Yes, 2023 was a tough one! Probably the most difficult year I’ve ever experienced in German B2B sales (since 2001). Let’s break this down a bit and see if we can learn something from it –
Our clients reported that their sales cycles got a lot longer (our own sales cycles got longer as well) and conversion rates (meetings-to-close) dropped.
Worst quarters were Q2 and Q3. Funnily, our own Q4 in 2023 was better that Q4 in 2022. So the trend seems to be upwards and lets me hope that 2024 will be a good year for our clients and for us.
We saw that IT services industry was most affected, especially software engineering outsourcing. Companies in Germany simply stopped asking for generic “capacity” and staff augmentation. The exceptions were hyper-specific “skills” (e.g. Qt programming, medical device connectivity, etc). Even somewhat rare skills such as ‘German speaking’ or specific industry knowledge were generally poor performers– this has been a big change that happened mid 2022.
Manufacturing industries in Germany has continued to be strong for the 3rd year in a row. Our thesis is that manufacturing has been hit hard with exceptional situations: hiring difficult, supply chain disruptions, energy pricing, and input cost inflation. We see that the manufacturing sector is open to new ideas from unknown suppliers if it solves an immediate problem. In contrast, all the long term continuous optimization projects are stalled. In other words: No need for vitamins, just for painkillers.
Somewhat related, we see an ongoing positive trend for manufacturing related Logistics solutions such as Transport Management Systems, Transportation Security and Asset Tracking. It seems the logistics remains a major pain area for DACH manufacturing.
Business Enterprise technology continues to generate interest. Areas like Finance departments are responding less, but still responding. We have always believed that business side drivers are always better than technology side entry points (ie. better to get first meeting with Customer Support manager instead of the IT director). We see this as more important than ever.
Our thesis is that –
1) Technical people pride themselves on knowing what exists and/or being able to quickly find and survey what is available. They are a better match for inbound strategies rather than outbound.
2) Technical people (VP Engineering, IT manager) are crushed by hundreds of service companies using cheap tools and ChatGPT. It is hard for a quality message to be seen positively when you get 10 cold emails every day on the same subject.
Buzzwords, like AI and ML are not enough to get a meeting. Several of our clients in the past 3 years are based on AI breakthroughs that existed before the ChatGPT hype wave. Today, all of them are reducing or eliminating AI and using terminology such as ‘our proprietary algorithms’. Our theory is that we already reached AI peak hype for now. We think AI will create breakthrough products and solutions, but users already know that just because it has AI technology does not necessarily mean it is any good.
Corporate governance, ESG, and other executive level assurance/governance issues are getting attention and are open to meetings. This goes back to our theory that any types of problems that trigger new agenda items in a corporate board meeting are always great target for outbound lead generation. The whole company is looking for fresh solutions.
Learnings for 2024
In most cases all you need to adjust is your sales message and not the offer itself. Some examples:
- Call it “Very senior individuals” instead of “Full scrum teams”. (Skills vs. Capacity).
- Promote one and only one key feature (needs to be a pain killer though) and not the whole all-in-one suite.
- Avoid slow buzzwords like “optimization”, and “improving”. They indicate a long ROI.
Focus on and articulate the ‘why now’ trigger. Some examples:
- Safety and Good Governance need to be realized and documented. ‘Documented’ is the trigger.
- How is Security measured and Tracked.
- Not knowing business and performance data means you can’t make business decisions. What happens then?
In general, we think 2024 will be the same or slightly better economically in the DACH region. For our own client acquisition, we believe it is another year where we need to ‘out hustle’ everyone else. We will also expand our own prospecting to focus on our home markets of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Our messaging will also shift slightly from business opportunity + growth to something more rescue oriented: ‘saving businesses’ or ‘recovering lead flow’ .