Marketing and Sales in Uncertain Times: Strategies & Spending Impact (2024)

Author's avatar Marketing UPDATED Jun 6, 2024 PUBLISHED Jun 5, 2024 26 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    No matter what size your business is or what market you operate in, there’s one thing every business will confirm – marketing and sales during a downturn can be extremely challenging.

    But that doesn’t mean you should turn off the tap on marketing and sales until things get better. Instead, it means it’s time to try some new strategies to get through the turbulence.

    There are many businesses that see plenty of success in their marketing results even during a recession, but to do this, you need to adjust properly to the current market conditions and changing customer preferences, and carefully plan out your business’s finances.

    Easier said than done, right?

    Don’t worry, we’re not just here to tell you that it’s possible to do marketing and sales in uncertain times – we’ve also prepared actionable strategies that you can use to do it.

    Alongside our partners at 42 Agency, we surveyed more than 100 companies to understand how companies are thinking about the future and their current investments.

    We gained a lot of valuable insights into how strategies changed during market turbulence, what areas they’ve invested in (or ceased investing in), and what specific strategies they plan to implement in the upcoming months.

    Let’s dive in.

    Who Did We Survey

    For this report, we partnered up with 42 Agency and surveyed 106 companies since August 2023 – and the research is still open. If you’d like to contribute to it, click here to take the survey.

    Of these 106 respondents, 31.12% belong to SaaS, Software, or Technology and 25.47% to Marketing and Advertising.

    Most of the survey respondents are small to mid-sized companies: 32.08% have 11 to 50 employees and 31.13% have 51-200 employees.

    And for more than 50% of our respondents, the majority of their employees are located in North America.

    Notably, most of our respondents are B2Bs. For 66% of respondents, businesses are the primary customers.

    If you’re a mid-sized B2B SaaS company, we want to invite you to join our exclusive, invite-only Benchmark Group called B2B Funnel Metrics for Mid-Size SaaS Companies which is hosted by the 42 Agency.

    It’s free to join and you will get the opportunity to anonymously compare your own performance data with other companies like yours – all you have to do is connect your tools to the Benchmark Group (100% anonymous for everyone involved).

    But if you’re not a mid-sized B2B SaaS and still want to get access to your industry benchmarks, don’t worry. You can still join Benchmark Groups for free and find a group that’s most similar to your business.

    B2B Funnel Metrics for Mid-Size SaaS Companies Benchmark Group

    Over these past few months, we’ve collected a ton of valuable insights in our report – but we’ve also gathered some great data in the B2B Funnel Metrics for Mid-Size SaaS Companies Benchmark Group.

    Want a sneak peek into some of the performance metrics from the group?

    Let’s talk sessions first.

    According to data provided by Benchmark, the number of sessions B2B companies had in February 2024 was 4.08K (median, 4810 contributors). However, the results for the top performers are 4x better in terms of sessions – with 16K sessions (also median).

    In the same period, there were 37 Deals created (median, 945 contributors) and 9 Deals Closed Won (median, 789 contributors).

    If you want to check out the rest of our benchmarks for different metrics, you can join B2B Funnel Metrics for Mid-Size SaaS Companies for free. It only takes a couple of minutes and you can instantly see how you compare against similar-sized competitors.

    The Impact of Uncertainty and Market Turbulence on Strategies

    In the last 12 months, most companies experienced uncertain market conditions and increasing competition.

    But it’s not all doom and gloom.

    In fact, half of the surveyed companies strongly agree that they feel confident in their ability to adapt and overcome crisis, and additional 47.96% agree. 

    Most companies we surveyed are also feeling hopeful about the financial future of their industries/companies. Also, most of them are not concerned about their job/company’s stability.

    However, when it comes to being anxious about the financial future of the industry/company, the results are about even (49% are anxious, 51% are not anxious).

    What about budgets?

    For marketing budgets, more companies reported smaller marketing budgets this year compared to the number of companies reporting larger budgets than last year.

    Yet, over 70% of the surveyed companies stated that their company’s marketing goals are higher, compared to last year’s goals.

    As for sales budgets, slightly more companies reported having bigger budgets than in the previous year than companies that reported having smaller budgets.

    And similar to marketing goals, over 70% of the surveyed companies stated that their company’s sales goals are higher, compared to last year’s goals.

    Now, aside from numbers, we also compiled a lot of direct feedback from our respondents.

    We asked them about how uncertainty or market turbulence has impacted their strategy in the last 12 months and whether there are specific areas where they made changes. And, whether they made any investments that helped them be successful despite the turbulence.

    Below, you can see some of the answers we received:

    Investing Heavily Into Co-Marketing with Partners

    There are several reasons why co-marketing partnerships work.

    First, co-marketing partnerships provide access to new customer bases and markets that may have been difficult or expensive to reach individually.

    You’re essentially using your partners’ customer base and network, and expanding your reach more efficiently.

    What’s more, partnering with established and reputable brands can further improve your own credibility and trust in the eyes of potential customers.

    This is particularly valuable during economic uncertainties when consumers are more cautious about their spending.

    In some cases, you can even pool resources together to execute much larger or more impactful marketing campaigns than you could afford on your own.

    The way we (Databox) do it is we partner up with a business and organize a survey together on a topic that both our audiences would find valuable. Then, we build a “pillar” piece of content based on the insights we receive from the report (exactly like the one you’re reading now!).

    We then share those insights and promote the contributors across all marketing channels.

    Peter Caputa, CEO at Databox, talked about this in his comment on uncertain times:

    “We’ve found it difficult to continue growing at the same rate. But, we are still growing. So, we’ve focused on managing expenses more tightly and reducing costs in some areas where there wasn’t obvious ROI or the potential for ROI.

    We’ve increased focus on investments that have significant potential for reaccelerating our growth in the mid-term. We’re investing heavily into co-marketing with our partners, as a low-cost and highly scalable way for us to grow. We’ve built software and processes that allow us to work together to generate leads with our partners.”

    Strengthening Relationships with Existing Customers

    Acquiring new customers is usually significantly more expensive than retaining existing ones.

    And in times of economic uncertainty, when marketing budgets are often cut, making the cost-effective strategy of nurturing existing relationships is even more attractive.

    Plus, customers appreciate businesses that offer them support, understanding, and value. Depending on your market, this will ensure that those customers continue buying from you.

    Ryan Bettencourt of Legion Works is one of our respondents who use this strategy:

    “Outbound sales is more challenging than I have seen. Marketing ROI is lower than I have seen. SEO is not having the same results. This has forced us to focus more on product and customer interactions…we are trying to get closer to our existing customers and help them navigate their own challenges.”

    Beth Cooper of KNB Communications also talked about how “the market turbulence over the last twelve months significantly underscored the importance of nurturing and strengthening client relationships.”

    She explains that “our strategy pivoted towards demonstrating continuous value to our clients, ensuring that we are an indispensable partner in their journey, especially during challenging times. We invested in enhancing our client engagement and communication channels, ensuring that we are always available and proactive in addressing their concerns and needs.

    We also developed tailored solutions focusing on high-value areas that are crucial for our clients’ (and potential clients’) operations, ensuring that even in a constrained budget scenario, the value we provide justifies the investment.”

    Pivoting from a Broader Inbound Marketing Strategy to a Local and Subject-Based Approach

    A local and subject-based marketing strategy tends to be more cost-effective than broader ones because it targets a more defined audience.

    Plus, developing subject-based expertise allows a business to differentiate itself in a crowded market.

    This strategic positioning can be particularly effective during economic downturns, as consumers become more discerning in their choices and choose to do business with those perceived as leaders or experts in their specific field.

    Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions mentions that “in the last 12 months, we’ve brought more of our marketing activities in-house and shifted from a broader inbound marketing strategy to a local and subject-based approach.”

    One of his tactics is instead of “competing for ranking for a wide range of search teams, we’ve narrowed our focus to higher priority key terms as well as localized search marketing that is more likely to convert into long-time customers. The end result is decreased strain on resources, less traffic, but a similar number of leads that are often more qualified for our business.

    For local SEO, we’ve taken an active role in updating our business listings as well as posting updates and photos from our Google My Business and Bing Places accounts. We’ve encouraged customers to leave feedback where possible, created new website content, and collaborated with other content creators to drive more backlinks to our web pages and blogs.”

    As for the next 12 months, Colton says they plan to “look at what areas to adapt on our website to appear more prominently in AI-based search results and how to better position ourselves from platform-based searches. As more major platforms such as Google, Bing, LinkedIn, and others move to host search, content, and outreach directly within their own site – we need to look at what the impact will be on traditional inbound marketing tactics and how they should be adapted to align with changes to the platforms themselves.”

    PRO TIP: Want to find out how people are discovering your business through organic search? Look no further than the Google My Business Dashboard Template. It’s free and you can create a dashboard in minutes that tells you the entire story of your local business listing and allows you to track all of your most relevant SEO metrics, in one place.

    Expanding Digital Capabilities to Better Serve Remote Clients

    Advanced tools (e.g. collaboration software) enable teams to work together more effectively, regardless of location. This is crucial when face-to-face interactions are limited.

    These tools facilitate real-time communication, project tracking, and document sharing, which can all impact productivity and ensure that projects progress smoothly even when team members are dispersed.

    Eddie Kingsnorth of NoTriangle Studio shares that his business “expanded our digital capabilities to better serve remote clients, investing in advanced collaboration tools and cloud-based project management systems.”

    “This allowed us to seamlessly continue project workflows and maintain communication amid global disruptions. Additionally, we’ve honed our online marketing efforts, focusing on SEO and content creation to reach a wider audience in a predominantly digital landscape. These changes have not only helped us weather the turbulence but have also positioned us for sustained success by increasing our global visibility and adaptability to changing market conditions.”

    Returning to Simpler Messaging and Direct Contact with potential Clients through Networking and Public Speaking

    Networking and public speaking are both cost-effective ways to reach potential clients without the hefty price tag of extensive advertising campaigns.

    Furthermore, direct interactions like these allow businesses to build personal connections and trust with potential clients.

    When people can see, hear, and interact with you or your representatives in person, it humanizes your business and builds credibility – which will come in handy during any economic turbulence.

    Kyle Golding of The Golding Group says that his team has, for various internal and external reasons, “returned to simpler, specific messaging, direct contact with potential clients, networking and public speaking, including non-compensated appearances on panels, podcasts, events, etc.”

    “Our strategy has always been focused on content marketing, thought leadership, and offering an alternative to traditional business development, advertising agencies, and PR firms. We are focusing on that approach for a deeper connection with business owners and investors (this has been very secondary previously) with more detailed, expert content on subjects most affecting their businesses. An even more niche approach to our established brand marketing.”

    Investing in Organic Content Marketing and Paid Ads

    Organic content, such as blogs, videos, and social media posts, requires an investment mostly in time and creativity rather than direct financial resources for ad space or paid promotions – which makes it a great option for any business that may be looking to downsize.

    What’s more, organic content can provide long-term benefits.

    Unlike paid ads, which stop generating returns the moment you stop paying for them, organic content continues to draw in audiences over time. That’s also why it’s worth investing in it at any given economic situation, not only in uncertain times.

    Eugene Koplyk of Wiserbrand says that his team “began to take a more deliberate approach to our spending, especially in areas where we expected results but did not see them materialize. There has been one significant shift in our marketing strategy.”

    He explains that “some marketing channels, such as organic content marketing, produce tangible results, while others, such as link buying, are less effective. Consequently, we decided to reallocate our marketing budget from buying links to content marketing initiatives.

    Additionally, we started focusing on getting free, high-quality backlinks from reputable sources. Although this approach is more time-consuming, it has proven to be cost-effective and, importantly, successful in improving the visibility and reputation of our website. This strategic adjustment has allowed us to adapt to market turbulence by cutting unnecessary costs while strengthening our online presence.”

    But that doesn’t mean you should forget about paid advertising altogether – especially if you’re already seeing good results with organic traffic.

    Ryan Jones of SEOTesting talked about increasing his paid ads budget and how their budget is actually much higher compared to previous years:

    “If anything, we, as a business, are putting more budget into our marketing offering than we did last year. If I compare September 2023 to September 2022, our marketing budget is much higher, given that we have taken on a full-time marketing manager (myself) and invested heavily in content production.

    We’re also considering adding a budget for paid advertising and marketing and seeing where this can take us. We have seen this work for us, hitting record month after record month in terms of organic traffic coming to the site, and leads are increasing, which is a great sign. In my opinion, one of the best ways to navigate uncertain times and times when customers are seriously considering cutting costs is to find more paying customers. We’re also adding two new tools to our portfolio to diversify income.”

    Interestingly, Ryan isn’t the only respondent who has a higher marketing and sales budget this year. John Xie of Taskade reports something similar:

    “Our marketing and sales budgets this year both went up, and we made this decision primarily to fight back against market turbulence and uncertainty and continue to grow despite the challenges. Surprisingly, increasing our marketing and sales budgets actually helped us grow and improve our bottom line for the year.”

    Focusing on Transactional Content and MOFU / BOFU parts of the Sales Funnel

    MOFU and BOFU audiences have already shown interest in your product or service and are closer to making a purchase decision.

    This means that in uncertain times, when people are more cautious with their spending, targeting an audience already considering a purchase can bring better conversion rates than trying to attract new leads at the top of the funnel.

    Plus, engaging with prospects that are further along in the sales funnel can essentially lead to quicker sales cycles. This can be of huge help when businesses need to generate revenue and see returns on their investments more rapidly.

    Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers talked about this and said:

    “Because of the market turbulence and economic uncertainties, we’ve pivoted our marketing efforts on more transactional content and less informational one. In other words, we focus more on the middle and bottom part of our sales funnel and less on the top of the funnel.”

    PRO TIP: Is LinkedIn one of your primary content marketing channels? If so, you might’ve noticed how difficult it is to track metrics in the native interface. To simplify the entire process, you can download our free LinkedIn Company Page Engagement Dashboard. Monitor and track all of your most relevant engagement metrics from one simple dashboard.

    Focusing on Email Marketing and Improving Automations

    Email marketing is known for its high ROI and relatively low cost compared to other marketing channels.

    When budgets are tight and businesses look for cost-effective ways to reach their audience, email marketing is a great way to reach a large number of people without the need for a significant investment – if you already have an engaged list.

    The best part is, you can automate your email sequences and still deliver a personal feel to your emails.

    Automation in email marketing not only saves time and resources but also ensures that the customer journey is consistent and personalized.

    William Manning of Pole Barns says that “email marketing became one of our most flourishing marketing strategies. It helped us to convert our leads into customers.”

    “Now, these customers seek our services frequently. They also have the potential to become long-term and loyal customers. We also automated our email campaigns. Thanks to it, we can reach numerous leads. Additionally, we add personalization in each email to increase the success rate of our email marketing campaigns.”

    Investing in Sales & Marketing Strategies for Growth in 2024

    What sales and marketing strategies work best in uncertain times? What are other companies focusing on? How to adjust your tactics to make the best out of the current situation?

    These are just some of the things we asked our respondents.

    Let’s first talk tactics.

    When it comes to tactics companies implemented in order to reduce costs (or improve efficiency) in the last 12 months, most companies implemented focusing on content/SEO and focusing on branding.

    Following closely (chosen by 48% of the respondents) is cutting costs on/consolidating software subscriptions (Notion, Slack, etc.).

    As for our respondents’ plan to reduce costs (or improve efficiency), most companies selected:

    • Focusing on content/SEO (79.38%)
    • Focusing on branding (73.68%)
    • Invest in team training/development (65.31%)
    • Diversifying product or service portfolio (61.22%)
    • Doubling down on customer/market research (52.04%)
    • Focusing on performance marketing (pay-per-action ads, affiliate marketing) (50%)

    Now that we’ve covered the numbers, let’s also check out the direct insights our respondents shared on the strategies they plan to implement in 2024:

    Get a Better Understanding of Your Audience

    With a clear understanding of your audience, your businesses can tailor your sales and marketing efforts more precisely.

    This involves knowing not just who your customers are but understanding their changing needs, preferences, and pain points.

    This is crucial because in uncertain times, consumer priorities can shift quickly. What was valuable yesterday may not be as important today.

    Digital channels and experimentation are only a part of growth in uncertain times. You also should talk to your customers. You don’t need hundreds of interviews, you need to talk to the right people, include sales in the process, and ultimately align marketing and sales in a single motion.

    Knowing your audience is step 1. Aligning your teams is the second, and acting holistically to better serve your customers is the ultimate goal.

    Sebastian Cuervo

    Sebastian Cuervo

    Research and Copy at 42 Agency

    Want to get highlighted in our next report? Become a contributor now

    Deb Cannon of Deb Cannon Mktg also says that “understanding your audience is more important than ever.”

    “As the cost of acquiring new revenue/business continues to increase, the spotlight is on marketing to prove their worth now more than ever before. Solving for the customer is critical – and product/market fit, and creating content that speaks to your audience, and makes clear that you understand their pain points and can help them solve issues that are costing the business money is crucial.”

    Increase Content Marketing Efforts

    Content marketing is useful no matter the economic situation – but it can be particularly helpful in uncertain times.

    Creating high-quality content that resonates with the target audience can be more cost-effective than many forms of advertising, especially in times when budgets are tight.

    What’s more, content marketing helps build that trust by providing valuable, relevant information that helps solve problems or answer questions. This is great for also building more loyalty with your customers.

    Natasha Rei of Explainerd is one of our respondents who plan on “ramping up content marketing with blogs, videos, and infographics, expanding social media advertising, and refining email marketing for lead nurturing.”

    “SEO optimization remains key, along with video marketing to showcase our work. We’ll leverage client testimonials, case studies, networking, partnerships, webinars, and workshops, alongside data analytics and CRM implementation. Participation in trade shows will also be vital. Lastly, personalized content based on data insights will enhance our overall strategy, solidifying our position as an industry leader in motion graphics.”

    Pruthviraj Haral of Dev Dynamics also says that “content marketing is a top priority.”

    “We’ll invest heavily in creating valuable, educational content that addresses our target audience’s pain points. This includes blog posts, webinars, ebooks, and videos. By positioning ourselves as industry experts and providing solutions, we aim to attract and engage prospects more effectively.”

    Reduce the Number of Subscriptions that Offer Similar Features

    By eliminating redundant subscriptions, a company can reduce monthly expenses without significantly impacting the quality of services.

    This is especially important when cash flow is tight or unpredictable.

    Also, managing multiple subscriptions can be complex from an operations perspective. Each subscription may have its own set of rules, interfaces, and quirks.

    You can simplify your operations by consolidating subscriptions that offer highly similar functionalities.

    This is exactly what Patrick Garde of DiGiSquared did:

    “We consolidated some of our subscriptions that overlap. For example, and Slack. Currently, we’re in transition to Google Suite since it also offers similar functionalities like Sheets and Spaces although with not so many bells and whistles.

    I think I will invest more into my personal brand so that even though there are uncertainties, there’s a fallback option, just in case. It doesn’t matter if you start over again, I believe that at least you’re not starting from scratch, but you are now starting from experience.”

    Work More on Personalization and Leveraging AI Tools

    Personalization in your marketing and sales can significantly improve the customer experience by delivering more relevant content, recommendations, and services.

    When consumers are more selective with their spending, this can play a huge role in differentiating you from the competition.

    AI is also a big topic.

    With AI tools, you can automate a lot of routine tasks, analyze large sets of data for insights, and streamline operations to improve efficiency. Often, this automation can lead to cost savings.

    Also, AI technologies may enable businesses to scale their operations up or down without a proportional increase in expenses.

    This scalability is particularly beneficial in uncertain times when demand can fluctuate widely. With AI, you can manage these fluctuations more effectively and make sure they’re not overextending during downturns or unable to meet demand during upturns.

    Kaitlyn Siu of Teach Your Kids Code talks about her plan to “rigorously segment our target demographic using tools that are powered by AI and powerful data analytics, allowing us to create offers and content that are highly personalized.”

    For Jonathan Zacharias of GR0, the critical sales and marketing strategy is personalization:

    “It works because it allows businesses to tailor their messages and offerings to individual customers, making them feel valued and understood. By collecting and analyzing customer data, businesses can identify specific needs and preferences, and then create targeted campaigns and personalized experiences. This strategy increases engagement, builds trust, and drives conversions. Furthermore, personalization shows that the business cares about its customers and is willing to go the extra mile to provide a customized, relevant experience. As a result, customers are more likely to become loyal advocates and repeat buyers.”

    Derrick Hathaway of VEM Medical is exploring opportunities on how to best use AI to improve his business’s personalization:

    “With enhancements in AI and machine-gaining knowledge, we’re jogging on delivering mainly personalized product guidelines and content fabric to our clients. This could be vital to staying competitive and assembly evolving customer expectations.”

    He also talked about focusing on “client retention strategies, loyalty packages, and post-purchase engagement, recognizing the importance of keeping present clients engaged and glad. Adapting to marketplace turbulence and uncertainty requires agility and a willingness to spend money on strategies that align with changing patron behavior.”

    Focus on Brand Marketing and CRO

    It’s not a secret that customers prefer brands they trust and are familiar with.

    By investing in brand marketing, you can build and maintain a stronger relationship with your audience, and increase loyalty – and both can pay off big time during uncertain conditions.

    As for CRO, one of the major benefits is that you can optimize your conversion process to make the most out of your existing traffic and leads, potentially increasing revenue without a significant increase in marketing spend.

    That’s why Joris Zantvoort of FishingBooker says that “brand marketing and CRO are going to be crucial.”

    “The first to increase brand reach and trust, which will help capture a larger share of the shrinking expenditure. With CRO testing, we can convert more of our traffic to customers and grow our revenue in challenging market conditions.”

    Use Databox to See Which Areas You’re Falling Behind in During Uncertain Times

    Not all marketing and sales strategies are resilient to downturns, recessions, and uncertain times – which is why you need to be able to adjust your strategies accordingly (and timely).

    In this report, you saw what some of the leading industry experts plan to do in 2024 and what strategies they’ll focus on to make sure sales and marketing don’t stagnate.

    And while you can steal these strategies, there’s still one issue – how will you know your performance is on par with what others are seeing? Through industry reports or word of mouth?

    You don’t have to rely on those methods anymore.

    Once you join the Benchmark Group called B2B Funnel Metrics for Mid-Size SaaS Companies, you’ll be able to benchmark everything from sessions and bounce rates to new MQLs and SQLs.

    You get instant, real-time benchmark data to see how your competitors are performing in different areas and whether you’re falling behind anywhere.

    Even if you’re not a B2B SaaS, we still have benchmark groups for over 50+ of the most popular tools, including sales, marketing, finance, and accounting.

    You can join Benchmark Groups for free, connect your data, and have your most important benchmark data at your fingertips in just a few minutes.

    Not only that, but you also get free access to Databox Dashboards. With this tool, you can gather your most important marketing and sales data in one place and track how your performance changes in real-time.

    But don’t just take our word for it – try out these tools today and see the value yourself!

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    Filip Stojanovic

    Filip Stojanovic is a content writer who studies Business and Political Sciences. Also, I am a huge tennis enthusiast. Although my dream is to win a Grand Slam, working as a content writer is also interesting.

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