Has your Small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) hit a growth plateau recently? While we often associate growth plateaus with the expansion stage of the business cycle, your SMB’s growth can start plateauing at any stage: Expansion, Peak, Contraction, or Trough. In fact, if you treat your SMB the same at each stage of your business’s cycle, you may be CREATING your business’s growth plateau. Luckily, plateauing growth is not any cause for alarm or a harbinger of the failing of your SMB; unless you ignore them. Often, a growth plateau is triggered as your SMB matures and transitions between stages of the business cycle.
“20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% of small businesses fail in their second year, and 50% of small businesses fail after five years in business. Finally, 30% of small business owners fail in their 10th year in business.”
Georgia McIntyre, Fundera.com
Growth plateaus are a normal part of business, and even long-successful companies of every size and shape experience the occasional plateau in growth. It’s natural, and there’s no silver bullet that will allow you to avoid a growth plateau in your SMB. The best course of action for your SMB is to prepare for a growth plateau before it happens, and the first step to that is identifying a growth plateau before it turns into a more significant problem.
How to Identify an SMB Growth Plateau
Lucky for you, there are some clear telltale signs that your SMB may be encountering a growth plateau. The first and most obvious is your sales or revenue is beginning to flatten. They aren’t getting any worse, but they also aren’t growing. Another common sign of a growth plateau is flat profits.
However, growing sales and revenue doesn’t necessarily mean your SMB is growing. Changes in the way you do business can result in your SMB making more sales and revenue but netting flat profits due to a change in margin. Another money trail you can follow to diagnose SMB plateauing growth is inconsistent cash flow. You may be aware of troubles in your cash flow and see how it is keeping you from making the business upgrades you need to grow.
Recognizing SMB Growth Plateaus Through People
Another way to diagnosis a potential growth plateau is by looking at your employees and customers. If your employees aren’t engaged or motivated, this can lead to them performing below expectations and keeping your SMB from realizing its potential growth. Are you starting to see an increase in employee turnover, a shift in workplace culture, or a drop in recognition-worthy employee performance? These can all be signs from your staff that something has stalled or changed in your business.
You can also look for any changes in the attitude of your customers or clients. Be on the lookout for a rise in complaints, customers moving away from your SMB to other providers or an increase in late payments. These are all potential symptoms of an SMB’s plateauing growth and, as a result, a growing problem with your customer experience.
If you are noticing some of these symptoms of a potential SMB growth plateau, it’s time to start looking for the root cause of your SMB growth plateau.
Reasons for Plateauing Growth for Your SMB & How a B2B Agency Can Help
Now, you may be tempted to blame a growth plateau on the obvious: insufficient time or money. However, lacking time and money is a result of something in your SMB. To kickstart your SMB’s plateauing growth, you have to identify the real cause of the problem and resolve it.
Failure to Measure, Analyze, and Adjust Based on Data
Often the root of a growth plateau is a failure to perform the basics of good business management. Is your SMB leadership failing to measure, analyze, and make adjustments to what’s going on in your business? While the basics of good business management are time-consuming, they aren’t something an SMB can afford to ignore, especially if you want it to continue to grow. Your leadership must review reports and your business management plan to develop insights and refine your SMB’s business strategy. It may not be flashy, but implementing and sticking to good business management habits for your SMB will take you far.
How a B2B Agency Can Help
A B2B-focused agency like Bold Entity can work with your and your leadership team to identify the most important information for you to consider when it comes to marketing. We help our partner clients do more than just identify; we help them determine what systems are necessary and what makes the most sense for the size and needs of our client organizations.
The biggest issue we deal with as a B2B agency is creating a solid feedback loop for our marketing efforts with clients. To ensure we are doing the best possible. Job for our clients, it’s imperative that the client has systems in place that allow them o effectively track their ROI and capture marketing insights. Without solid data and client feedback, we can only see part of the puzzle when making marketing decisions for your SMB.
Problematic Business Plan
However, good business management hygiene is only as strong as the business plan upon which it is built. Another reason for SMB plateauing growth is an ill-defined, flawed, or outdated business plan. Make certain your SMB’s business plan considers the current state of the economy, what is happening in your industry, has a well-defined idea of your ideal customer, your offerings, and accurately reflects your current business goals. Identifying this potential source for growth can be done early through well-executed business management, but that won’t account for much if you keep operating business as usual without updating your business plan. Having even one part of your SMB’s business plan out of sync can lead to downstream issues that can curtail your SMB’s growth.
How a B2B Agency Can Help
One of the first things we do, whenever possible, with a new client, is sit down and review the marketing section of their business plan. Bold Entity helps our clients solidify their business goals and put together a marketing plan that aligns to – and serves – those business goals. A comprehensive, strategic marketing plan includes:
- Industry and competitive insights.
- Pricing and positioning strategy.
- Ideal customer/client profiles.
- The marketing tactics to pursue your specific business goals.
Flawed Pricing Strategy Growth Plateau
Sometimes a growth plateau for an SMB is caused by a change or incorrect assumption about your offerings’ position in the market, especially regarding price. Having a price that is too high or too low for the market’s expectations can manifest as red flags for your prospects. Even if a faulty pricing strategy did not cause your SMB’s growth plateau, a knee-jerk reaction to flat sales or revenue is to cut price and offer a discount to find an increase in volume.
Unfortunately, the truth is that lowering your price is rarely the answer. With a single Google search, prospects can find a competitor that does what you do faster, cheaper or better-tailored to their specific need. Chasing after bargain-hunters is a short-term solution. These conversions hold no brand loyalty, and lowering your price can instead lower the value of your brand in the eyes of other prospects.
How a B2B Agency Can Help
Consumers often focus on price when they cannot easily see or justify the value of an offering. We advise B2B clients to lead with value first, make it very clear what the value of your offerings are to the target audience. How do your offerings solve their problems, improve their ability to work, or relax their mental state? Focus on how your offering makes your ideal client’s life easier and better.
A B2B agency can help your organization tap into marketing research to understand your ideal customers better and then map out value propositions that connect at an emotional level. As a result, marketing efforts become more effective, sales increase, and your customer finds you more valuable. If you’re still attracting the wrong audience, we can also help you find the answer by conducting first-hand research and use those insights to realign your pricing model.
Low Conversion Rate Growth Plateau
Another reason for a growth plateau is a growing difficulty in getting people through your sales funnel. This difficulty can be a common indicator that your SMB’s offering has pushed through the early adopters stage of its lifecycle. Prospects need more attention and persuasion to convert. Digging down into the reason for a drop in conversion rates is critical for determining how to kickstart your way out of a growth plateau.
How A B2B Agency Can Help
As a B2B-focused agency, we work with clients that have formalized and often longer sales cycles. We can help assess how your funnels are performing and help to find any sticking points or hiccups from an outsider’s point of view that could be keeping leads from converting. We can also help you implement changes and new solutions to your sales process, including adding automation elements.
Another common cause of growth plateaus is the development of an operational bottleneck. There may be a short or long-term part of your sales process that is holding back your SMB. The same bottleneck is also possible in your fulfillment process. There could be a specific point in your process where orders have to queue and wait. In that case, your ability to grow and fulfill orders is dependent on how fast your bottleneck can process your deliverables. Tracking orders or jobs to see where they might be getting held up is the easiest way to identify an operational bottleneck that’s causing your business’s growth to plateau.
How a B2B Agency Can Help
Bold Entity and other B2B-focused marketing agencies can help you address operational bottlenecks in a variety of ways. The first is by introducing or refining an SMB’s marketing and sales automation. Creating an efficient marketing and sales automation system for an SMB can save money and free up vital workers to focus on the high-touch, high-impact activities of your marketing and sales.
Your B2B agency can often stand in as an outsourced CMO for your SMB with the backing of a professional, well-oiled marketing team ready to implement your marketing. Each team member is experienced and specialized, bringing to bear far more expertise than most SMBs can afford to hire in-house to handle their marketing.
We can also help you hire more and better people for your organization. A B2B agency can help you craft and showcase stories about your organization, what it’s like to work for your SMB, and help you attract the best potential talent to your organization.
SMB Marketing Saturation Growth Plateau
Another common issue that can lead to a growth plateau for SMBs is market saturation. Are the competitors around you growing while you plateau? Can your prospects tell the difference between you and your competition?
Suppose your SMB is fading into the background of your industry space. In that case, there’s a good chance you have hit marketing saturation, or you and your competitors are selling almost identical offerings. The latter is sometimes referred to as the “light beer problem,” According to blind taste tests, people were unable to distinguish their preferred light beer from competitors, putting forth that the only thing that made the products different was the marketing and advertising behind them.
How a B2B Agency Can Help
When Bold Entity works with a B2B SMB struggling with competitors in the market, we start with research. We identify your SMB competitors, direct and indirect, and seek opportunities to strengthen your position in the market and for opportunities that your competitors are not targeting.
A B2B agency will also help you find and understand the differentiating factor in your target audience’s mind. We can help you uncover what is important to them when searching for a solutions provider and how to craft marketing messages that communicate that missing element to them. This step is critical to avoiding marketing that appeals too broadly (and thus to no one specifically) and marketing that looks and sounds like what everyone else is doing in the space.
The Bold in Bold Entity is for taking a BOLD approach. Trying to out-market competitors on their terms with more established brands and deeper pockets than your SMB is a recipe for continued failure. Be different, be unforgettable, Be BOLD.
Serving the Wrong Audience
A fundamental but still common problem that can lead to a growth plateau for an SMB is not targeting the right audience with your offerings. Sometimes, changes to the industry, technology, or audience can create a product-market fit problem. Other occurrences of serving the wrong audience are being too specialized or chasing after big projects/clients.
For example, SMBs focused only on the travel and hotel business have struggled over the past two years as the long tail of COVID-19 continues to impact the industry. Agencies also have a long history of dealing with this type of problem, when the loss of one large client can cause an agency to cut budgets and staffing drastically.
The large, high-profile projects and clients are great wins, but it’s essential to remember while you can’t live on prime rib once a month, you can live on rice every day.
How a B2B Agency Can Help
We can help by conducting first-party research, interviewing your current and prospective clients. What do they say about you, what do they love, and what would they like to see improved? What continues to be the deciding factor when it comes to using your services or not?
A B2B agency like Bold Entity can help ensure that your offerings align with your audience and clientele. And if that’s not the case, what changes can we make to your offerings, marketing, and messaging to ensure your marketing efforts stay laser-focused on resonating with your ideal client. We can even help your SMB develop and define your ideal client and prioritize the marketing of your offerings to your ideal client’s needs.
Other Ways Marketing Can Kickstart Your Plateauing Growth
In addition to the specific methods mentioned above, a B2B agency like Bold Entity can help you with the many marketing issues holding back your SMB’s growth and help you reach your business’s potential. The first is, of course, revamping your marketing from the ground up. One common mistake SMBs make when marketing is resting on their laurels once they get a taste of successful marketing. It’s vital to keep your foot on the gas of your marketing efforts, so they continue to build inertia.
Lean into what makes your SMB different and unique. It’s solid advice for any SMB looking to stand apart from the competition, be distinct in the market, and wants to be memorable. The initial fear that you will lose potential prospects based on these decisions will be eclipsed by brand recognition and new prospects you will gain from making this change. Leaning into your uniqueness is the first step in a solid rebranding strategy. A B2B agency, like Bold Entity, can help research and solidify who your SMB is as a brand and how that can attract the right target audience.
Of course, as a marketing agency, we offer marketing services to help your SMB reach your ideal customers in the way they want to be contacted. We offer inbound and outbound strategies, traditional and digital media deliverables, social media advertising, and native social media strategies. We can even help you develop promotions and capitalize on public relations opportunities.