The 4 Futures Model: How to take control of your 2024 B2B SaaS marketing plan
Last updated: October 27th, 2023
As 2023 draws to a close, you already know where you stand for the short term.
The bigger question is how your current trajectory will impact your marketing results six or twelve months from today.
Will your current strategy lead to the growth required to achieve your 2024 marketing goals, or will you fall behind?
Setting targets based on arbitrary numbers and simply hoping to achieve them won’t work.
Instead, we use a model called the 4 Futures that helps you accurately assess and influence the long-term trajectory of your current marketing strategy so that you know where you’re realistically headed for 2024.
In this post, we’ll show you how you can use the 4 Futures model in your 2024 marketing planning.
Then, if you want to increase your growth rate to improve your future, we’ll introduce you to proven, predictable growth systems that allow you to take control of your trajectory to confidently achieve your goals.
While this process doesn’t provide short-term hacks, it is a model for B2B SaaS marketers to predictably achieve long-term success.
Need help with your 2024 marketing planning? Get your Free Marketing Plan here to hit the right trajectory to hit your goals.
What is the 4 Futures Model?
With the passing of time, you’ll inevitably end up in some future circumstance that will become unavoidable.
For some B2B SaaS teams, that future circumstance will be growth (‘soaring’ or ‘scaling’), while other teams will experience decline (‘sustaining’ or ‘stalling’).
The difference between these 4 futures is decision and action versus complacency and drift.
Essentially, if you do nothing, you’ll start to drift downward and decline, whereas if you take the right actions now, you’ll experience compounding growth.
Time is also a major variable that impacts where you’ll land. On a long time horizon with the right strategy, you can achieve a soaring trajectory, but on a shorter time horizon, it’s riskier, costlier, and harder to achieve the same results.
Here’s a short video on how this model works:
Below, we’ll show you how to use this model to assess your current marketing situation and then use that information to take charge of your trajectory with your planning for 2024.
Here’s a brief overview of what we’ll cover.
Step 1: Diagnose Your Current Trajectory
Within the 4 Futures model, you can be on one of these trajectories:
- Stalling: Your growth rate is declining and you’re missing targets.
- Sustaining: You’re maintaining, but it feels like treading water.
- Scaling: You’re growing at a healthy rate and on track to hit targets.
- Soaring: You’re the market leader and surpassing targets.
Step 2: Define Goals And Trajectory Adjustment
Once you know your current trajectory, you’ll have to decide how you want to proceed. You have three options:
- Ride The Curve: You’ll continue on the trajectory you’re currently on
- Jump Lines: You’ll move up incrementally (i.e. from sustaining to scaling)
- Accelerate: You’ll make a big jump up in trajectory (i.e. from sustaining to soaring)
Step 3: Identify The Gaps & Opportunities for Improvement
This stage identifies what’s preventing you from reaching the trajectory you want.
Step 4: Take Action
This is where you define the marketing plan that will close those gaps to put you on the trajectory you want and then actually execute it.
Step 5: Protect Against Drift
This protects your business from complacency. If you’re not actively growing, you’ll start declining.
Below, we’ll discuss each of these steps in greater detail.
Step 1: Diagnose your current trajectory
Below we’ll discuss the four key trajectories and how you can identify where your company currently stands to better understand where you’re headed for 2024.
B2B SaaS teams on the stalling trajectory are being outpaced by competitors. Stalling is often the result of market changes or budget cuts, and many marketers on this trajectory feel a sense of chaos.
Some signs you’re on the stalling trajectory include missed marketing goals, paused projects, and a general decline in growth.
Companies at this stage are treading water. They aren’t growing, but they aren’t drowning. While companies on this trajectory aren’t yet in a dire state, they’ll eventually decline and fall behind more nimble competitors that are growing and moving faster.
Some signs you’re on a sustaining trajectory include barely hitting most of your goals, scrambling to keep pace with competitors, and a general sense of stress among your team.
Most companies aim to be on the scaling trajectory, as it means they’re growing at a healthy rate, and consistently on track to hit targets. These companies are keeping pace with their competitors but also aren’t the clear winners in the market.
Some signs you’re on the scaling trajectory include healthy revenue growth, steady cash flow, and general calm throughout the company.
Companies at this stage are already the market leader and surpassing goals and expectations. At this point, their main goal is to build momentum to permanently secure the brand as the dominant market leader.
Some signs you’re soaring include: Consistently surpassing goals, compounding month over month growth, and strong confidence from your team and leadership.
Step 2: Define goals
Now that you know your trajectory, you have three different growth options:
- Ride the Curve: Maintain the current trajectory. This might be fine in the near term if you’re scaling or soaring, but you’ll lose ground if you’re sustaining or stalling.
- Jump Lines: You can incrementally move up to the next highest trajectory.
- Accelerate: This goal is the most aggressive as you’ll have a big jump in trajectories.
While you might be tempted to immediately choose to “accelerate,” this isn’t realistic for every company as each one has different goals, priorities, capacities, and constraints.
To help you select the best goal for your company and your current situation, here are a few important questions to ask yourself:
1. Do we have the resources available to realistically achieve this goal?
It’s unrealistic to expect to accelerate and jump multiple lines if you’re operating on a shoestring budget. Similarly, you’ll need an experienced marketing team with proven playbooks and experience to achieve your desired growth.
2. How important is it that we achieve this level of growth and what are the consequences if we don’t achieve this goal?
For some companies that are scaling, maintaining steady growth might make the most sense, as incremental improvement is typically less risky than rapid growth. Yet if you’re in the stalling phase, the consequences of failing to jump lines or even accelerate may create major risks to the health of the business.
3. How prepared and willing are we to commit?
It’s important to realize that making big jumps rather than incremental increases is riskier, harder, and costlier, as you’ll be multiplying your marketing investments.
Therefore, any mistakes will be more expensive, and taking the acceleration trajectory could lead to more harm than good. This is why it’s essential to use proven playbooks and work with an expert who has substantial experience growing B2B SaaS companies with challenges similar to yours.
If you decide to accelerate or jump lines, take action sooner rather than later as achieving any growth trajectory becomes much more difficult on a shorter timeline.
We’ve helped dozens of B2B SaaS companies change their growth trajectories, and we can help use the same proven playbooks to help you achieve your desired trajectory. Get your Free Marketing Plan.
Step 3: Identify opportunities for improvement
Now that you know where you are and where you want to go, this stage identifies what’s preventing you from reaching that goal. Once you identify these gaps, you can make a marketing plan that addresses them and therefore change your trajectory.
Below we’ll discuss common gaps for each of the following trajectories. Alternatively, you can use our SaaS Scalability Score, a free tool that allows you to identify how you stack up against competitors across nine revenue accelerators that address how effectively you attract, engage, and convert prospects into customers.
Common Gaps For Stalling Companies
A B2B SaaS that has a stalling marketing program isn’t because the team isn’t working hard. Often, these teams are working harder than ever.
Yet, they don’t have the right systems in place to accurately influence and attribute marketing actions to revenue outcomes.
If we analyze the performance of specific marketing channels, here are a few common issues we uncover in companies that are stalling:
- Paid Media: You’re spending more and seeing a lower ROI. In this case, it could be that your ads aren’t getting the engagement they used to, or the prospects you’re generating simply aren’t qualified. To close this gap, you first need systems in place to accurately assess what is and isn’t working and then map out the buyer journey to audit where people get stuck.
- Organic/Content: A slight decline in traffic could be due to algorithm updates, though if you’re seeing a steady decline in traffic, it’s more likely that the content is either out of date or low value. Alternatively, you may have plenty of traffic, yet few conversions, suggesting that the keywords you’re targeting aren’t attracting the right customers. Another opportunity here is to keep visitors on your website by auditing your current customer journey, identifying where prospects fall off, and adjusting your content and CTAs to engage prospects more effectively.
- Demand Generation: From a pipeline perspective, you’re probably not closing as many deals as you did last year, and the general volume and quality of leads have declined.
Common Gaps For Sustaining
Companies that are on a sustaining trajectory have plateaued, and while it’s possible to survive the next year on this trajectory, it isn’t really ideal as you’ll begin to decline into a ‘stalling’ trajectory and likely miss your annual goals for 2024.
Here are some common gaps that typically exist in the various marketing channels of companies that are sustaining:
- Paid Media: You’re probably seeing steady leads, but acquiring a lead may cost you more. Over time, this won’t be sustainable, and you’ll eventually decline. The most common opportunity here is to identify and double down on what is working. This involves auditing your landing page experience, buying journey, and follow up nurture sequences.
- Organic/Content: If your SEO program is just sustaining, you’re probably seeing incremental traffic increase, but you aren’t actually generating conversions or demo signups from that traffic. So the biggest opportunity here is to audit who you’re attracting to your website based on keywords you’ve selected and then improve your blog architecture to ensure you keep the right customers moving through the customer journey.
- Demand Generation: From a pipeline perspective, sustaining companies are usually just barely hitting sales quotas, and you don’t really know if you’ll hit targets until the last few days of the month or quarter.
Common Gaps For Scaling
Scaling companies are usually on a promising trajectory, but more could be done to achieve better results. So rather than changing the current strategy, companies on this trajectory benefit most from amplifying what’s already working.
Analyzing the marketing channels of scaling companies, here are a few common gaps and opportunities we often find:
- Paid Media: Usually the bottom of the funnel campaigns are already performing fairly well, so the next opportunity is to expand into the middle funnel, or even add additional lower intent channels. For example, if your Google Ads are already performing fairly well, you could expand into paid social (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) as cultivating the top of the funnel can further improve bottom of funnel conversions. Another common opportunity to improve from scaling to soaring is to scale your budget strategically. If you suddenly increase your budget, you’ll probably see CPL costs skyrocket, so it’s important to do this slowly.
- Organic/Content: You’re already appearing in search results for head terms against competitors and critical pain point keywords that prospects frequently search for. Yet, there’s usually more opportunity to identify and rank for other lower search volume terms related to key questions that your customers frequently ask. This is where we usually implement a Hub and Spoke strategy, which helps you capture more relevant long tail search terms and also strengthen your core head terms. In general, the biggest SEO opportunity at this stage isn’t necessarily to increase the content volume, but rather to improve the quality of content and the strategy behind your content.
- Demand Generation: Your pipeline is also healthy, with a steady stream of quality leads acquired at a sustainable cost. So at this point, it’s less about lifting a weakness and more about improving strengths. For example, if you know that there is a particular piece of content or a particular journey that closes more business than all others, create a strategy to amplify that campaign and send more high quality traffic to it. That could involve running ads to it or improving the UX of the website to make it easier to find.
Opportunities To Remain Soaring
For companies at the soaring stage, their goal is to figure out how to keep the momentum going and ensure it remains sustainable.
The biggest problem with companies in this stage is that they can’t keep up with their current trajectory which can lead to drift.
You’ll also likely have more budget available as a result of your wins, but if you don’t allocate it appropriately, you’ll start to see lower returns. This can be tricky as you’ll likely start seeing lower returns as you ramp up your budget, so it’s essentially to have strong systems and processes in place that ensure your marketing strategy remains efficient.
If you’re already soaring, here’s how we typically approach safeguarding your current marketing channels:
- Paid Media: Your goal now is to protect against competitor encroachment and be omnipresent as the market leader. This usually involves monitoring algorithmic, market, and sentiment changes. It’s essential to prevent ad fatigue and update your messaging to ensure it’s relevant to customer pain points. You’ll likely want to continuously improve your paid media strategy and campaigns, rather than seeking to overhaul.
- Organic/Content: Your brand is probably already ranking well for most critical terms, but the key here is to update and refresh content so that it doesn’t begin to slip in the SERPs. It’s also important to be aware of algorithmic changes so that you can respond proactively and stay ahead of competitors. The biggest problem with most SEO strategies is that marketers can become complacent and competitors with fresher, more helpful content overtake them.
- Demand Generation: The opportunity here is to keep the demand generation flywheel spinning. Talk to your sales team and customer support teams regularly to better understand which leads close the fastest and have the highest lifetime value. So rather than just trying to close more leads, you’re also looking at customer retention metrics so you’re attracting, engaging, and converting the right-fit customers that pay the most, and stay the longest.
Step 4: Take action
You need to take action to see results, but when and how you take action will significantly impact your results.
It’s better to take action right now because it’s much easier to change your trajectory on a longer time horizon. This is particularly true if you decided in step two that your goal is to accelerate or jump lines (versus riding the curve). For example, if your goal is to improve pipeline volume by 30%, it’s more realistic to accomplish that over a year than a three month period.
A longer time horizon also allows you to test and make incremental adjustments rather than sudden, drastic changes. This reduces risk and makes your overall marketing campaigns more efficient.
Secondly, how you take action greatly impacts your success. There are two parts to the “how” aspect of taking action:
- Identifying the highest value actions to tackle first
- Accurately and skillfully executing those actions
If you’re following this model, in previous steps you already identified various gaps in your marketing and came up with potential solutions. But, if you’re operating with limited resources and want to see results as soon as possible, you need to identify the highest impact/lowest effort opportunities to tackle first.
For this reason, most of the marketing plans we create here at Powered By Search begin by first maximizing the ROI of your current marketing efforts before branching out and trying new campaigns. We discuss this at length in our guide to re-acceleration, though here is a brief overview the low hanging fruit we typically tackle for each of the following channels:
- SEO: Refreshing existing high value blog posts, optimizing the blog design for conversions, and pruning and redirecting old content.
- Paid Media: Updating messaging to reflect current customer pain points and sentiment, identifying holes in the funnel, and running incremental tests on winning campaigns.
- Nurture and Reactivate Customers: Rather than constantly trying to win new customers, capture and re-engage customers through email marketing. You can also focus on improving the LTV of existing customers and reactivate customers that churned.
The next variable that will impact the success of your marketing strategy is the quality of each marketing campaign.
For example, you may have identified that your biggest opportunity in SEO is updating a handful of high value blog posts. Yet the quality in which each blog post is updated is the most significant variable that will determine whether or not the strategy is successful. For example, if you update the blog post, but leave out critical keywords, the post might actually perform worse after the update.
The solution to ensure you execute effectively is to:
- Partner with experts to execute the marketing tasks required to close the identified gaps.
- Deploy playbooks that have already proven to solve these problems.
This eliminates the guesswork of how to actually execute the changes necessary. As a result, you’ll waste less time experimenting and get it right the first time.
At Powered By Search, we have dedicated playbooks for every aspect of each marketing channel and a team of experts that has already deployed each playbook on dozens of B2B SaaS companies.
This is why many B2B SaaS companies choose to work with us. The main value of Powered By Search isn’t just that we execute the work. Rather, we have the proven systems and processes, along with the experience of real experts, to execute with a high likelihood of success.
For example, here are just a handful of the documented playbooks we use for each of the various marketing channels:
- How To Create A Hub And Spoke Content Strategy
- How To Design B2B SaaS Blogs
- How To Effectively Refresh Content
Paid Media Playbooks
- How to scale Google Ads campaigns for B2B SaaS
- How to run ads on LinkedIn for B2B SaaS
- How To Decrease Your CPL
Demand Generation Playbooks
- How to Build a B2B SaaS Demand Generation Flywheel
- B2B SaaS Marketing Funnel Forecasting
- How Demand Generation Boosts Customer Acquisition and Profitability for B2B SaaS
Once you’ve put your plan into motion, the final aspect is ensuring you continue to ride an upward trajectory.
The solution to creating compounding growth is building a flywheel where all of the marketing channels work together.
This is the core value of our Predictable Growth Methodology. So rather than simply executing various disjointed PPC and SEO campaigns, we analyze the entire customer journey and then strategically architect each marketing campaign to contribute to that broader buyer journey.
When all of your marketing campaigns work together to create a cohesive buyer journey, you see a holistic impact and each marketing campaign will produce a better ROI.
Step 5: Protect against drift
There’s a misconception that stagnant growth will continue to remain stagnant. Yet the reality is that the passage of time is always a curve.
The fundamental principle of the 4 Futures model is that, over an extended period of time, you’ll either ride the curve on a compounding upward trajectory or drift into decline.
If you incorporate a strategy that is designed to produce compounding growth and actively monitor and optimize that strategy, you’ll be able to ride the curve upward and see compounding results from steady effort.
Yet if you remain stagnant and wait to take action, inertia will pull you downward, and the gap between your goal and where you currently stand will grow.
It’s also much more difficult to achieve growth from a stagnant position than if you already have some momentum.
To help our clients protect themselves from drift, we conduct 90 Day Reviews, where we review client progress to determine whether they’re above the line (on track for ‘Soaring’), neutral (‘Sustaining’), or below the line (‘Stalling) to set expectations for the following quarter.
We also only work with clients on annual programs because sustainable marketing results are a long term game. If you aren’t diligent with the strategy, you’ll see a slight increase in the short term but then fall back into a drift. As a result, it will ultimately cost you more money as you won’t receive incremental value and will have to restart from ground zero.
Take control of your 2024 trajectory right now
Now that you know where you’re headed and what you can do about it, it’s time to take action.
The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to achieve your goals, so the sooner you act, the better.
If you want to work with a partner that has plenty of experience helping B2B SaaS companies jump lines and achieve their acceleration goals, consider reaching out to us here at Powered By Search. We’ll help you:
- Diagnose your current trajectory
- Define the growth you want to achieve
- Identify the gaps holding you back from that growth
- Implement a plan to help you achieve that growth
Reach out to us today for your Free Marketing Plan to put your 2024 marketing plans into motion and reach the future you want for yourself and your team.
What you should do now
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