Marketing products and services to other businesses is, in my opinion, far harder (or at least less instantly successful) than marketing to consumers. Whilst B2C marketing is highly competitive due to a proliferation of choice to the consumer, B2B marketing carries lower volumes, greater expectations of lead volume, and more expensive transactions (generally speaking).
Having worked with many B2B marketers over the years, with the arrival of LinkedIn’s new Thought Leader ads, and some recent head scratching related to client performance, I thought it was time to write something on the topic once again. Call it blog therapy…
First things first, I think it's prudent to dispel some myths or at least manage some expectations if you’re looking to drive more leads for your B2B business.
1. Can’t rely solely on search
The go to channel for nearly all marketers online is search. Whether that’s organic or paid activity, selecting keywords which align to a business and being present when someone is looking for them, in principle is a no brainer.
However, for a lot of industries, and in particular niche businesses, search demand may be very low and even if you could grab it all, it probably wouldn’t reach your lofty expectations on volume. Those juicy commercial, ready-to-buy search terms just don’t have strong monthly volume.
When I refer to commercial terms, I mean those where the intent to buy is fairly clear - the phrases are specific to "platforms", "agency", "company" or "pricing" for example. If they’re more topic based, whilst the volume may be high, the user types can vary from students to marketers to researchers, so you risk wasted clicks.
This is why there is a sub-section of B2B marketing called “demand generation”. Often you’ve got to make people realise a need or that there’s a solution to their problem out there (thus generating a demand), and this doesn’t come (naturally) from search.
This may feel highly frustrating, and as keen search marketers at Adido putting strategies together which may not fully utilise a budget or hit targets with search alone can be hard to accept.
95% of your potential buyers aren’t ready to buy today. These 95% are “out-market” today, but will be “in-market” sometime in the future.
I touch on it a little later, but marketing for B2B shouldn't just be focused on the 5% of people who are "in-market" today, it should be about drawing the attention of and building engagement with the 95% of the market who will be in-market in the future in order to generate future cashflows. This pool of people is far greater and will require significantly more investment.
2. PPC clicks will be expensive outside of brand
If you’re just starting with digital marketing, or don’t have a very good organic search presence for the commercial big hitting keywords, then you may be forgiven for thinking that a PPC campaign could solve your problems.
Not only might the search volume and ad impression availability not be there, but don’t be astonished when you discover that average non brand CPC prices can be phenomenal!
In B2C markets, advertisers can buy clicks from a few pence, but in B2B the starting prices are definitely in the pounds, with most advertisers needing to consider £10, £20 or even £50 charges to get a single click!
Look at the differences in avg. monthly search volume, with the keywords highlighted, these are top commercial intent terms, and yet their search volume is abysmal. Their top of page bids for PPC are significantly higher for low range than you might expect, and extremely so if you're really competitive and want to chase a high absolute impression share. It's hard to play the volume game here, but Google certainly wins on income if you try.
I think it’s pretty shady of Google and other ad platforms to charge a premium for these types of search terms just because they know that the deals behind the clicks (should they convert) are usually worth thousands and have long term value. I wouldn’t say these auctions are more competitive than B2C, and in most cases, there are fairly few advertisers competing because of the cost barriers or limited volume.
If you do go down this route, you may find Google Ads’ new campaign type, aptly named ‘Demand Generation’ is something worth exploring. Potentially to combat the frustration of limited search volume for B2B advertisers, Google has launched a product which combines the ad inventory across its portfolio of products. Working towards lead volume and/or CPA targets, the system is meant to, with the help of AI, optimise the ad delivery, using a multi-channel marketing approach to win attention and action from likely prospects.
3. B2B marketing is an investment - start at the top and be part of the decision making journey from beginning to end
This might be the hardest sell, and most controversial opinion, but I actually think B2B marketers need to start at the top of the funnel and work their way down the decision making process, so that they’ve considered being present at every stage of the consumer journey, rather than working from the bottom, and slowly broadening their tactics to reach prospects at mid and top of the funnel when there isn’t enough at the bottom.
B2B customers are discerning buyers. In a business context their time is very limited, and they will often avoid leaving contact details with a potential seller until they’re really ready to have THAT conversation, to avoid hitting the sales team too early and being bombarded with sales calls and emails.
They are likely to be pretty good researchers and probably open to learning new skills or improving processes through being inspired with information, whether that’s from people they know, conferences they attend, or information that is shared amongst their networks.
The decisions in many cases will also be with the business for a long time, with many B2B deals concerning subscriptions, licences, system transitions or partnerships lasting years, and thus entering into any conversation regarding your business will come with a heavy burden for those involved.
As a result, the stronger the affinity someone has with your business, their perceived trust in your credentials and expertise, and their confidence in your ability to deliver what they need, are not feelings that can be created in the short term, unless someone is up against a time pressure.
I appreciate that low entry costs and low onboarding impact might mean that some of these reservations are lifted somewhat, but on the whole they are still all important factors in B2B decision making.
All of this means that you need to build up the interactions, make your brand familiar, be part of the conversation, and be patient. No-one likes a pushy salesman!
For this reason, this is why I don’t think you can rely on bottom of the funnel tactics. If you do, you’ll be coming in cold, and unless you can offer a seriously compelling proposition to blow the businesses who have worked hard at educating, inspiring and informing the buyer, a ‘samey offering’ or a vague delivery of your products/services will be a sure sign that they won’t waste their time adding you into their consideration set.
More on how to be part of the full buyer journey a little later.
4. If you get in there early, you have the first brand advantage (but only if you have a great offering!)
My final point echoes point 3 above, but really stresses that if you can get in there early, and what you say/do is really valued, then you could be the first choice, or better still, the only choice when someone is ready to buy.
Approximately 90% of all purchases are from a brand you’ve already heard of.
Whilst the B2B market doesn’t usually offer the abundance of choice in B2C worlds, and B2B buyers are known to seek out alternatives and comparisons, if you can hook their attention before they’re ready to buy, you might benefit from them by-passing the comparison phase. Think of it as the equivalent to impulse buying in B2C, but rather than buyers acting on a whim because of a deal or a favourable opportunity, in the B2B world, they use that brand resonance (built up via multiple interactions and potentially many months and years) to by-pass the pragmatic decision making and comparison behaviour. They’re left feeling happy with what they know, and comfortable they don’t need to waste time looking at alternatives.
The same could be said of word of mouth referrals and doing business with others in your network.
This latter point I’ll come back to when discussing LinkedIn’s new ad format - Thought Leader ads.
So, now you know the everest ahead of you, what tools and tactics should you use to conquer the mountain?
Key tools in the B2B marketer's toolbox
Good landing pages
Often the weakest area of a client’s site when we pitch for their business are the landing pages. Very few sites we’ve seen nail the “what’s in it for me” content that B2B buyers are looking for.
And if you’re a SaaS based business, not offering product shots, or video demonstrations of your platform is a massive faux-pas.
Whilst getting someone to fill in a form is usually the number one priority, not having enough content on the page, or not warming up the buyer first is only going to lead to a bounced visit.
There’s no single perfect template, but covering off as many of these elements would be advised:
- Heading aligned to search theme (if being used as a search landing page)
- Supporting content to reinforce relevancy – focus on features and benefits
- Social proofing – client logos, testimonials and verified reviews
- Screenshots/video of product
- Get in touch CTA
- Pricing (if possible)
You may need to play around with the length of the page, consider orphaned pages vs. clear signposting to other pages on your site, and test the amount of data you request in a form fill.
Tools like Hubspot and Force24’s marketing automation platform can help you craft the perfect landing page suitable for the type of traffic entering the site, and the stage of the buyer journey. And if you can’t afford these software packages, you should still be able to experiment with static landing pages in your CMS.
Cornerstone content + supporting content for every stage of the buying journey
This is B2B marketing 101.
In order for any content that gets produced to have maximum impact and lifespan it’s important to build a campaign around it. This usually involves cornerstone or pillar content which can be a blog, a downloadable PDF or a video which offers the reader high-value content. Usually hours of research, writing and designing has gone into this piece, but on its own it’s not enough.
Around this piece expect to produce off-shoot content pieces, usually quicker to produce but often of no less value if it catches the attention of your audience. These pieces act as signposts to the cornerstone piece; are often bitesize accompaniments to whet the appetite; and support a narrative that gives you reason to communicate.
The inspiration for these pieces can come from any stage of the buying process and ideally over-time you want to succeed in all areas, but if you’re starting from the beginning, then pick what you believe will have the biggest impact.
For those able to inject research and studies into the piece, with rich insights and data, they could also be great PR opportunities which could lead to link building which in turn could boost your organic rankings.
If you collect user data as part of downloading a resource, be sure to have a strategy for keeping that user engaged with your business, whether that’s via email or social media. But try and avoid chasing them up with a sales message straight away, as they’re unlikely to be in-market just yet!
*NEW* LinkedIn Thought Leader ads - people selling to people
Creating campaigns with cornerstone content is only half the battle. The other hard part is syndicating that content and getting people to read it.
Tactics can involve writing blog pieces that rank well in search engines; content can be sent out via email to an existing database or bought list; social posts can be shared by the company and employees alike; and ads can be bought on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to increase reach.
Until now, the advertising opportunities on LinkedIn have been focused on business to people selling. Company posts could be boosted or ads with the company logo could be constructed. However, most company pages get very little engagement compared to employee updates so it’s no wonder ad performance falls a little flat.
We’re very excited at Adido to learn that Thought Leader ads have made their way to the platform. This ad format enables a company to sponsor an employee’s post (!), if they give their permission to do so, thus tapping into the people-to-people appeal of social networks.
All the target criteria remains the same, the only difference is that the ad will display the employees profile picture and name, and have a very subtle ‘promoted by [your company]’ below the bio.
The best practice advice is to avoid shoe horning your company branding, tone of voice and pre-scripted content into their post, and instead allow their authentic voice to shine through. Do away with high production videos and images, and allow them to create what they know their (extended) network will respond well to.
This may be unnerving for many companies (to relinquish brand control), but if you choose your employee ambassadors wisely, you will most likely find allies that do more for your business than any carefully planned corporate content would do.
Two of the best practice principles shared by LinkedIn are:
- to make it personal
- to share a point of view
If you’re not willing for your employees to do this, then this ad format will not be as effective.
As a fairly new ad type we haven’t played with it yet ourselves, but this experiment from early adopter, Tribal Impact, reveals some interesting results regarding creative execution.
At the time of writing this I haven’t seen any thought leader ads in my LinkedIn newsfeed, but in 6-12 months time I imagine it will be a very different story! Keep your eyes peeled.
Account-based marketing - prioritising your resources and prospects
With everything I’ve shared so far, it could be assumed that B2B marketing is still a traditional marketing approach (attract, nurture, close). However, the fascinating area of B2B which is different from B2C marketing, is the ability to take an account-based marketing (ABM) approach.
This type of approach requires focusing on set target accounts within a market and applying an ‘identify, engage, land and expand’ strategy. Normally company names, if not individuals, are known to the business, and are zeroed in on with precision with marketing tactics.
To be successful at ABM marketing, sales and marketing need to be closely aligned. The cornerstone campaigns mentioned earlier can be deployed for the benefit of both departments (as long as both are aware of its existence); and knowing who sales are chasing and who marketing can reach will ensure the effort is boosted.
This topic could take up many blogs, so I won’t go into detail here, but I’m sure you can find plenty about it on the internet - it’s definitely worth exploring for high ROI and good pipeline leads. I can also recommend Inbox Insight, who place great emphasis on buyer personas and intent signals to accelerate ABM campaigns, if you need a media partner.
So there you have it. Hopefully some sound advice to inform your marketing plans, and some practical tactical options to start drumming up engagement and interest in your business. Perhaps this is our first interaction, or one of many already, either way, thanks for reading!