, so you don’t have to have the product just yet.

For example, you can offer to see mockups, see plans and prices, or subscribe for future updates. This way you’ll see how many people found this not only interesting, but also something they’d potentially be willing to purchase.

Note that unless you put a price tag on something, people are likely to tell you that what you are doing is awesome. Ask for money - and you’ll see that only the ones with real pain will stay.

Obviously, there could be many more ways to validate the market problem and see if that’s an opportunity for you. Be creative, but remember that your data should be unbiased and provable, and always look for ways to double-check your findings.