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A looming recession & what the data says

Patrick Campbell Jun 23 2022

There's a recession looming...

And as a result there’s a lot of generic advice out there, especially within the past month.

So, I ran an analysis on 23.2k subscription and SaaS companies, and here’s what I found. 

Things will mostly be fine...

But there are two data points are pretty scary (especially in consumer and soon B2B).

Let's jump in.


Consumer markets

Let's talk about consumer markets first (you'll see why later). 

The graph below is a breakdown of growth in subscription ecommerce companies, which tend to be more market sensitive. 

You can see that the market accelerated, an equivalent to 10 years, through COVID and with the help of economic stimulus payments or "stimmies." 

There's a problem though...

Sub ecom PW index

As COVID subsides, consumable products are slowing down. And those nice-to-have products are going away without any more stimmies.

What does this mean? 

Well, as a consumer debt bubble looms with people trying to maintain a "stimmy" lifestyle, it means that at best, growth stays flat. 

"The pancaking" is happening.  

Sub ecom PW index 2

And at worst...

Contraction will happen because churn is up: 

  • 22% in subscription boxes 
  • 16% in subscribe and save 
  • 11% in consumer saas

While new sales are staying consistent, we're not replacing lost customers fast enough.


B2B SaaS

B2B SaaS is where things get interesting....

Look at this insane market growth graph. There's a reason B2B SaaS gets higher multiples. 

It's a march of growth. 

And COVID was basically a three-week stall similar to a Christmas stall. 

However, B2B SaaS has a lurking problem similar to that of subscription ecommerce.

B2B Saas index 3

While growth is happening and new sales are staying consistent, churn and downgrades are up. 

Churn is accelerating (the lines on the graph are going lower) and is starting to flood the market.

The result? 

Month-over-month growth rates are slowing — and it's going to get worse in B2B. Recessions hit the consumer world first and then B2B. 

B2B PW downturnchurn 4

Here's a breakdown of B2B and B2C SaaS month-over-month growth rates (inside ProfitWell):

Summary 5


So, what should you do?

You need to focus on two things:

  1. Survival
  2. Lifetime value (LTV). 

Keep in mind that people are giving advice to cut and shore up runway not because the problem exists at this moment, but because a problem WILL exist. 

The data provided here is an early warning system. 



Efficient spend is key to coming out the other side.

You must prepare:  

  • Audit all expenses. We're all paying for things we shouldn't.
  • Make sure you're default alive with at least 10% buffer if you're bootstrapped, or an 18-24 month runway if venture-backed.
  • Re-evaluate all non-core projects. It's hard, so you need to make long-term bets, but scrutinize everything.

Lifetime value

When it comes to lifetime value, this is an opportunity to shore up the fundamentals. 

Subscription growth is pretty basic — acquire a customer that's optimally monetized and sticks around for a long time. 

You're likely focusing on the word, "acquire," but the rest of that sentence is pretty important too.

Let's elaborate...



Segmentation and expansion revenue are crucial, so make sure you have a solid strategy in place:

  • Focus on cross-sells — existing happy customers consistently buy more in recessions.
  • Create an add-on, especially if you don't have cross-sells. Priority support is easy money.
  • Raise prices. If your NPS is greater than 20, raise prices starting in September (after the balance sheet audits are done).
  • Evaluate segments as soon as possible (as Mark Roberge recommends). Pull your spend and/or sales off of segments hit hard by the recession and build your pipeline in others. 
  • Localize to stronger economies. Make sure pricing is region specific. 
  • Cut discounts by half. Most are too high already. 


I mentioned earlier that most will likely focus on acquisition. Ultimately though, it comes down to how many of your customers you can hang on to. 


  • Shore up credit card failures. Your recovery rate is likely half what it should be. 
  • Implement cancellation flows. Offer salvage offers, maintenance plans, etc. 
  • Term optimization — offer a promotion to get monthly customers on quarterly or annual plans.
  • Reactivation campaigns — ensure you have them going 60, 120, and 180 days after a customer cancels. Use small offers to entice them back.

Whoever ends with the most users, will win

When it comes to big bets, I learned an intense amount from what HubSpot and Salesforce did during COVID. They appeared to double down on a few things:


  • Community
    Both INCREASED events and connections. Everyone will struggle with something — they worked to give a forum for those struggles. 

  • More for free

    Both invested more in free products and gave away more value for free. 

  • Experience

    Both implemented numerous design shifts to improve customer experience.


These all had one main thought: 

Whoever ends this with the most users, will win. 

To me, that should be your mantra. 

Recessions end. They're a pain, but it shows us who's going to execute and who's not. 

There's a reason people say "great companies are made in a recession."


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This is a ProfitWell Recur production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space. 

By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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