Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some cool conversations with B2B tech founders, CEOs, sales leaders and other recent connections on LinkedIn. They’ve shared stories about their innovative solutions and the journeys they’ve taken to get to where they are today. And they’ve also been upfront and honest about the challenges their companies face when it comes to marketing.
This week’s blog touches on the things I’ve heard — and includes the results of my LinkedIn poll — on top marketing challenges for B2B technology startups in 2023.
Lack of budget or resources
Money is clearly a precious commodity in the early stages of any startup, so it’s not exactly surprising to hear that many marketers struggle to get results with limited resources. This has come up in almost every conversation I’ve had recently and got half of the votes in my poll.
The issue is twofold: companies need to better understand how marketing serves their business goals and be prepared to invest in it; and B2B marketers need to reassure themselves they can achieve meaningful results without spending as much as they might think.
…companies need to better understand how marketing serves their business goals and be prepared to invest in it.
You don’t need a $50k website to get started. You don’t need to spend $15k per month on a PR firm, or thousands of dollars on paid media. I tell startups to treat marketing like a minimal viable product (MVP): figure out what you need to do most to be found by potential buyers and build credibility with them, and focus on those things. In some cases, it may be the website that needs investment. In others, awareness or demand gen might take top billing (more on that later). With clear, realistic priorities, you can dedicate the money you have to marketing more effectively.
Absence of a marketing strategy
Even if you have money to spend and a sense of priorities, it’s still hard to build out a coherent set of marketing activities without a strategy. Developing one takes time — and possibly some budget if you don’t have in-house expertise to lead the exercise. Find someone internally or bring in an expert from outside with a proven framework to put you on the right path.
I totally understand the pressures inside a startup to build and grow from day one, and how strategy development can seem like an activity with no tangible results. But having a strategy will save time and money in the long term because it gives you a ready framework for making decisions that support your business goals. When all your marketing activities are integrated and working towards a common goal, they will be successful and deliver results.
This is by no means a challenge for startups only, or even B2B tech companies. Businesses of all sizes in all sectors routinely struggle to present a simple, consistent and differentiated message. If a buyer can’t understand how you help them or why your offering is better than the competition’s — or better than a DIY approach or doing nothing — it’s tough for them to convince others in their org to invest. Anyone buying a solution from a startup is already taking a gamble, so your value proposition and messaging need to be that much more compelling.
Businesses of all sizes in all sectors routinely struggle to present a simple, consistent and differentiated message.
As with strategy development, spending time on creating your messaging and aligning the whole team around it will pay dividends down the road. A proven framework can make all the difference here too. More on this in the near future from the Zinc Marketing team, so stay tuned.
Minimal market awareness
Building awareness and generating demand are often essential first steps for B2B tech marketers in startup companies. Both take focus and require marketing to work closely with sales. Since any established competitor will already enjoy more awareness in the marketplace, your best tactic is to find an early or unoccupied niche and own it. By not trying to sell to everyone, your limited budget and resources can have a much bigger impact. You can expand to related audiences once you start to get revenue in the door and a reputation on the street.
Finding a niche starts with being crystal clear about your ideal customer profile (ICP). Gartner defines an ICP as the attributes of accounts that are expected to become a company’s most valuable customers. This is not the same as your target audience or total addressable market: it’s about identifying your ideal customers — the ones who need your solution most and will pay for it.
Not enough qualified prospects
The ICP is equally relevant to finding qualified prospects. Knowing who you want to target allows you to focus demand gen efforts and deliver better results with less budget: quality always outweighs quantity when it comes to sales leads. A big list that’s not laser-targeted will cost you more, and your limited sales resources won’t even be able to follow-up with all prospects.
‘Qualified prospects’ is the keyword here. A lot of time can be wasted in discussions with people who may think your solution is cool but will never buy. Use your ICP along with tools that help you target your marketing efforts precisely on the right potential customers.
As well, be realistic about how many is “enough”. You don’t need thousands of prospects to chase in the early days. You need a volume you can handle — and deliver to successfully. Early wins are crucial not only to getting revenue but also to validating your solution in the marketplace so you can attract more customers and make improvements going forward.
Knowing where to start with your marketing challenges
This list is far from exhaustive, but certainly covers the most common B2B tech startup marketing challenges. Some of the folks I talked to said they were dealing with every single one of the above. And in each conversation, other unique challenges emerged as well. For many people, the burning question was, “So where do we start?”
While to some degree the answer depends on a company’s specific circumstances, I would argue that developing a marketing strategy and plan is the best bet in most cases because it guides the other activities. If you define your strategy and your ICP, you’ll have even greater clarity and tackle your points of struggle more effectively and efficiently.
If you define your strategy and your ICP, you’ll have even greater clarity and tackle your points of struggle more effectively and efficiently.
I want to thank everyone who took the time to talk to share their experiences. I have been really impressed with how generous the LinkedIn community can be and I look forward to continuing these conversations. I’ll also try to offer more targeted advice than I can in a blog post so it’s a win-win. Please message me on LinkedIn or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share your marketing challenges.