Revealed: the UK’s top B2B martech companies
San Francisco may be the heartland of B2B martech, but there's a rapidly growing vendor scene in the UK. Joel Harrison presents B2B Marketing's pick of the UK's top martech brands
It’s widely understood the epicentre of the B2B martech scene is the Bay Area of California, around San Francisco, alongside much of the rest of the global technology industry. B2B martech brands (ie. those that serve B2B marketers) like Salesforce, Marketo, On24 and Hubspot make this a hotspot for vendors and developers, with new ideas, products and alliances spinning off from one another, at a sometimes bewildering speed.
What’s less well known, however, is that there’s a growing B2B martech hub on this side of the Atlantic, with a small but increasing number of companies at different stages of maturity in the UK. So who are they? And what do they do? Here’s a snapshot of the leading players in the UK B2B martech scene – in no particular order.
(Just to be 100% clear, I’m defining ‘B2B martech’ as companies that provide a platform that enables B2B marketing by B2B brands and marketers – I’m not including martech firms that provide solutions used predominantly to target to consumers).
1. Lead Forensics
A shoe-in for this list has to be reverse IP lookup service Lead Forensics, launched and still fronted by the founder of telemarketing agency MarketMakers Paul Thomas. Lead Forensics defined the category for reverse IP lookup, and is still arguably the dominant player. Prior to selling MarketMakers to Centaur earlier this year (in what was one of the most unusual acquisitions of a B2B agency that I’ve personally ever witnessed), Thomas used this well-oiled sales machine to drive revenue growth in the platform, in many ways making a market for an online platform by offline means. Today, the company retains a base in Portsmouth (plus other offices), but also has US bases in Atlanta and Scottsdale.
2. Agent 3
Founded by former Bite PR premier Clive Armitage under the umbrella of shared parent company Next 15, Agent 3 is at the forefront of a new generation of technology designed to enable ABM. Its success has not only encouraged a wealth of imitators, but it has also encouraged the predominantly agency group Next 15 to focus more on development or acquisitions of further tech platforms in the future – on both sides of the Atlantic.
Brothers Tom and Adam Elgar are serial entrepreneurs – having founded Serverside Group and Streaming Media and sold them both, the brothers launched Passle in Oxford in 2012. The aim was to help salespeople be more effective in engaging with highly specialist expert buyers, by sharing relevant content (they call it ‘expert-to-expert’). It’s a unique and compelling idea, and the spirit of their fraternal partnership is captured in a beautiful slideshare on the Passle homepage – one of the most gently amusing, endearing and ‘unB2B’ pieces of storytelling that I can remember.
You could call content sharing platform Turtl ‘powerpoint for the 21st century’. It takes the hassle and fuss out of creating and sharing on-brand communications, preventing those branding disasters that we’re all used to seeing every time and again, particularly when the sales team are given responsibility for creating their own content and promotional materials. Led by technical wizard Nick Mason (no, not the one from Pink Floyd) and commercial head Ben McGill, Turtl is changing the way that we think about and use content for marketing.
Having started life as a data-centric marketing communications consultancy, under the leadership of B2B data stalwart Mike Housley, Cyance reinvented itself as a tech vendor, by building its own predictive analytics platform. In many ways, you could regard Cyance as the embodiment of the shift in the power balance in the B2B marketing supply side, from agency to technology. While it’s true that it’s early days for Cyance in their current incarnation, and in a relatively crowded market, Housley is a shrewd operator, and you wouldn’t be against him to make a success of things.
Currently co-located in London and San Francisco, BrightTALK’s self-service webinar platform helped to democratise the use of webinars or webcasts (I really can’t remember what we’re currently supposed to be calling them!) as part of the demand generation revolution in the noughties. These days, it's promoting itself as a content library, with a huge wealth of on-demand webinars available on numerous vertical-specific channels. Founder Val-Pierre Genton successfully made the leap from London to the Bay Area, but the company retains a sizeable operation in the City, including CTO and co-founder Dorian Logan.
InTech is the biggest and single most influential B2B tech marketers’ event of its kind in the UK. We’re bringing together tech marketing and business leaders from brands who are daring to be different, challenging convention and disrupting themselves and their markets.
Not to be confused with leading B2B marcomms agency The Crocodile, Communigator has successfully made the transition from being an ESP (email services provider) in a relatively congested and commoditised market, moving upstream and repositioning as a marketing automation (MA) platform. With long-term category leaders Marketo and Eloqua (now part of Oracle) in relative disarray, Communigator look well placed to take advantage of the ongoing interest in MA and lead generation… provided the company and its clients can get over the GDPR hurdle.
Another (relatively) fledgling entrant in the predictive marketing category is BrightTarget: although companies with five years’ tenure look like newcomers in some industries, in the martech scene they are positively geriatric. Regardless of age, BrightTarget’s prospects and potential were significantly improved in 2016, following the acquisition by France-based, AI-enabled customer engagement vendor Sidetrade, and integration plus access to the resources and expertise of a larger group look likely to enable MD Glen Westlake to turbo-charge its growth. There is certainly no lack in ambition!
9. Momentum 360
Another excellent example of the blurring of boundaries between martech firms and agencies is the launch by leading account-based marketing agency MomentumABM of a customer insight tool – called Momentum 360. Not that founder Alisha Lyndon appears to have any intention of morphing her highly successful agency into a tech firm, but having a tech product which customers can use separately or alongside their agency services seems like a clever strategy.
Fulham-based Concep has been laser-focused on its strategy of providing martech services to the professional services sector, and has been dedicated to that cause with missionary zeal for over a decade now.
Keeping the flag flying for martech in Yorkshire, Leeds-based Force24 provides a range of MA and related services. Directors Nick Washbourne and Adam Oldfield came from the data and agency worlds respectively, representing the merging of these two worlds that creates marketing automation.
Founded by university friends Edward Barrow and Andrew Davies, Idio positions itself as a ‘content intelligence’ engine, using AI and predictive analytics – and using three buzzphrases in one descriptor certainly makes it sound very technologically advanced. Its founders, however, have impeccable tech entrepreneur credentials, with Edward claiming to be the world’s only third generation predictive analytics entrepreneur (noting that he’s probably the only person who would want such a title).
SoAmpli’s mission is very simple – to enable salespeople to sell more by providing the right content based on social media insights. Hard to disagree with that as a proposition. Founder Maz Nadjm is a former Ogvily-er, and one of both the Sunday Times and Forbes top social media influencers, so it sounds like he knows his stuff.
14. Growth Intel
One of the few (only?) VC-backed companies on the list, Growth Intel’s platform emerged as a challenge set to its founder Tom Gatten by IBM to help find them more of its best customers. He was joined by co-founder and former military scientist Prash Majmudar in 2013 to develop the company’s platform, which uses machine learning to identify prospects. Growth Intel is firmly embedded in the London tech start-up scene.
With offices in three continents, Dotmailer have seamlessly managed the transition from email services provider (ESP) to marketing automation leader, boasting a diverse array of clients in both the B2B and B2C arena. Despite founders Skip Fidura and Tink Taylor sounding like characters from ‘The Waltons’, the company was founded and grew in the UK, before heading out to conquer the world. And they seem to be doing a damn good job of that.
Was there ever a less likely birthplace for a cutting-edge martech company than in sleepy and slightly twee (in a nice way) Battle in Sussex? That’s the location of the company formerly known as Purechannelapps, and more recently as Tremolo, and the location perhaps makes slightly more sense when you consider that the founder is Frenchman Olivier Choron, although he strictly denies any connection between himself and William the Conqueror. (If your GCSE History is failing you at this point, Battle was so-named because it was the location of the Battle of Hastings.) The company has three products, all built around enabling better and more productive relationships with channel partners and the wider influencer network.
Influencer marketing has been one of the stellar topics across the whole marketing industry in recent years, but cynical observers believe it’s mostly an issue for the consumer space, were teenager vloggers are paid fortunes to plug FMCG brands. Not so Onalytica though, whose client list includes the great and the good of the B2B tech sector. Founded in London, it also has a footprint in New York, which it is looking to use as a springboard for international expansion in the next 12 months, backed by a new round of funding. Its principal backer to date is San Francisco-based but British-born tech entrepreneur Michael Birch, the man who founded social platform Bebo, sold it to AOL in 2008 for $850 million, and then bought it back for $1 million when the new parent had (predictably) ruined it. If Onalytica can leverage Birch’s nous, continued success looks assured.
Whilst most vendors and solutions covered in this list are relevant to marketers on either side of the client/agency fence, project management system Synergist is 100% focused on the latter. And very successfully so too, having secured about a quarter of the UK B2B agency market (according to analysis of the 2018 B2B League Table), against stiff competition. The platform’s success is surely in no small part due to the efforts of Jason Neale, principal of the vendor’s sole UK distributor The Agency Works – what he doesn’t know about agencies in the UK isn’t really worth knowing. And just to prove what a small world B2B marketing really is, Synergist is located in Bolington Mill, Cheshire – the same massive historic building as agency Stein IAS.
(Have I missed anyone? If I have, please do tell me.)
Methodology and thinking
These vendors represent a small but growing cluster of B2B martech firms in the UK – there are others I considered for this list, but who are more B2C marketing-biased than B2B (eg. Brandwatch, Pure 360 and Decibel Insights) – or who are B2B, but only service marketing as one of their categories (eg. Huddle).
But why doesn’t this list include a Marketo, Eloqua or Salesforce? Brands with genuine global scale and reach? There are probably three main reasons. Firstly, the expertise (in terms of the individuals with the right skills and knowledge) – this is starting to develop, although, it doesn’t yet match the scale of that in the Bay Area… obviously.
The second is access to finance – although London is a global finance hub – and there's significant investment in digital startups – the UK doesn’t have specialists such as Vista Partners to focus on this particular category.
Ultimately, it comes down to clustering (where vendors cross-fertilise one another) and momentum as a category. We’re starting to see elements of both, but the lack of immediate proximity of vendors that exists in San Francisco will mean its acceleration is slower. Despite this, I do expect these vendors are just the start of a much bigger wave of B2B martech firms – and that’s great news for B2B marketers on this side of the pond.