While seasonality and season-dependent business is something usually associated with B2C companies and communication with the consumer, the fact is, you can’t hide from seasonality in B2B.
It is a common practice to differentiate the meaning of marketing seasonality for B2B and B2C businesses. Yet, the definition of these processes in both segments is not that polar.
So, what is business seasonality?
It is the change in buyers’ behavioral patterns depending on the specific period of the year. And that’s not only on how you manage your communication during different times of the year. Seasonality is the analytical way to tell you what practices work better at what times, taking into account things like buyers’ habits, external factors, and the demand for your product.
In B2B marketing, the seasonality focus is on communications with businesses rather than separate individuals. Missing out on seasonality in B2B is a mistake your business can’t afford. Let’s dig deeper and talk about the trends of business seasonality in B2B marketing.
How business seasonality really impacts your marketing?
A simultaneously exciting and terrifying part of leading a business is the inability to control what’s waiting for your team around the corner.
The thing you can do, though, is to take the data you have, analyze it, and prepare for something likely to happen based on evidence.
And that’s what seasonality in marketing is about.
You can’t help it if your sales and outreach slow down dramatically around Christmas and in January. But you can:
- turn things around and allocate more marketing efforts toward customer retention
- strengthen the bond with your clients
- plan your next steps.
Think of business seasonality as your best attempt to take the factors out of your control and adjust the team’s communication with the clients to make the most out of each of them.
Speaking of the factors, let’s dwell on the aspects that may contribute to business seasonality:
Internal Strategic/Operations Flow
To become an asset to your client, you need to understand what gaps your service could fill in other companies’ long-term strategy and vision.
Depending on the value proposition you have in mind, approach your companies when they actually benefit from your offer, not when it might disrupt the already laid-out strategy.
To make sure you pop up in your prospect’s inbox on time, keep in mind that:
- The final quarter of the year is usually the high time for teams to start outlining their next year’s strategy. In the meantime, it’s high time for you to start prospect outreach. With a value proposition that shows exactly how your solutions can become a game-changer, you have a chance at building some meaningful business connections in the upcoming year.
- Every end of the fiscal quarter means you should be at the top of your game. Similar to those overwhelming several months before the end of the year, the last weeks of every quarter are also the time for your clients to meet the final deadlines and start looking into the next 90-day sprint. Although clients don’t usually operate that much data during quarter reviews, they pay attention to situational analysis and define some of the obvious red flags to avoid in the future. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to help them find more efficient options!
- Half-year reviews are also a good conversation opener for the prospects. Six months into the yearly strategy execution, your clients have enough data to figure out where to allocate more resources in order to meet those ambitious long-term goals. And who says it can’t be your product that makes the last two quarters more productive than ever? All you need is the right timing.
Why do you need to build your outreach patterns around these motions? Of course, the first answer that comes to mind would be to increase your chances of closing a deal.
You’re not wrong, but let’s think about the buyer for a second. When you approach the buyer with no regard for their internal processes and needs at the moment, the clients rightfully think that you’re more focused on pushing the product rather than offering real help here. And no one would judge them for turning down the product when it’s completely out of context. Even if you’re convinced it’s the best one in the market.
Reaching out means you know what your prospect must be going through. It doesn’t mean simply scheduling cold outreach on the terms you want.
It would be a bit irresponsible to forget about the money when we’re trying to do some business here. So, when setting the tone for communication with your prospects, take into account the budget cycles they’re dealing with.
An absolute must for B2B companies, budget cycles determine when to approach potential buyers to secure more chances for a deal. The most general outline for a budget cycle is:
Your team’s task is to define when your potential buyers plan their budget (usually, it is the period from the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of the next one) and approach them when they still have money to spend on the product. Another way is to launch lead generation campaigns close to the end of the fiscal year, as companies might wonder where to allocate the surplus.
Work Travel and Major Business Events
Bear in mind the busy schedules of your buyers. If you know that a certain conference is taking place at the same time you’re planning on checking in on your prospect, maybe it’s better to plan the outreach until after it’s over. In such a way, you (probably) won’t be left on “read” by a busy executive. As a side bonus, you’ll have something to discuss.
Weather Conditions and Time of the Year
Although not applicable to all businesses out there, you don’t want to approach a construction retail company in winter. Chances are the construction materials aren’t as hot in January.
Holidays and Socially Significant Events
We know what you might think: What do holidays have to do with B2B? And it’s disappointing that companies forget to throw this factor into the mix. Think of one of the most common seasonality markers for the B2C market: Black Friday. While sending a spammy email about a Black Friday discount might not work well for your potential B2B buyer, a properly curated message to a prospect who works in E-Commerce can go a long way. The key to using seasonal events and holidays to B2B benefit is to think of the pain points and seasonal trends your prospects deal with.
Essentially, business seasonality is a sneak peek into how your prospects are likely to respond to your offer depending on the time you approach them. Without knowing the low and high seasons of your and your prospects’ business, you’re shooting in the dark. And what good is that going to make to you both?
Defining High & Low Seasons in B2B
The general premise that Christmas and summer are the worst times to do business, or that the beginning of the year is the best time to close the deals is a bit naive and oversimplifying.
Sure, the allocation of the high/peak and low/off seasons throughout the year may coincide for many companies out there. But it’s separating one company’s journey from another’s that matters for your future deals.
Yet before you go deep into defining the seasonality cycles of your buyers, focus on yourself.
Intuition won’t go a long way, even if you claim to pay attention to the tiniest details and fluctuations in your sales cycle. Here’s what might help you add more clarity:
Step 1: Analyze your sales performance over the past several years.
Comparing your June and September sales will leave you with nothing. To be more specific, it will leave you with a distorted perception of your sales. For the analysis to get you where you want to be, you need an understanding of the recurring tendencies in sales peaks and drops that have happened within the past years.
Take your data from several years and make sure to note down all the regularities that happened over this period. Have you noticed that throughout these years, your win rate increased dramatically in Q4? Mark all your observations and get back to them for closer analysis.
Now that you know when your team benefits the most in terms of the timeline, it’s better to define the exact programs that impacted your closed deals. Think of the strategies that have:
- Most qualified opportunities generated
- Shortest sales cycle
- Highest win rates
By focusing on these aspects’ roots and strategic impact, you mitigate the risk of being fooled by an increased pipeline, a growing number of MQLs, or other metrics that have little to do with sustainable growth.
When combined, all these quality indicators contribute to your sales velocity or how fast your customers move through your pipeline and bring you profit.
How to calculate sales velocity:
Step 2: Adjust your data to seasonality.
After you’ve calculated your sales velocity over the given timeframes (usually, we’re talking about the velocity within a fiscal quarter), not only will you see the difference in the results across the quarters, but you will also analyze separate metrics like win rate, number of opportunities, and sales cycle length.
Now, juxtapose these data with the seasonality markers you discussed earlier. Do you notice the regularities? In many cases, your off-seasons will be characterized by extended sales cycle length and fewer qualified opportunities coming your way.
To get out of this situation, try to think of other metrics you can influence to keep sales velocity in place.
Step 3: Analyze the “why” of the change.
Of course, in many cases, the root of the change could be found in one of the seasonality contributors from above. But what if it’s also about the internal processes within your team and the proper attention you fail to pay to your team’s growth? Maybe, some people on your team took a vacation when it was critical for the sales team to close on the deals. Maybe it was the shortage of reps in general. By learning the “why” inside and outside your team, you will be able to sync the seasonality trends with your internal workflow.
After you’ve figured out all the details about your peak and off seasons, you need to find out the information about your customers. Think of the particular industries you want to approach and define what their highs & lows are.
You know your sales have some lows. What you should also know, though, is that it’s surely not the time to stop working.
It’d be quite logical of you to assume that the seasons where hot leads are off the table are about slowing down the marketing process.
But when it comes to marketing, can you really slow down and be able to get back on track once there’s a peak? The question is rhetorical because we all know it’s not how marketing works.
So, what should you do during the off-season? Retarget your marketing strategy toward creating the demand rather than capturing it.
What does it mean?
When generating demand for your product in the market, most companies spend most of their budget and opportunities to convert leads who are ready to buy. That’s what is meant by demand capture.
And while there’s nothing wrong with nurturing the opportunities with a high conversion chance, these leads constitute very few percent of the total addressable market.
To make your strategy more far-reaching, you need to think about the majority of buyers who are out of the market today, creating the demand for your product in the long run. By getting your brand out there and raising customer awareness, you increase the chances of those out-of-market leads coming to you once they’re ready to make a purchase.
So, when seasonality trips you up, the best option you’re left with is channeling more of your marketing operations to educate the prospects and heat the market for the good times ahead.
Weighing all the hassle that comes along with seasonality, we can sum it up in something like this:
Seasonality is a bummer. But an excuse? Never.
Even if your performance can’t be the same all year round, your team’s expectations shouldn’t be less ambitious depending on the month.
Imagine setting smaller marketing targets for the low seasons and ending up with even less at the end of the month. Such disruptions between your goals during one fiscal year will take a toll on your team and your numbers. Instead, try keeping your eyes on the prize for the whole year, cutting your team some slack when the performance indicators are down during an off-season.
Keeping your targets the same will help you work on the performance statistics later on, giving you more insights into seasonality and how demand-creation efforts affect your number in the long run.
Another good reason to keep your team on the same track is that no matter how precise your seasonality data might be, there will always be factors way out of your league. Way out of everybody’s league, if we’re being honest.
B2B Marketing and Economic Downturn: What are the options?
If there’s anything we have learned over the past three years is that no bulletproof plan can save you from the madness we observe every single day. Unless you’ve carefully studied all 34 seasons of “The Simpsons,” of course.
Jokes aside, the social, political, and economic precedents taking place worldwide leave you wondering what the future will look like. Especially what another economic recession will look like for your business.
But don’t let your anxiety come in the way: your business can survive. As long as you know how to help other businesses stay afloat. Just like you, many companies today feel uncertain about the future, contemplating their options to save money and cut costs. Some even think of marketing as one of the first expenses to cut in the downturn.
And that’s where they’re wrong. If you want a shot at a more viable future, leave it to the marketers to keep your company alive.
During these troubled times, marketing is key to repositioning the product as the one that’s here to make the economic downturn less painful for the prospects. Resolving a pain point for your clients, especially as challenging as a literal economic crisis, is the ultimate value proposition you should stick to.
So, going back to the question, what are your options in the economic downturn?
We’ve put together a few aspects to focus on:
- Continue building your brand to reach the addressable market. Economic recession inevitably means fewer prospects ready to make a purchase. But those few clients who remain in your target market will want to make sure they invest in the opportunities they can rely on. So, making sure your brand continues to build awareness is the only way to catch the buyer’s attention in the heavy sea of competition and uncertainty.
- Work on demand creation. Being a decision-maker during an economic downturn isn’t the most enjoyable business endeavor. So, instead of rushing your prospects into a decision, help them stay afloat with what they already deal with. Educate your audience, engage in conversations that interest and concern your buyer, and wait until they’re back on their feet to make a well-thought-out purchase.
- Show some empathy. The most important thing you need to remember is that despite the pressure you’re under to keep your business together, you deal with humans first and buyers second. They’re worried as well, so cut them some slack when they second-guess their decision to buy. Be there to talk them through any hesitations, and give them the space they need to process a decision. Ten follow-up emails won’t do you any good.
- Adjust your USP to the context. Recession is always about changing your priorities. So, think about whether your customers can care deeply about the value you present when in survival mode. How do you help companies get out of the recession rut? Answer this question to yourself before sharing your narrative with the audience.
Knowing about the external factors that influence the behavior of your prospects is something you should definitely get a hold of when developing a marketing strategy for your product.
The more you explore, the more you invest in creating a bond with your customers, learning exactly when and what they expect from you.
But no matter how insightful, business seasonality is still the approximation that tends to capture repetitive behaviors of your buyers. And building your whole strategy around it is risky because you never know what to expect. Especially in the business environment we see.