In B2B marketing the difference between winning and losing deals comes down to the ability to target and engage the right prospects as they navigate the buying process.
Digital advertising has always held a lot of promise. But in practice most marketers I talk to struggle to drive real business results from B2B advertising or measure the impact of their investment. In order to fool ourselves into thinking we are investing our advertising dollars wisely, we create detailed personas to target. Even though we all know those personas that are supposed to be help target our advertising are usually laughably inaccurate.
Or, we commit budget to paid search, placating ourselves with the knowledge we’re only paying for the clicks. Even though 90 percent of those clicks are coming from people and companies that will never buy our products. The sad truth is that a huge percentage of B2B ad dollars are wasted.
To run successful B2B advertising campaigns, marketers must stop trying to make B2C approaches work and adopt an account-based advertising (ABA) approach. Here are three considerations to keep in mind to focus your budgets to where they can make the most impact, reach your key buyers and arm your sales team with more opportunities.
1. Identify the accounts that matter most
The first step to laying the foundation for your B2B advertising campaign is selecting the right accounts to target, built around audiences tailored to your ideal customer profile.
There are a few approaches you can take here. First, you can start with an existing list. A lot of sales and marketing teams already have a list of strategic or vertical accounts they target. For some companies, this is a good place to start.
Another approach is to rely on your current data and pull target accounts directly from your CRM system. In this scenario, marketing is rolling up their sleeves with their sales counterparts and identifying the accounts you think will have the biggest impact. The challenge with this approach, like the one before it, is that you are relying on intuition. Intuition can be great, but we have too much data and too much technology to rely on that in the long term.
So most sophisticated B2B marketers use a combination of look-a-like modeling (who have we sold to in the past), predictive modeling (which accounts are most likely to be great customers) and intent-based targeting (which accounts are showing early signs of interest in your products.
2. Advertise to those accounts’ key buyers
Account-based marketing (ABM) aims for greater efficiency and higher revenue by targeting high-value accounts and the key buyers within them rather than a broader pool of leads.
If you use traditional advertising to reach those key account decision makers, you’ll be faced with a terrible tradeoff. You can get really precise in your targeting, like using LinkedIn, but you won’t have the scale you need to reach all your target accounts. Or you can choose scale with something like Google Adwords, but give up any type of precision as most of your clicks will come from outside your target account list.
The other challenge B2B marketers face is actually identifying and reaching the buying committees at your target accounts. Instead, we use proxies like job function. But buying committees are ad hoc, ephemeral and unpredictable since they are often based on the internal organization and politics of a company. So job functions just aren’t effective as a targeting tool.
So how can a B2B marketer overcome these challenges? To build a great account-based advertising audience, start with a scalable method like IP-derived company targeting to narrow your audience to the right accounts. Then use real-time intent data to discover the people who are showing early buying signals for your product. They are self-identifying as buyers and influencers. This way, you can reach the entire buying committee within the companies you are targeting.
While I see many marketers apply personalized experiences to email, personalization in B2B advertising can sometimes be an afterthought. Make sure to personalize your advertising so it doesn’t scream “I don’t know you” to your target audience. Think about customizing the ad creative and keywords to each potential decision-maker by industry, vertical, company, stage in the buying cycle, prospect versus customer or other custom account attributes.
Finally, think about where your ads are placed. A blacklist often isn’t enough, since new sites pop up all the time. Making sure you are advertising on a curated whitelist to ensure your brand is not being diminished.
3. Measure at the account level
Measurement matters but many B2B marketers fail to measure what matters in B2B.
I see many marketers measure advertising performance through metrics like click-through rates (CTR) and impressions. These insights don’t capture the nuances of the B2B buying cycle. When it comes to measurement, avoid the crystal ball. Consider measuring the true ROI of your advertising budgets through metrics at the account-reach level, percentage of accounts engaged, cost per engaged account, as well as pipeline, closed revenue and close rates. Couple these with proven proxy metrics like engagement and lift, and you have a way to measure both short-term campaign performance and long-term revenue results.
In addition to these metrics, you’ll also want to understand the incremental impact of your advertising campaigns. How is your advertising segment moving through each of the stages of the funnel from awareness and engagement to conversion and closed revenue? To understand this impact, you’ll want to compare the performance of your advertising impact on another audience or segment.
For example, it can be really helpful to understand how one vertical is performing versus another. Or, compare different tiers in your target account list. How the most important strategic accounts are engaging in your advertising, versus your broader account list.
B2B companies spend a lot of money on advertising, but too much of it is wasted or doesn’t lead to a specific business outcome. It doesn’t have to be that way, when you use the best practices of ABA, make it a part of a focused ABM strategy, and fully integrate it into your tech stack.
This way B2B advertising not only delivers on its promise of being able to reach and influence the right people but also arms your sales team with more opportunities.