The Top 5 Lessons from Working with 100+ B2B Businesses in 2023

2023 was not a vintage year for those at the helm of agency, SaaS, or any other business for that matter. Macro-economic factors have made it hard for budget holders to work strategically and commit to investment or spend and those on the other side has seen a significant slowdown in sales velocity and conversion as a result.

In short, it’s been a tough year.

But of course, there are always winners. With the privilege now of having eyes across more than 100 agency and SaaS P&Ls thanks to my work at Scaled and Haatch I can see better than many what realities really looks like – and what appears to be working despite the tougher economic backdrop.

And so, for our final message of 2023 I thought it helpful to share some of the generic observations and lessons we have learned from that broader insight over the last 12 months in the hope it may help you plan for 2024 with positivity.

1. 2024 will be better than many will have you believe.

Yep, listen to many and you may feel like giving up before the year actually starts but from where we sit the reality is different. Pipelines in many sectors are now beginning to unlock, particularly in the last 8 weeks, as businesses lean into the possibility of a more consistent year. Whilst plans have been delayed on budget allocation they are being hatched (no pun intended) and we should see a gradual unlock through Q1, with Q2 being a point of acceleration, especially if and when the US lowers interest rates. The expectation is that money will pour into public markets from cash deposits at that point and that sentiment will ripple across PLC board
room tables and down to us all.

And so, if your budgeting and planning bear this in mind. Those that have the bravery and ambition could really steal a march on the rest in this kind of environment. Plan with your glass half full!

2. GTM has NEVER been more important

With markets now so crowded and consumers better educated on their buyer journeys than ever before a true understanding of who you should reach, and how and where is now not a nice to have but a must have. We see so many businesses started by founders either with great practitioner experience (they’re a great designer for example) or by someone who believes they have spotted a market inefficiency or friction point and want to build a product to remove it. These are always great starting points for a great start up, but they miss a critical thing – a focus on the customer and then the challenge of how to scale an operation capable of serving lots
of them.

The scaling of back office is not an initial challenge of course but the scaling of sales and marketing always is and to do that well (see the next point!) you CANNOT just scattergun a message or hope that your existing network is enough.

Building a go to market plan based on a very precise set of buyer personas, understood, and discovered through a very detailed ideal customer profile process means you can craft messaging based on real pain points that resonate and cut through the market noise more clearly.

3. Specialism and laser market focus is now a superpower

Hand in hand with point three is the need to be narrower than you think is necessary. Whereas just a few years ago in the agency space a specialism was measured in terms of the channel you covered (SEO or Brand Creative for example) there is no doubt from the evidence we see that you now need much more focus than this.

Of the hundreds of agencies, we have spoken to over the last 12 months’ time and time again we have been amazed by the scale of those you may have written off as being ’too niche’.

So, when designing your go to market plan be brave. Don’t be a ‘B2B Marketing Agency’, instead focus further on a sector too. Use it as your trojan horse and then land and expand once you have conquered that super niche.

4. Marketing and sales have to be two sides of the same coin.

Marketing has always been testing ground. Just how to design a plan and budget that has real impact where it matters (measured ultimately in ‘revenue’ for most businesses) has always been complex and confusing, and yet it has never been harder to achieve that than it is now with so much competing for those eyeballs and pockets.

And so, if we look at those tearing up trees and filling top of funnel best it is those that have a super tight go to market and proposition. Those that can talk directly to a series of deep customer pain points that are winning. And they do that by wrapping a super commercial, buying journey focused marketing and sales plan around it.

The process for building this is something we have covered at length in the past but in simple terms the job is to fuse marketing and sales activities and think of them as ‘Demand Generation’ (marketing focused on creating awareness and intent) and then sales that captures that demand ‘Demand Capture.’

Put CRM at the centre of this and a world of targeting, automation and personalisation opens up, allowing you to stay from of mind until they are in buying mode.

This is how you will win in 2024.

5. A consistent story and vision of the future matter if you’re raising or selling

And finally, we come to storytelling. But not through the brand lens so often talked about, but more so through an M&A one. Irrespective of whether you are raising capital or looking to sell it is imperative that you take a future story first view on your strategic planning. Those that can tell a compelling story about the future and back it up with case studies and revenue are the one that have won in the last year.

What I mean by that is that in order to get someone else to buy into the value of what you are building you MUST externalise what it is you see. And then build a story around how that vision extends out into the future so they can also see how they can benefit from the future value creation around it.

Imagine you are a SaaS business for a moment. You’ve built a solid recurring revenue base in the UK and have interest from European customers, but you know that to really establish a beachhead you need to invest in boots on the ground there. That means raising cash and your best chance of raising it is if you can quantify that opportunity. Close one or two pieces of business and then back the story up with addressable market opportunity across that geography.

The end number and then track record of proving you can close it is the thing buyers or investors want to see. And the same is true of selling your business. Buyers want to know how they can 2-10x their investment and so paint that picture for them. The buyers are certainly out there for those with a clear enough story to tell.

And so, here’s to a profitable 2024 for all – and Merry Xmas from all the Scaled team.