Recession Positioning: How PMMs Can Help, and How to Get Started

The economy is slowing – and it’s likely to get worse. But for SaaS product marketers, it’s a chance to build your “recession positioning” chops. Here are some thoughts from my time going through the Dot Bomb, the GFC, and more localized tough times. A lot of tech PMMs have not had the experience of positioning in this environment, but it’s more valuable (and easier) than you think.

Growth Slowing –> Tech Down

After 18 months (years?) of boom, and bajillions coming into VC and private equity, tech is facing its first hit since the global financial crisis – and it first BIG hit since the Dot Bomb 21 years ago.

This is serious: there’s likely 6-12 months more of continued GDP deceleration ahead of us. Slowing growth is really bad for tech company valuations. The slowing won’t last forever, but you have an alternative option that’s better than ‘just wait it out.’

Your CEO and board are scrutinizing the P&L with a new intensity. They’re slowing or pausing hiring, cutting budgets, some are doing layoffs, and EVERYONE is tilting more conservative on new investment.

But you still have a business. In fact, data from our friends at Cledara show that the rate of SaaS spending has NOT meaningfully dropped. The money is out there. Still getting spent. The task is to get more of it allocated to your company.

But the question for product marketers is: “how can PMM help?”

Recession Positioning

The pressure and pain facing your own company is actually a big, big opportunity for product marketers. Because in this sort of broad global slowdown, your customers are facing the same challenges. 

If your positioning has been focused on helping unlock hyper-growth, now is the time to pivot to positioning on driving profitable growth.

Some examples:

  • A company that helps its customers with new customer acquisition (expensive, low-percentage) can shift messaging to: helping drive expansion and recurring revenue within their existing customers (less expensive, higher-percentage, higher margin)
  • A company that OEMs its technology to other technology platforms to “increase ARR” can position more directly at driving additional footprint into current customers to increase ASP & reduce churn using their existing sales and marketing channels 
  • A financial budgeting and planning company can re-launch existing products – positioned directly at what-if modeling to reduce cash burn under different market scenarios
  • An employee productivity and project planning company can reposition its software as a way to get fewer, more important bets done faster without increasing spend
  • A procurement company can go-to-market with an explicit message about consolidating spend, reducing lower-ROI investments, AND with more favorable financial terms, to unlock margin while accelerating growth

Get Started – Think Like a Customer

To get started, do a quick workshop. Pull together a CSM, a sales person, a product manager, a fellow marketer, and spend time answering the following questions about your customers:

  • How are our customers reacting to the slowdown?
  • What business pressures are they under?
  • Which leaders in the company are on point for which pressures?
  • How does the slowdown affect their competitive environment?

Write it all down. Diagram it. 

Then have a second conversation:

  • How do our products help with those pressures?
  • How would we talk about that with different roles inside a customer?
  • How can we best quantify that value?

Then, start talking to customers. Ask for their advice. Remember, they’re business people, they know more about their reality than you do, and people generally love to share their points of view and to give advice.

With that feedback having tightened up your story, outline it, and start testing it. Get 4 or 5 sellers (sales people and CSMs) to try it out with their customers for a couple weeks, and bring them all together to get feedback on what worked more well/less well, with whom, and why.

From there the road is all execution: you can test it out at a bit more scale as a targeted email campaign driving to a landing page with a piece of content and a customer story. With what you learn from that, scale more.

A New/rusty Muscle – and a Valuable One

A lot of product marketers haven’t been through this before. I hope this helps. While I don’t want to make this sound trivial (and I don’t think you should re-do your core positioning overnight). getting to market with more targeted recession positioning is powerful, and easier than you think.

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