CEO of The Marketing Practice discusses recent acquisitions and what they mean for the B2B marketplace

In a recent B2B Marketing Podcast, David Rowlands, editor at B2B Marketing, spoke with The Marketing Practice's (TMP) CEO Matt Harper about the Horizon Capital funded acquisition of Omobono, a digital experiences agency, and Kingpin Communications, a B2B and tech marketing specialist. Matt talks about how he approached the acquisitions: key selection criteria, ensuring a smooth relationship between three organisations, approaching long-term change and how this investment marks a bright future for the B2B world.

TMP’s approach to potential acquisitions

Matt outlines the three key elements TMP looked at when approaching Omobono:

  • Strategy: does the acquisition add to your strategy? Does it bring more value to your clients, to your people? It was Omobono’s digital experience capabilities that attracted TMP, Matt states: “There was a strategy fit there from a capability standpoint. It will help us push the innovation side of the business.”
  • Fit: do you think you can work with these people? “The secret to a successful acquisition is in the culture, the people, how you manage to align the business.” That was clearly the case with Omobono; Matt likens their first meeting to one of long lost siblings.
  • Hygiene: is it a good business? Is it well-run? Profitable? “That bit is really the ‘tick in the box,’” Matt states, outlining the importance of looking at client base and commercial strength.

Same same but different: TMP's benefit of two diverse acquisitions

Acquisitions are like buses. Before you know it, a second one comes along. Only a few months into the investment journey, TMP added Kingpin into the group. However, there’s no question of sibling rivalry here between the two companies. As Matt puts it: “what is amazing is the level of complementary capability that Kingpin brings in relation to not just TMP, but Omobono.”

Whilst Kingpin brings an ‘interesting blend’ of data and telemarketing capabilities new to both TMP and Omobono, there are some similarities between the two new acquisitions, such as inside sales and data functions. “There’s enough in common to understand one another,” Matt elaborates, “but enough difference to be highly complementary.” This acquisition therefore not only proves attractive for clients and encourages growth, but also marks a union of the ‘best in class’ of the B2B world.

Communication, pace and uniting capabilities: How TMP seeks to ensure a smooth transition

Although Matt admits that this area of common ground between the three organisations provides TMP with a ‘massive leg up,’ this on it’s own isn’t enough. “Frequent, transparent communication” is key here, Matt states, such as TMP’s advocates programmes which seeks to connect different people across agencies to learn from one another.

The biggest challenge for Matt, however, is dealing with pace; striking a balance between aligning the businesses to realise client expectation whilst taking enough time to understand “the culture, capability piece, the ways of working and how to bring them together effectively.” “We need time to get it right,” Matt states. Or risk going too fast and tripping over yourself.

The secret to success? “It’s all about client value,” Matt states, focusing on integrating different capabilities into a single model that brings more value to clients. If TMP is able to connect the dots between their ABM and demand gen capabilities, the digital brand expertise of Omobono and media of Kingpin, they will “be able to offer clients something they’ll find it hard to get elsewhere, in terms of level of quality and expertise.” A truly unique merger, to say the least.

How scaling will (or rather, won’t) affect TMP’s voice

For Matt, these acquisitions allow for growing TMP’s strategic voice. He rejects the binary idea of this being a simple question of scaling upwards, rather suggesting that TMP is able to “do a better job, which will naturally build more capability and strengthen client relations.” This element played a crucial role in the Omobono acquisition who, by Matt’s own admission, ‘touch brand’ more than TMP.

When it comes to changing voice, however, through rebranding, things are less certain. Whilst Matt finds the prospect of “hitting the refresh button really exciting,” he cautions against losing brand equity. A move like this would require more research, Matt suggests, but does profess that Omobono brings with them some “enhanced brand skills.”

Remaining true to core principles in the face of long-term growth

When it comes to long-term changes, Matt’s answer is simple: “We’re going to stick to the core principles of the businesses: growth for our clients, accountability, genuine sales and revenue growth. We’ll always be pure B2B, we will always be pretty tech focused, we will play to that specialism.” This isn’t going to change after these acquisitions, as Matt maintains, rather this move brings with it a renewed opportunity and capability to deliver on these elements.

It is precisely by remaining focused that Matt believes will set these acquisitions apart from others. “We’re not drifting very far at all from what TMP has been about since it was founded,” he claims. “We’re really going to stick with what we know we do well as we grow.” This focus gives these acquisitions a unique advantage, he maintains, deviating from the norm of investing in multiple, new spaces once you can ‘start splashing the cash’. 

In a similar vein, Matt stresses the importance of designing this to be one business, not a network. He dismisses the idea of ‘creating an agency network of disconnected businesses,’ instead favouring integrating capabilities across the business into one offering (another element attractive for clients).

Creating a legacy: Impact to wider B2B spheres

Matt sets his sights high when it comes to the future of these acquisitions: “I want to make sure we create a fantastic legacy not just for our clients and our people, but for the industry as well”. Matt outlines that they will continue to put clients and people at the core: “that is the DNA of each of the three agencies, and the same goes for any future acquisitions,” Matt maintains. 

To zoom out further, however, there seems to be a chance for international expansion. Although remaining “invested in the foundations here in the UK,” TMP has previously been able to deliver international work from home. That being said, by joining with two organisations that have an international footprint, there is room for the new group to set their sights on international horizons, in particular focusing on opportunities in the US and APAC.

Winds of change: The rise of private equity investment

With a Horizon investment of £20 million, these latest acquisitions have sent shock waves through the B2B world. However, Matt rules out this type of B2B investment as a one-off. Despite it’s “shady reputation,” Matt maintains that a private equity model is “‘highly complementary to what we’re trying to achieve in this industry, and to bringing in investment in a positive way.”

So, what exactly attracts investors to the B2B market? “The market is maturing really quickly,” Matt maintains. “There’s a sense that early investors can be a part of this professionalising, maturing of the market that is naturally going to create returns.” He outlines two elements that drive this:

  • Resilience: for Matt, the pandemic has put money where the market’s mouth is in terms of durability. Whilst other sectors have struggled, B2B tech has continued to grow throughout the pandemic - an element that needless to say proves attractive to investors.
  • Fragmentation: a fragmented market provides ‘big opportunity’ for the private equity world as “they recognise that if you can consolidate a little bit and bring capability together, you’re going to create value. Not just for clients, but from an economic standpoint,” Matt outlines.

When it comes to the big picture, for Matt, agency models seem passé in comparison to other sectors. He envisages the opportunity for “more flexibility, more transparency for clients, to become more creative about the commercial and resourcing model.” In other words, a chance to innovate in a way that will create more value for clients.

Wider market shifts

With a shift occurring during the last decade towards greater accountability for marketers and move towards quantifiable measurement based on genuine outcomes for businesses, it comes as no surprise that Matt predicts a continuation down this path. This shift, Matt claims, will continue to occur in parallel with a gradual move away from tech investments for their own sakes to a model where value comes first.

In a similar vein, TMP focuses on getting clients “to maximise the resources and the technology they already have and how to create value from it.” This approach deviates from the norms occuring in the past 5-10 years, Matt maintains, citing the example of how marketing automation has become the “standard, but not really met the expectations that it set out on.”

The future for B2B agencies

The future for B2B businesses seems bright, Matt maintains. “Every agency leader I speak to is hiring because they’re growing, and they’re growing fast,” he states. However, every silver lining is wrapped around a cloud. Matt speaks of a ‘talent crisis’ underway in B2B, such as the loss of talent during the pandemic and tendency for agencies to go client side, a factor which makes it hard for them to retain talent. “In the future, the most successful agencies will be the ones that can really nail their talent strategy,” Matt prophecies.

However, the recipe for success is not as simple as that: “there is an endless list of things agency leaders need to do and focus on,” he continues; for Matt this is nothing short of a good omen, symbolic of a dynamic market. Perhaps these mergers will even become the norm? One thing’s for certain: the B2B world is on the up, booming at a seemingly unstoppable pace.

 

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